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Reflections on Entering and Exiting Ministry

Reflections on Entering and Exiting Ministry

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Published by Peter Cantelon
Journal documenting six years of life from the entry into ministry to the exit.
Journal documenting six years of life from the entry into ministry to the exit.

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Published by: Peter Cantelon on Oct 01, 2010
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Random Musings 2006-2010
Peter Cantelon


Saint Paul ...................................................................................................................................................... 7 Healing & Isolation ...................................................................................................................................... 10 A Necessary Read ........................................................................................................................................ 12 The Critic, the Cynic & the Prophet ............................................................................................................ 13 The Prodigal Sons ........................................................................................................................................ 15 Permission to be Courageous ..................................................................................................................... 16 Confession ................................................................................................................................................... 18 It Is Impossible….......................................................................................................................................... 20 After You Believe......................................................................................................................................... 22 Great Saints ................................................................................................................................................. 23 Joy or Happiness: Which Do You Want? ..................................................................................................... 24 A Series of Ivory Towers.............................................................................................................................. 26 A Picture of Grace ....................................................................................................................................... 29 Spiritual Odds & Ends.................................................................................................................................. 30 The Epistle to the Romans: Karl Barth Quotes ........................................................................................... 33 Gray ............................................................................................................................................................. 35 God, Time & Beyond the Quantum ............................................................................................................ 36 Reimagining Church .................................................................................................................................... 37 The Naked Christ ......................................................................................................................................... 40 Much Ado About Nothing ........................................................................................................................... 42 Random Observations on a Day.................................................................................................................. 43 Abortion ...................................................................................................................................................... 44 Grace & the Church..................................................................................................................................... 46 Observations ............................................................................................................................................... 47 Volunteering ............................................................................................................................................... 48 The Challenge of Christ in the Present Age................................................................................................. 49 Dedication Sunday ...................................................................................................................................... 51 Sept. 11, 2001 ............................................................................................................................................. 52 Wisdom ....................................................................................................................................................... 54 Church & Necessity of Change .................................................................................................................... 56 Something Wicked this Way Comes…......................................................................................................... 58 Invocation ................................................................................................................................................... 59 3|Page

Life............................................................................................................................................................... 60 Power .......................................................................................................................................................... 64 A Sunday Post ............................................................................................................................................. 65 A Morning of Rebirth .................................................................................................................................. 66 Waiting ........................................................................................................................................................ 67 When Faith & Politics Collide ...................................................................................................................... 68 The Nature of Ugly ...................................................................................................................................... 69 Young/Old ................................................................................................................................................... 71 The Act of Confession ................................................................................................................................. 72 Feelings ....................................................................................................................................................... 74 God In Ezekiel .............................................................................................................................................. 76 Henri Nouwen said… ................................................................................................................................... 78 The Furious Longing of God ........................................................................................................................ 79 Notes on Ezekiel 13 ..................................................................................................................................... 80 Notes on Ezekiel 12 ..................................................................................................................................... 81 Our Faith: A Brutal Club or Subtle Beauty .................................................................................................. 82 Lectio Divina – Psalm 14 ............................................................................................................................. 85 Live Birth Abortion ...................................................................................................................................... 87 Columbo, Matlock & Jesus Christ ............................................................................................................... 88 Family, Friends, Fellowship ......................................................................................................................... 90 What Is Church? .......................................................................................................................................... 91 Dignatas Personae ...................................................................................................................................... 92 The Scandal of Christian Self-Pity ............................................................................................................... 93 Christ is not Attractive ................................................................................................................................ 95 Just a Kid in Guelph ..................................................................................................................................... 97 Self-Worth ................................................................................................................................................. 100 Koinonia .................................................................................................................................................... 101 Random Observations of a Godly Nature ................................................................................................. 102 Marriage.................................................................................................................................................... 104 More Greek… ............................................................................................................................................ 106 Christian Community & Dietrich Bonhoeffer ............................................................................................ 108 When I’m Up ............................................................................................................................................. 109 4|Page

Memories of Savagery & Holocaust.......................................................................................................... 111 Why I Believe ............................................................................................................................................ 113 Have You Noticed? .................................................................................................................................... 117 Matthew 5:44 ........................................................................................................................................... 119 Christ – The Author of all Things ............................................................................................................... 121 The Foolish World ..................................................................................................................................... 123 Useful ........................................................................................................................................................ 124 What & Why Do I Believe? ........................................................................................................................ 125 Us & Them................................................................................................................................................. 126 An Incomplete Truth ................................................................................................................................. 127 The Doctrine of the Absolute Primacy of Christ in the Universe .............................................................. 128 Everything Old is New Again ..................................................................................................................... 129 The Last Word ........................................................................................................................................... 132 Thought ..................................................................................................................................................... 136 Waiting for God......................................................................................................................................... 137 Ecclesiastes: Existential Anecdote ............................................................................................................ 139 Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth: A Review................................................................................................... 140 Love ........................................................................................................................................................... 143 Blessings? Still Counting… ......................................................................................................................... 147 Judges........................................................................................................................................................ 148 The Good Critic ......................................................................................................................................... 149 God Talk .................................................................................................................................................... 151 Caution: Atheists Ahead............................................................................................................................ 153 Doubt ........................................................................................................................................................ 155 The New Faces of Christianity ................................................................................................................... 156 Faith & Black Holes ................................................................................................................................... 157 Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah ............................................................................................................... 159 Ecce Home, Ecce Deus .............................................................................................................................. 160 What Must I Do? ....................................................................................................................................... 162 Engaging Unbelief ..................................................................................................................................... 165 Fear ........................................................................................................................................................... 167 A Loving Response .................................................................................................................................... 169 5|Page

Remembrance & Sacrifice ......................................................................................................................... 170 The Future is Now ..................................................................................................................................... 171 Sex & Violence .......................................................................................................................................... 172 Missing the Mark ...................................................................................................................................... 173 The Gospel of Mark ................................................................................................................................... 175 A Letter to the Church @Internet ............................................................................................................. 176 Easter ........................................................................................................................................................ 178 More On Art (Moron Art?) ........................................................................................................................ 179 Wag the Dog ............................................................................................................................................. 180 I Am Yours…Save Me ................................................................................................................................ 182 Spiritual Warfare ....................................................................................................................................... 183 Honesty ..................................................................................................................................................... 184 Value of Life…............................................................................................................................................ 185 Fear ........................................................................................................................................................... 187 Flesh & Soul............................................................................................................................................... 189 Sermons .................................................................................................................................................... 190 Clean Your Room....................................................................................................................................... 191 Remember the Future............................................................................................................................... 196 Tapestry of Faith & Works ........................................................................................................................ 204 Unlocking the DaVinci Code ...................................................................................................................... 209 A Personal Pentecost ................................................................................................................................ 214 Invoking the Presence of God ................................................................................................................... 221 Marks of Discipleship: A Life of Abundance .............................................................................................. 229 Parable of the Vine: Abide ........................................................................................................................ 237 Pearl of Great Price ................................................................................................................................... 244


Saint Paul
This is a short post with some observations about a book I have recently started reading by Joseph Ratzinger (more widely known as Pope Benedict XVI). I write these observations down partly as a way of encouraging people to become familiar with the theology of this enigmatic man and scholar. Quite frankly I believe he has some remarkable and valuable things to say and people of all stripes should read him and listen to him carefully. I recognize that there are some who, having reached the word pope and realized I am writing about a Catholic theologian, will simply turn away and ignore the insights simply because he is Catholic. This is, of course, narrow-minded and ignorant in the same sense as when Catholics ignore good Protestant theology. After all there is really no such thing as good Catholic theology, good Protestant theology or good Orthodox theology - in the end there is only good theology and I believe Ratzinger provides good theology. What I like about Ratzinger's book Saint Paul is that it is a collection of catecheses (public teachings) written and delivered throughout the liturgical year of 2008-2009 dedicated to Saint Paul in the Catholic church (celebrating 2,000 years since his birth in about 8 AD). Why is this significant? Well whenever you take theology and bring it before the communion of saints as public teaching it becomes the pinnacle of all theology (as far as I am concerned) pastoral theology. That is to say the theological, and pastoral roles meet (as they should always but rarely do) and create something wonderful. As to the observations from the book: "A primary and fundamental fact to bear in mind is the relationship between the milieu in which Paul was born and raised and the global context to which he later belonged." Ratzinger first and foremost believes that in order to understand Paul and therefore the word of God through Paul we must understand him within the historical context of his time and place. This is solid theological thinking. Ratzinger goes on to use the relationship between stoicism and early Christianity as an example of why historical context must be understood. Ratzinger writes "it is clear that it is impossible to understand Saint Paul properly without placing him against both the Judaic and pagan background of his time." Ratzinger quotes Acts 17:24, 28 "God does not live in shrines made by man...for in him we live, move and have our being." He points out that this statement would be completely agreed upon by the stoics of Paul's day not to suggest that Paul was a stoic but that Paul, being a man of Israel, Greece and Rome, was eminently qualified to translate the gospel to all nations just as God has selected him to do. In terms of belief in the early church Ratzinger writes "the only thing necessary was to belong to Christ, to live with Christ and to abide by his words. Thus, in belonging to Christ, they also belonged to Abraham and to God and were sharers in all the promises."


Further along Ratzinger speaks of Paul's message on Mars Hill, the Areopagus - "the discourse of the Areopagus, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, is the model of how to translate the Gospel into Greek culture, of how to make Greeks understand that this God of the Christians and Jews was not a God foreign to their culture but the unknown God they were awaiting, the true answer to the deepest questions of their culture." In this quote Ratzinger sums up the process of mission for the church. Ratzinger points out that Paul, in his own words, has "anxiety for the churches" (2 Cor 11:28). This brief focus of Ratzinger's on Paul's anxiousness for the church caused me to wonder why Paul was anxious at all? After all in our post-modern age it is generally unacceptable to be anxious for the church because it seems to betray a lack of faith that God will do as God will do. Doesn't Jesus himself say do not worry? Of course Paul's anxiety is different from the worry Jesus forbids. His anxiety is rooted in the reality that the community of believers have significant God-given roles to play and there is a very real possibility that they will shirk those responsibilities. We are not fond of thinking in our day that we have roles and responsibilities as part of the community of believers. We would rather see the community as a more romanticized perfected communist sect where we all float by on God's grace (this concept of grace is cheap grace according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, grace without responsibility). Ratzinger's focus on Paul's anxiety contradicts the romanticized perspective of the Christian community. Another thought from Ratzinger are his observations on the conversion of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. Ratzinger writes "The average reader may be tempted to linger too long on certain details, such as the light in the sky, falling to the ground, the voice that called him, his new condition of blindness, his healing like scales falling from his eyes and the fast that he made. But all these details refer to the heart of the event: the Risen Christ appears as a brilliant light and speaks to Saul, transforms his thinking and his entire life. The dazzling radiance of the Risen Christ blinds him; thus what was his inner reality is also outwardly apparent, his blindness to the truth, to the light that is Christ. And then his definitive "yes" to Christ in baptism restores his sight and makes him really see. In the ancient Church Baptism was called illumination because this sacrament gives light; it truly makes one see." In a short and concise paragraph Ratzinger packs in loads of theology, particularly about the nature of the miraculous in scripture and how to read it. As he points out too many people focus in on the miraculous and interpret them as significant unto themselves. Far from denying the miraculous Ratzinger points out that miracles point to a deeper hidden reality either within the person to whom the miracle is being applied or to the one performing the miracle (often both). Ratzinger's pastoral heart makes him far gentler than I would be. When he says "certain readers may be tempted to linger too long..." I would say it is these same people that zero in on specific miraculous occurrences and prophetic pronouncements such as tongues, prophecy, various end times predictions etc, and read them solely in reference to themselves (almost worshiping the miraculous). The problem with such overt focus is that the believer misses the whole point of the miraculous event or prediction - which is to point them to the deeper reality that Christ is risen, the kingdom has come and will come, and we are to be motivated workers in that kingdom. A point that I cheered heartily for when Ratzinger made it was the importance of the community of believers. He points out that Paul was eminently qualified to go about his mission alone. After all he was 8|Page

"a Jew of Jews" in his own words, a witness to the risen Christ who personally chose him to go into the world and deliver the gospel. Paul could easily have defended his qualifications as a lone ranger within Christianity since none other than him had such a resume. Ratzinger points out however that "Paul learned that despite the immediacy of his relationship with the Risen One, he had to enter into communion with the Church, he himself had to be baptized, he had to live in harmony with the other Apostles." Once again Ratzinger is reinforcing what many in our current post-modern culture chafe at - the absolute need for the individual follower of Christ to be in unity with and fellowship with a community of believers. If at times we feel that we have grown to a state of maturity that no longer requires us to regularly take part in and contribute to a community of faith how much more so could Paul have felt? Yet he chose connection with the community because in the end it is part of our salvation. There is no room for lone rangers within the community of faith for just as God is triune community within Himself so must we reflect that same community here on earth (thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven as the prayer goes). A final note from Ratzinger (for now) that I think I will let speak for itself: "We are only Christians if we encounter Christ. O course he does not show himself to us in this overwhelming, luminous way as he did to Paul to make him the Apostle to all peoples. But we too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical if of the Church. We can touch Christ's heart and feel him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen one do we truly become Christians. And in this way our reason opens, all Christ's wisdom opens, as do all the riches of truth."


Healing & Isolation
A friend of mine (WVG) posted this quote to her facebook status this morning and it is so good I decided to steal it, use it for my morning devotional and expound a bit on over here. "Healing begins with taking our pain out of its diabolic isolation and seeing that whatever we suffer, we suffer it in communion with all of humanity, and yes, all of creation. In doing so, we become participants in the great battle against the powers of darkness. Our little lives participate in something larger". ~ Henri Nouwen So very very insightful. How incredibly powerful. I have been thinking alot about the place for healing lately. Is it within the context of community or is it within the context of isolation? How does one go about treating brokenness anyhow? Nouwen's quote suggests that darkness must be brought into light and it must be kept there. That is important. We will often expose darkness to light only about as long as it takes darkness to get a decent tan and then thrust it back in the dark because quite frankly it bothers us (as it rightly should). In order to treat darkness (within ourselves and others) it needs the constant exposure to light where it might wither and die. It is the nature of darkness to seek out isolation and shadow because it is there that it can grow unhampered and without restraint. It will do everything it can to remain in the dark (this is why Nouwen calls it "diabolical" because it has a will that works against God). Darkness is like cancer - it requires radiation therapy only this radiation comes from the light of the Son. There is only one community of light on the great old earth - the community that makes up the body of Christ. Matthew 18:20 says: "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." When we seek the healing presence of Christ seek out the community of believers When we seek the compassion of the Son of God seek out the community of believers When we seek forgiveness of the Son of Man seek out the community of believers When we seek the holiness of Messiah seek out the community of believers When we seek sanctification of the Word made flesh seek out the community of believers This is a heavy task for it calls the community to be an open body with arms outstretched welcoming the cancerous and the blind. It speaks directly against the kind of community that shuts its doors to darkness because it has forgotten what its purpose is and that it exists SOLELY for the sake of the other (God and the world) and not for itself. I love Matthew 18:20 more when it is read within the context of the previous verses (Matthew 18:1519) that set it up which read: "If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the 10 | P a g e

church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." These verses speak directly to how Christ calls us to respond to darkness when it erupts within the midst of the community. Most powerful to me is his admonition when a brother or sister refuses to repent - Christ calls the community to "treat them as you would a pagan and a tax collector". It is brilliant because he is speaking to a community of people who would naturally cast such folks out of the community and yet this community wants to model themselves after this speaking Christ. That is why they are listening to him in the first place. So then the question is (and must be) asked - how does this Christ treat pagans and tax collectors? When the community discovers the answer to that question they are to do likewise with the obstinate brokenness in their own midst. This is the role of the community of believers...to be Christ. To be light to darkness. I think I will close with a prayer inspired by Matthew 18:18:

Father take my broken soul rags though it be and bind up the darkness within it Father take my broken soul washed in light and loose it to the world outside that in my brokenness I might become your healing that in my darkness I might become your light Amen and Amen.

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A Necessary Read
N.T. Wright is a bit of a book factory but nothing he writes can be taken lightly. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters is book three in a trilogy but frankly each book in the series stands alone quite well (the others books include Simply Christian and Surprised By Hope). It is hard for anyone to deny these days that the church and frankly the world (especially the west) is suffering from a crisis of character. It is into this circumstance that Wright presents his very timely book which is focused on defining what character is and how it is achieved. There is much to value in this text from a secular (non-churched) perspective but it is rooted firmly in a solid interpretation of the Bible. If you are looking for a book along the lines of "the 10 steps to becoming a virtuous person" then you will be disappointed because Wright spends a significant amount of space disavowing the idea that one simply needs to "follow a set of rules" to be a virtuous person (when he speaks of character he means virtue and uses the terms interchangeably). The reverse of this is also true - anyone looking for something to justify a life lived according to intuition or gut-feeling will also be disappointed. Ultimately Wright presents a Biblical roadmap for discipleship and sanctification. He stresses the importance of recognizing that character/virtue is developed as a discipline. It takes work but that work should be motivated by a life lived in anticipation of the coming together of Heaven and Earth and our roles as Kings and Priests (see Surprised by Hope for a deeper exposition on this theme). There is much to be admired in this book and Wright provides many relevant examples to guide the reader to understanding what virtue is and how it is developed. I highly recommend the text for anyone who wants to learn what it means to be truly human and toward what goal we are designed for. The book is an excellent pastoral resource and can be used as a foundation or significant part of a discipleship program. Wright produced the book with the secular world in mind as well...educators, employers and others who have a role in character development would do well to read this book and would certainly benefit.

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The Critic, the Cynic & the Prophet
Everybody hates a critic...this is an age-old quote and it captures how people feel about critics. They may be film critics, book critics, music critics, and especially life critics. I really don't think everybody hates a critic though...not really...not in the original sense that the word criticism has. The bible of the English language (as far as I am concerned) the Oxford dictionary defines criticism in two ways:

Criticism • noun 1 expression of disapproval; finding fault. 2 the critical assessment of literary or artistic works. This is very helpful because it captures both senses of the word as I have seen it. The first sense, that of disapproval or finding fault is really what people hate and I think rightly so. The second sense of the word is the more accurate or at least the more appropriate in terms of how criticism should be employed - that of a critical assessment, not only of literary or artistic works - but rather of all things. A critical assessment is meant as a constructive assessment. It's very impetus and energy comes from good intentions - the intent to help the author or director or musician or finally friend overcome that which needs to be overcome. By its very nature a critical assessment involves/requires some knowledge of that which is being assessed. It requires a certain intimacy of the one being critiqued as well as the work. It is not a gut emotional response to the artist/person or work involved. When a criticism is leveled in the first sense it is almost always based upon intuition, gut feeling, or emotional response. It is an opinion which can be easily manipulated by strong willed people around the critic. It is leveled quickly and without a lot of detailed thought or knowledge about the object being criticized. This is the form of criticism that people hate because it is an inappropriate criticism that comes out of selfishness rather than selflessness. Don't get me wrong one need not be a subject matter expert to offer criticism in the classical (or correct) sense. For example one need not be a carpenter or woodworker to offer critique of a poorly made chair. However one must be capable of stating what they feel is wrong with said chair. A carpenter is likely to receive criticism such as "the problem with this chair is that it is five inches too short for my frame and only has three legs". The carpenter is disinclined to be charitable to criticism such as "this chair is a piece of crap, take it back and do it again". When asked why be the patient carpenter or "what exactly needs to be done" the unjust critic simply responds - "I hate it, that's what's wrong with it...stop asking questions and keep making new chairs until I tell you when you have made the one I like". One could just as well place a blindfolded archer into a room, spin them around and tell them to hit a target. The poor critic, the one who does not offer helpful insight into the criticism but simply tears down or unhelpfully points out what must not be done without offering any helpful direction is simply a cynic. A good critic may be a skeptic (one who asks questions of all things) but never a cynic. The cynic is one

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who has already pre-judged and there is no critical assessment in them. One should remember that cynicism has never changed the world for the better and it never will. The critic who offers critical assessment out of a genuine desire to see improvement, wholeness or even to offer informed praise is very much like a prophet. The prophets from a scriptural perspective were those who were (willingly or unwilling) given insight from God into the need for Israel to change. The good prophets (Elijah, Samuel etc) were offering a critical assessment of Israel. Telling them where they were wrong, why they were wrong and what they needed to do (generally turn back to God). The bad prophets (yes there were bad prophets) were usually not given a specific name but usually lumped together as a group and referred to as those prophets who would only offer words that Israel wanted to hear - not necessarily needed to hear. God speaks very poorly of those prophets. Job fits into the category of a poor prophet not because he does not fulfill his obligations to deliver God's message to Ninevah (he does eventually) but rather because of his attitude in the delivery. Job is a cynic. Job is not happy that Israel must tolerate the presence of Ninevah because God has decided to give them a chance. Job would rather see Ninevah wiped from the face of the earth. The good prophet, like the good critic, critically assesses the needs of the people of God from a Godly perspective with a keen ear toward His word and away from their own personal gut feelings and desires. They deliver that message into the lives of the people with a heart motivated by good intent even when in their very core they may feel uneasy about what God is asking they have come to recognize His voice and know in the end that it is good.

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The Prodigal Sons
I have been thinking of the character of the older brother from the parable of the prodigal son a lot lately. I am not sure why but his character has come and gone in my mind numerous times over the past year. The older brother is ironically often eclipsed by the characters of the father and the younger prodigal in people's analysis. It is ironic because the older brother a vision of frustration and anger at the loving and forgiving response of the father to the return of the younger brother. The text from Luke 15 reads as follows: "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' " 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' " It is important to note that the parable ends with a conversation between the father and the older brother. It is significant that Jesus is leaving his audience not with the celebration of the younger son's return (as important as that is) but with the resentment and jealousy of the older brother. In many ways the parable could be called the parable of the prodigal sons because although by worldly standards the younger brother seems to have fallen farthest it is the older brother who seems most distant from his father in the end (and in fact may never have been as close as he thought). To best understand why Jesus puts the emphasis on the older brother in the end when you would expect it to be on the younger you need to go to the beginning of the chapter and see who Jesus is actually speaking to: Really a brilliant lesson with new facets every time it is read.

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Permission to be Courageous
In the midst of the tumult and numbness of the past week, month, year, life, it has occurred to me that life goes on whether I want it to or not. A significant part of life going on for me (assuming I want to participate in the going on and not simply sit here and mope in sackcloth and ashes) is writing...and so I write. I don't claim any talent, simply passion. I love to write and while I may be somewhat stoic in person or perhaps goofy at times or simply there one can never assume that is necessarily what is going on within me. In my writing however you get close to the core of who I am and so you may trust it (at least a little more than you might trust me). So here I am sitting and wondering what's next? I have had a few "life transitions" as have most of my Gen X partners and so fear is not really the dominant feeling right now. Really the dominant feeling is one of having come untethered from a safe harbour and thrust into the admittedly exciting storm of an unknown future. Of course I hold to the hope I have always held to in Christ and the promises he has for me and the rest of us. I know these things. Still I feel unsettled. The point of this is to warn you that the seas ahead may be somewhat similar to where I am - unsettled. You will see it primarily in my writing. I send this note out particularly to my silent watchers in wings. I want you to know that sometimes I will write things that you might find unsettling (perhaps even offensive). And while I will letyou know in advance I offer no apologies, I do this not to be provocative but simply because I believe things need to be said. You may be concerned with words I choose to use, or titles come up with. You might be worried that I am not writing in a suitably depressed and sad tone more appropriate to my new station (or perhaps the reverse). All I can say is such is life or in the latin words of a favorite journal of mine "quod libet". I have never been fond of censorship most especially self-censorship as it seems to me to be a form of self-denial and certainly at the end of the day dishonesty. So then what am I encouraging. My friends I am simply encouraging dialogue. Dialogue is, by, nature, two-way. I seek dialogue everywhere. I seek it with God and I seek it with you. Let us converse together about things. If you find something I have written to be dubious or offensive by all means I give you permission to be courageous and speak to me or write to me at cantelon@gmail.com . Tell me what you are thinking. At the end of the day it may not change anything but I commit to hearing you and engaging you in meaningful dialogue. I would also encourage you to have meaningful dialogue about my writings amongst yourselves. But when I say meaningful I mean dialogue that discusses the merits (or faults) of the writing and its content. I do not mean (and quite strongly discourage) communication with others if it is primarily meant to be a roundabout way of communicating with me...this is not dialogue it is really fear and fear is usually fairly destructive. As an example I mean communicating either an approval or disproval of something I have written to someone else in hopes they have the courage to communicate that to me...I usually hear about it this way...

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"Pete, someone noticed that wonderful poem you wrote the other day and wanted you to know how incredible it was..." While I appreciate such sentiments I would much prefer you speak to me directly and hence allow us to enter into courageous dialogue. You should also note that as much as I appreciate happy positive comments I doubly appreciate constructive criticism. The positive comment is helpful because it makes me feel good and gives me a sense I am on the right track. Constructive criticism however gives me something to grasp and work with. It can move creativity further along than the still much desired positive comment. So there it is...stay tuned for further writing in the form of poetry, reviews, rants, commentary, facebook updates, etc. and by all means remember I give you permission to be courageous. :-)

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I read the following statement this morning in church and it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life: ================================ I want to thank Pastor Paul, George Penner and the elders for approving my request to speak to you today. All that I am about to say is rooted in James 5:16 (and in fact the entirety of James). James 5:16 reads – “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” A little more than six months ago I kissed a woman who was not my wife as a result of an emotional bond I had formed with her. Within the hour a very good friend brought me to speak with Pastor Paul where I confessed what I had done. Then I went home and confessed to Carla. In the intervening time between then and now my life has been made up of a confessional effort in recognition of what James calls us to do. I must also tell you that I have been and am confessing this to you for very selfish reasons – I seek the healing that God speaks of in James. Each and every person who I have been able to speak to about this has been nothing short of an agent of God’s grace in my life. I want to sincerely and wholeheartedly apologize to you all for the great pain my actions have caused in your lives and the life of Morden Alliance Church. I am deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my family and the family of the woman involved. I am deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my friends both here and abroad. I take full responsibility for my actions having made them willfully and with a full awareness of what I was about to do having betrayed the trust and authority given to me. I offer no excuse. When I offered my confession to Pastor Paul I also offered my resignation. The resignation was not accepted in favor of instituting a process of reconciliation and restoration and that has been part of the past six months. Part of this process included submitting to the leadership and direction of a disciplinary committee led by our district superintendent and including two other leaders from within our district. Last Thursday afternoon in Regina I met with the committee along with Pastor Paul as my advocate and submitted to the charge of moral and ethical failure in the form of sexual misconduct. The committee was sensitive and gracious in their interview. After prayer and scripture soaked deliberations the committee ruled that I be removed from ministry for a period of two years effective immediately. It is the committee’s hope that I one day be restored as a minister within the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Please know as crushingly painful as this is I fully support the decision of the committee having committed myself to following the direction of those in positions of authority over me. I know their decision was not easy nor was it taken lightly. I trust this stands within the will of God.

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It is important to read James 5:16 in the sequence it is presented to us in – confession followed by prayer followed by healing. I pray constantly for your healing from the wounds I have caused you. I pray for my healing and the healing of my family as well as the family of the woman involved as well. I am sorry. To the youth whom God entrusted to me as a shepherd – I am sorry. Please know that none of us are the sum total of our brokenness. We are not defined by our brokenness. We are, and must be defined as, children of God. You have all been brilliant children of God in my life. I have been so deeply privileged to have been your pastor. Once again I am sorry for the pain this has caused you. It is my hope that I and my family can continue on within the fellowship of believers known as Morden Alliance Church so that we might pursue healing together. I count as one of my greatest blessings the opportunity to have been a pastor to you, to have had coworkers I can call friends, and to be part of such a brilliant fellowship and family of believers. I am sorry.

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It Is Impossible…
do not gossip, do not lie, do not steal, do not murder, do not covet, do not commit adultery, do not worship false gods, do not disobey your parents, do not make idols, do not give false testimony against your neighbour, do not enter the holy of holies except on the day of atonement and then only the high priest, do not eat fat, do not eat blood, do not sin unintentionally, do not touch unclean wild animals, do not touch unclean livestock, do not take an oath, do not eat rabbit, do not eat pig, do not eat eel, do not eat shellfish, do not eat eagle, do not eat vulture, do not eat raven, do not eat osprey, do not eat stork, do not eat bat, do not eat weasel, rat or lizard, do not eat snake, do not allow mildew, do not touch a woman who is having her period, do not touch anything she has touched, do not sit anywhere she has sat, do not lie with her, do not work on the sabbath, do not have sex with a close relative, do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable, women should not lie with women, do not reap to the very edges of your field, do not seek revenge or hold a grudge against one of your own people, do not eat meat with blood still in it, 'Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard, 'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves, 'Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them, do not mistreat the immigrant, do not curse your father or mother or you will be put to death, do not plant your fields every seventh year, do not charge interest on a loan, do not make profit on the sale of food, give a tenth of all you earn to the temple, circumcise every newborn male on the eighth day, do not wear clothing with mixed fibres, do not even look at a woman lustfully or you have commited adultery, if you hate your neighbour you are guilty of murder, not put the Lord your God to the test, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well, If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles, Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them, So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do, And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men, And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself, Do not judge, or you too will be judged, I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. If anyone would come after 20 | P a g e

me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

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After You Believe
I have been reading through N.T. Wright's latest book "After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters" very s-l-o-w-l-y these days (stay tuned for review) and wanted to post this excerpt I find challenging. What do you think? Before the excerpt let me set it up a bit. Wright is discussing his concern that Western culture has compartmentalized the way we approach life and has separated intellect and reason into their own world and told people that these things are only really valuable to those in the academic or "intellectual" world but the rest of us (the vast majority) can generally ignore reason and live primarily according to our feelings. Here is the excerpt: "On the day I was drafting this chapter someone wrote to the newspaper I read to express a view about 'assisted suicide' - that is euthanasia. "That's how I feel about it," he said after stating his opinion, "and I know a lot of other people feel strongly the same way." I don't doubt it was true. But his feelings were irrelevent to the question of whether the proposal was right or wrong. Lots of people feel very strongly that we should bomb our enemies, that we should execute serious criminals and castrate rapists, that we should abolish income taxes and let the fittest survive. Lots of other people feel very strongly that we should do none of those things. An exchange of feelings may tell us where the pressure points are to come, but it won't tell us what is the right thing to do. Unless a person can give reasons, there is, literally, no reason why anyone else should take that person seriously. Without reasons, all we are left with is emotional blackmail."

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Great Saints
The average run-of-the-mill believer like myself will read the great saints like Augustine and Luther or more modern saints like C.S. Lewis, Bonhoeffer etc. and be transformed (or at least want to be transformed). The great saints themselves though were transformed through their reading of scripture and not one-another. They read scripture like a man lost in the desert drinks water...they soaked in it. I don't think we can ever be transformed by a person's words - even if those words are reflective of the Word. It would be like a boy going out to the sidewalk at night with his magnifying glass to refract the light of the moon and burn a hole through paper. They will fail every time because the light of the moon is simply the reflected light of the son. Similarly we will never set fires by trying to focus and refract someone else's ideas about the Word (as powerful as they may be)...but set your sights on God and one person can set the whole world aflame.

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Joy or Happiness: Which Do You Want?
The words joy and happiness seem similar but at their core they are significantly different. I went to my standard resource - the Oxford Dictionary but sadly it fails the way dictionaries do sometimes with words of a more philosophical nature. Most often in these instances you get a circular definition along the lines of the following: Happy - a joyous and happy state Joy - a happy and joyous state Obviously very unsatisfactory. So here is my own attempt at a somewhat more satisfactory treatment of the two: Joy: ORIGIN Old French joie, from Latin gaudere ‘rejoice’. There is significant depth to the state of joy that far outweighs that of happiness. We often see the two as the same but they are in fact, at their foundation, as different as night and day, and like night and day - joy and happiness are best defined in light of one-another. Happy: a euphoric state varying in intensity depending upon the trigger. Happiness is highly dependant upon situation not unlike velocity is highly dependant upon force. No force, no velocity. No euphoric situation - no happiness. Now joy, as a state is more a sense of deep well-being. It is the kind of well-being that springs from a foundational belief of some sort. From my own perspective joy comes from truth...the truth that I am eternally loved by God. That I am a created being made in the image of my creator and that my value is not dependant upon any arbitrary need or accomplishment of mine. That I am soaring toward a goal that is wholly pure and purely holy. Happiness on the otherhand is really a dependant emotion slave to circumstance and situation. Happiness is that chemical state of endorphin release in the brain that requires regular triggers. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against happiness...in fact I quite like being happy (that is, after all, the nature of the state). Some of my best friends are happy. :-) The point I am trying to make however is that our goal needs to be joy. If our goal becomes happiness we enter into endless downward spirals of addiction to various behaviours and attitudes while joy is not dependant upon even ourselves and our state. What makes us happy? When I buy things I get happy. When I buy new clothes or more especially new technology I get happy. Pleasures of flesh make me happy. Eating Indian food makes me happy. The laughter of my children makes me happy. Jumping from a high cliff into cool crisp deep water on a warm blue sky day makes me happy. Being in the midst of people makes me happy. Being alone makes me happy.

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What makes you happy? You buy a new home and you are happy...for a while. Then you start looking at blank walls and empty rooms and you are not so happy anymore. You buy things to put on the walls and this makes you happy again. You put new furniture in the rooms and you are happy again. But...the car in the drveway is getting kind of old...a little rusty. Happy has gone again...but maybe a new car (or two) would make you happy. So you buy it...but then the neighbour buys a new car - with a GPS...suddenly your happy is not so happy anymore. You get the idea. The American constitution enshrouds the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" while the Canadian constitution guarantees the right to "life, liberty and security of the person". I am not surprised at the difference since the United States was born out of the enlightenment while Canada comes a little later out of a slightly more cynical and new modern era. Really happiness is not a right because its nature is ever elusive. You cannot enshrine something that continues to need more to exist. You cannot hold it because like water it slips through your fingers and the quench that you briefly had is gone and you are thirsty again and want more. Happiness is a drug and we are all addicted. Happiness, like any addiction can destroy you if it grows and becomes out of control. For proof see the following: gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction, debt, etc. See the recent economic collapse of markets all around the world arguably triggered by hundreds of millions of people pursuing the right to happiness by securing loans far greater than they can afford for houses and cars far larger and grander than they needed...and as a result hundreds of millions more people suffered around the world. Joy on the other hand seeks us out. Joy is the reconition that perfect love actually values and desires us. There is no work involved to have joy because it comes in relationship to the source of all joy. Joy is the opening of yourself up to the overflowing flood of love that wants you. When you are sad happiness disappears but joy continues unabated like breathing and the beating of heart. When you are in the grip of grief happiness is gone while joy will continue to hold you up - if you have it. Unfortunately too many of us have confused the two and see happiness as joy so that when grief or sadness strikes they pursue happiness in the form of their personal addiction(s) of spending, or drugging or drinking etc. I am rambling now but I think you get the idea. Much more could be said and more eloquently but perhaps another time. Psalm 51:12 - Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

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A Series of Ivory Towers
I have, for various reasons, been sequestered for a couple of weeks and have had some time to ponder things. It has always occured to me that ivory towers have a tendancy to crop up where you least expect them. In ministry I have chafed at the idea that ivory towers could even exist amongst the clergy. I had a prof in seminary (also a pastor) who railed heavily against the natural movement of pastors to gravitate toward the rut of the office...that nice safe place with four walls and a handy window. The former to keep the world out and the latter to at least offer a portal onto said world to ensure there is still some semblance of an awareness of its existence. For those who are wondering, I define the ivory tower as follows: it is a safe place either created or found. It protects and shelters one from the elemental powers of the world such as pain, suffering, anger, brokenness etc. The ivory tower can be anything - an office, a vehicle, a room in a house or apartment, and even a state of mind one can willingly slip into. I hate them because I love them so much. It is soooooo easy for me to slip into an ivory tower. I resist them strongly yet they continue to crop up. I am an introvert and I find that as a member of that tribe I can slip into the ivory tower so much easier then some. I have to expend loads of energy to get out into the world and be with people...but I find it is a requirement. I used to think it was primarily myself and other professionals who tended to turn their offices into panic rooms where they can wait out the world. It turns out that even when I am not in the office I am building little cells to hide in. Lately my rocking chair has been my ivory tower...or I should say that my rocking chair and my laptop...the internet has been a place of escape lately. I am safely tucked into my chair looking into the world through my 15" LCD window and finding it a highly unsatisfactory way to connect (but so much safer). Sometimes my hiding place is my car. I will drive around safe behind the windows and wheel observing people and places from a safe distance but perfectly removed from the possibility of getting hurt in someone's relational crossfire etc. Still, as safe as it is it feels entirely wrong. It feels entirely too safe. Taking these observations now and turning them toward the unique phenomena of western Christianity (North American particularly) it has occurred to me that the body and bride of Christ has colluded to a fairly high degree in encouraging and maintaining the ivory tower, the bunker, the panic room or whatever (some churches have literally buried bunkers on their property as a place to hide in case the world gets too close). The church for many centuries has created strongholds for the faithful to come and be taught, hear scripture read, sing, pray and participate in the sacraments. These are all good things. Unfortunately the church has also decided that the best way to spread the gospel was to tell the world to enter into this sacred time of worship and preparation and find Christ in the process. The message primarily sent is Christ is in here...if you want to meet him he will be receiving audience Sunday mornings between 11 am and noon. 26 | P a g e

A few verses speak of the directives given by Christ that have helped form the foundation of what it means to be church in the world: Mark 16:14-18 says: Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." (Notice that Christ broke into the upper room which had become a sort of ivory tower of grief and solitude from the world which killed the only hope the disciples had) Luke 10:1-4 says: After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. Acts 2:40 says: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Notice that three thousand we saved when the apostles, obedient to the newly given gift of the Spirit, left their room and entered he public square to preach. Thee thousand invitations to Sunday church were not distributed amongst the population.) There are many other verses that could be brought forth but you get the idea. The original gathering of believers for regular worship was to be a version of what occurred in the temple prior to the death and resurrection of Christ. A gathering together for teaching, preaching, song and prayer to honor God. Added to this was the celebratory remembrance meal that reminded everyone of why they were there because of Christ's death. Further to this was the recognition that the presence of God had left the temple and for the time being now resided in the heart of every believer. The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia which means "the called out" or more thoroughly it could be translated as "the ones called out into an assembly for a purpose". It is an active word and the New Testament writers use it to describe the gathering of believers. The question is what were believers called out of and what was the purpose for which they were being prepared? In answer to those questions one need only look at the activities of the church throughout the New Testament and beyond to see that they were being called out of the world, to be trained, built up and prepared for the purpose of going back into the world. Why? To bring with them the gospel, that is good news, of Christ and present and coming Kingdom of God. The very nature of ekklesia is that the world is not called out (or rather into the church) because if this were so there would be no calling out of 27 | P a g e

anything. Our purpose then as a gathered community of believers is to worship God through the constant (and frankly difficult) disciplines and pray, preaching, teaching, song, healing, sacrament and development of Christ-like character (virtue). The worship of God however is always incomplete if we fail to take all that we are becoming when we gather together and bring it into the world (and do not be deceived into thinking that our gathering together is in someway optional or unproductive...scripture is very clear about the need for this to occur). Between our rebirth symbolized by our baptism and our death we exist to bring the gospel into the world (school, work, Tim Hortons, the rec centre, the theatre, the pubs and bars, dance clubs, etc). For all of these purposes we must resist the ivory towers in our lives. We will always need places of refuge and refreshment but these should be of a temporary nature...when we find that, out of cowardice or fear or some other unhelpful emotion, our oasis are becoming vaults for us to escape the world till doomsday then we must make every effort to destroy them no matter who we are.

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A Picture of Grace
The following is an excerpt (pages 62-63) from a book I am reading by N.T. Wright entitled After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. This is a picture of how God's grace works. God loves us as we are, as he finds us, which is (more or less) messy, muddy, and singing out of tune. Even when we've tried to be good, we have often only made matters worse, adding (short-lived) pride to our other failures. And the never-ending wonder at the heart of genuine Christian living is that God has come to meet us right there, in our confusion of pride and fear, of mess and muddle and downright rebellion and sin. That's the point of the Christian gospel, the good news: "This is how much God loved the world - that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, so that anyone who believes in him will not die, but will have life, the life of the age to come." That summary, is one of the most famous verses in the New Testament (John 3:16), says it all. God's love comes to us where we are in (the form of) Jesus Christ, and all we have to do is accept it - when we welcome the new choir director into our ragged and out-of-tune moral singing - we find a new desire to read the music better, to understand what it's all about, to sense the harmonies, to feel the shape of the melody, to get the breathing and voice production right...and, bit by bit, to sing in tune. Out of our desire to become better musicians (Christians, humans), we begin to practice and to learn the habits of how to sing; to acquire the character not only of good individual singers but of a good choir (community); and so to take our place within the ongoing story...There is a sequence: grace, which meets us where we are but is not content to let us remain where we are, followed by direction and guidance to enable us to acquire the right habits to replace the wrong ones.

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Spiritual Odds & Ends
Just a quick note with some spiritual insights and observations of late. 1. I love to preach and have been blessed with many opportunities. I am thinking about writing, recording and posting sermons on a regular basis even when I have not been preaching in the church. I am thinking of this primarily for selfish reasons. It is powerful and cathartic for me. I need to write and I love to preach and to do it regularly is very attractive. Sharing them just makes sense and I would value the feedback. 2. My daughter Itsy and I went for a walk the other day to enjoy the warming weather and dominate some of the Spring run-off streams pouring down the streets. It was a good time and we ended up at the local burger stand (recently re-opened as a sure sign of Spring around here) where we both ordered Banana milkshakes. The walking resumed and along the way dialogue ensued. Itsy: Daddy, a car's engine is like a heart isn't it? Me: I suppose it is. Itsy: and when the car's engine stops it gets towed away right? Me: Yes that's usually what happens. Itsy: So when our heart stops Jesus comes and tows us to Heaven right? Me: Yes, I suppose that's one way to look at it. I appreciate the theological insights of 7-year-olds and how after a very brief conversation about the most serious of subjects they can simply move along to something else completely satisfied with their conclusions and not fret or over-dwell on things. 3. I went for a walk today at lunch (you should guess by now that I REALLY enjoying walking) with DH a good friend of mine. It was something of a prayer walk. DH. had proposed that we get together once a week and pray for one-another. I thought it was a good idea. So today we walked and talked and got to a quiet place where DH proposed a particular way of prayer. He suggested we select a portion of scripture and then place ourselves into the scene in an imaginative way...then from said new perspective offer up prayer fed by this. I really appreciated the idea as it has led to some great insights for me. Now don't get me wrong, as a preacher you realize one of your primary roles in honoring the Word of God is to first understand the text from within the context of the culture of those who first received it and then you bring these truths into our own context. This exercise for me however has been primarily linguistic and grammatical in nature and not as personal as today's effort was.

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DH suggested two areas we could work with - the sermon on the mount and the woman at the well. Both excellent areas and both heavily preached and taught and so fraught with the potential for boredom. What happened however was quite the opposite. Here are some insights (and two preaching ideas) I gained through the exercise: The Sermon on the Mount: Imagine you are part of this crowd of 5,000 men, not to mention women and children. You have come to hear this new teacher and likely because you have heard rumours that wonders seem to follow him where ever he goes. You are not that close to him, it is hard to hear because you are far away and the crowd is noisy. Hours have gone by and morning becomes noon. You are restless with hunger and are thinking of going home because you are, quite frankly, bored. Then an interesting thing occurs - food begins to move through the crowd. Baskets of fish and bread. You don't know where it came from and really don't care. You take enough to satisfy your hunger and decide to remain for the rest of the teaching. Life goes on. You don't realize that you have participated in a miracle because you are not close enough to Christ to see the reality that all of this food which fed thousands of people started with one boy's lunch. From our own perspective what we see is the all encompassing nature of Jesus' ministry and especially the wholeness of the sermon on the mount. We begin to understand the advantages of getting close to Jesus in order to see what he's up to and possibly even be asked to participate in serving our neighbours. Here we have a setting where indifferent humanity comes together for all kinds of righteous and unrighteous reasons and Jesus feeds everyone - body, mind and spirit. He is concerned with the whole person - Flesh and Soul and whether we realize it or not depends on our place in the crowd. One thing that becomes perfectly clear is that Christ ministers to all regardless of their place and awareness. The Woman at the Well: It is noon in Samaria and most people have settled into their homes for a few hours to wait out the heat of the day. The drawing of the daily water has happened earlier in the cool of morning and included in that activity is the opportunity to commune with friends and neighbours. One gathers at the well the way people today gather at the water cooler or coffee pot at work - to share news and community, to joke around and relate. Today though something interesting is happening. There is a woman, solitary gathering her water at the well at noon. No one else is around. She is alone. Very quickly you realize that she wants it this way. She is avoiding people and coming here in the heat of the day to not have to deal with community. Unfortunately today a man has come to the well at the same time...and not just any man, a Jewish rabbi. This is shocking to the woman because Jews generally avoid Samaria if they can help it. Worse still this man decides to speak with her. He must know she would rather be alone because of the time of day. He should also know that men do not lower themselves to speak with women they are not married to, especially when they are alone. Still this man is compelling. He speaks to her of living water and being able to quench her thirst forever if she would only ask. If she only knew who he was. Then he goes on to reveal that he is aware of why she comes to the well alone at noon...a woman many times married and now living with a man out of wedlock. A woman ashamed of who she is. A woman whom everyone else is ashamed of too. Despite this he still speaks with her. Still ministers to her. Revealing to her that he is Messiah and if he is willing to commune with her and offer healing. With this revelation the opinions of others no longer matter.

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The story reveals to us the reality that Christ will often come to us at the least convenient of times (from our perspective). He comes when we are hiding from ourselves, our communities and even God. He comes anyhow and offers healing.

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The Epistle to the Romans: Karl Barth Quotes
Ok - I have been reading this commentary and am only on page 53 but have a few quotes I wanted to post. It has been hard to resist highlighting the entire book. Anyhow - here are some quotes I have highlighted to date: "When God has been deprived of His glory, men are also deprived of theirs." "No one can, of course, bring out the meaning of a text (auslegen) without at the same time adding something to it (einlegen)." "All human achievements are no more than PROLEGOMENA; and this is especially the case in the field of theology." (Commenting on Paul's intro to Romans) "Here is no genius rejoicing in his own creative ability. The man who is now speaking is an emissary, bound to perform his duty; the minister of his King; a servant not a master." "The resurrection is the revelation: the disclosing of Jesus as the Christ, the appearing of God and the apprehending of God in Jesus." "Jesus is declared to be the Son of God wherever he reveals Himself and is recognized as the Messiah, before the first Easter day and most assuredly after it. The declaration of the Son of man to be the Son of God is the significance of Jesus, and, apart from this Jesus has no more significance or insignificance than any man, or thing, or period of history in itself." "God does not need us. Indeed, if He were not God, He would be ashamed of us. We, at any rate, cannot be ashamed of Him." "Bound to the world as it is, we cannot here and now apprehend. We can only receive the Gospel." "Precisely because the "No" of God is all embracing, it is also His "Yes". "If Christ be very God, he must be unknown, very to be known directly is the characteristic mark of an idol." (this is actually Barth quoting Soren Kierkegaard in his footnotes). "Where the faithfulness of God encounters the fidelity of man, there is manifested His righteousness. There shall the righteous man live." "The judgment under which we stand is a fact, quite apart from our attitude to it. Indeed, it is the fact most characteristic of our life." "The irony of intelligence - we know that God is He whom we do not know, and that our ignorance is precisely the problem and the source of our knowledge." "Disloyalty to Him (God) is disloyalty to ourselves." 33 | P a g e

"But on whatever level it occurs, if the experience of religion is more than a void, or claims to contain, or to possess or to enjoy God, it is a shameless and abortive anticipation of that which can proceed from the unknown God alone." "They became unable to reckon with anything except feelings and experiences and events. They think merely in terms of more or less spiritual sophistry without light from above or from behind."

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Snow is falling. I can see it out my window. It is falling so slowly that it seems almost to be not falling at all but rather painstakingly and intentionally making its way toward earth as if on a journey or mission of some sort. Small crystalline packages of white dropped from the unknown heights. Everything is a whitish gray (or a grayish white) depending upon your perspective. I have been thinking about gray lately. The colour (and perhaps the state) and wondering about its make-up. Gray fascinates me because in some ways it seems as close to the human condition as one can get on the colour wheel...not quite white and not quite black but some enmeshment of the two. But of course when speaking of the human condition one recognizes that even with gray their is a spectrum that one is dealing with...we are many things we humans but one of them is not simple. I think of gray this way - take a glass of black and shine a bright white light behind it...one sees the white bleeding through and creating this washed out gray. Now take a piece of white glass and place behind it a source of black...nothing happens to the white. Black in and of itself has no power. It does not cast photons into the universe. Black is nothing. In the realm of colour black is a non-entity. It is absence and emptiness. White on the other hand, white is everything, all-colour blended together to make one of brilliance. White is the light cast from the purest of sources. White is active...it goes out and is variously absorbed and reflected giving other things and surfaces their identity. Where black creates hiddeness white creates revelation sweeping aside all shadows and showing things for what they are. When I see gray what I imagine I am seeing is the impending defeat of black by white. When I see people, I see the impending defeat of black by white. I see the not-yet-but-soon-to-come. I used to dread the gray southern Ontario winter days where sky and horizon met who-knows-where because the two had become one endless monotonous sea, but in the most latest of days gray is no longer the encroaching black but rather the approaching white. The Approaching White ================ Gray falls the day that swims in crystalline manna as stars bow down from heaven blended earth and sky a ticker tape parade launched from on high but no more do I and eye see impending black encroach but rather white and light sing softly through the night and speak of dawn's approach 35 | P a g e

God, Time & Beyond the Quantum
When I have just woken up my brain works in funny ways. I was laying in bed listening to Maiden on the iPod and I began wondering about sacrifice and the nature of God's for us. I am thinking of these things because I am working on a preaching series that is focused on stripping away the things that we have added to Christ, the Church and even ourselves. At any rate my thoughts were wandering and came to rest on the substitionary sacrifice (atonement) of Christ and his leaving us justified in the eyes of God. I began wondering what this looked like from the perspective of God. How does he see/comprehend these things? Does he even view His sacrifice as an action in the past (done once and for all) or is this language that works for us in our limited linear perspective? It has been said before and by many that God exists outside of time...that time in some way is a device of God, no less a creation than the rocks in my yard. This being the case I have wondered if that means that God must in some way be constantly experiencing everything at once. His sacrifice, his death, his resurrection, his forgiveness, the beginning and the end...because there is no such thing as time for Him (seeing as He is without beginning and without end - one of which is required in order for time to exist). Then I began wondering why we assume there is such a thing as time at all - even for us. I mean the obvious answer is that we perceive things in a linear fashion and so naturally we assume things are constructed linearly. It reveals a stubborn character attribute of humanity - we measure all things by our perceptions...and in reality our perceptions are quite fragile. I mean eyes, eardrums, nerve endings etc...all of our receptors that tell us what is or is not...these are all about as fragile as things get - and we, we gauge the nature of existence and the universe based upon these fragile devices. It does not seem wise. But back to time. We assume time exists because we have memory - a past...something that was and is no more. A time before. We exist in a present and because of the accumulation of the past in our lives we assume a future as well. In this we we have structured time and created devices to measure its passage. Quite frankly most of what we assume exists (like time) only exists because our fragile senses suggest it and we, being egocentric, assume that what we perceive is reality and then develop whole systems of thought on this. Paul reminds us in the New Testament letter 1 Corinthians 13, verse 12 "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." Translation - all that we see is not complete; all that we experience is but a fraction of what really is and will be. So why write all this down? Well - my brain started complaining about the paths I was leading it down so I consented to going out and getting it some coffee from Tim's. On the way I turned on CBC Radio (my favorite station) and the science program Quirks and Quarks was on. Brilliantly the radio turned on catching a physicist in mid-sentence explaining how there really is no such thing as time at all and that such theories go beyond and deeper than quantum physics in their explanation. The whole thing made me smile and wonder at the incalculable odds of this happening.

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Reimagining Church
One of the books I have recently read is Frank Viola's Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity which, as you can imagine, is a reimagining of - you guessed it - church. Frank Viola is an iconoclast. He has a mission (which he would likely call ministry or calling) to shatter the age-old traditional image of the church as we know it. That solid (but crumbling) edifice that is a focus of so much of what Christianity has become. Noble ideas all - no one likes a reformers or a prophet...but it remains to be seen if Viola is either or if he is simply an angry man. Reading this book was an exercise in frustration and refreshment all rolled into one messy ball. The book begins a little like one would expect an infomercial to begin - with customer testimonials...letters from happy organic church visitors/clients. The testimonials are designed to show how the organic church experience is far more genuine and closer to the heart of God than what our traditional churches have become. Really though it is not difficult for anyone to find a few client testimonials to prop up pretty much any organization. Frankly I am sure that Al Qaida, the Ku Klux Klan and even Jonestown before the tragedy could do the same. Sadly immediately after the testimonials the next section is titled "I Have A Dream" which worked well when Martin Luther King Jr. used it but should never be used again by anyone else because it just sounds like a bit of a rip-off and clichéd. Of course all of the criticisms I have leveled so far focus primarily on the packaging of the content (which is ironic given how critical Viola is of the packaging AND content of the current institutional church). The saving grace for Viola is that his content is really not bad. He has very good ideas as far as church is concerned but I think he tends toward an extreme and I am always wary of extremists no matter who they are. The language of Viola in his "I Have A Dream" section sounds a lot like a version of theological Marxism (which I realize is an anachronism) as he rails against the human power structures that have corrupted church leadership and led to an oppression of the laity and dreams of a day when God will demolish the human infrastructures that have "usurped His authority" with something truly Godly and remove the shackles of clergy oppression from the masses. Wheww. There is so much to critique I am not sure where to begin. Really there is nothing wrong with Viola's dream. I mean I dream for the same things. Unfortunately his dream denies the existence of human nature (as did Marxism and it's little brother communism...BTW...don't go around telling people I called Viola a Marxist-communist...I am simply saying he use similar logic and language). Viola's dream is a dream of the church as it would look remade by Christ and this is not going to fully occur until heaven and earth are united and recreated...you cannot simply look at the "human" aspects of the church in disgust and wish it away - this smacks of Platonism and Gnosticism. As long as there is brokenness in the world there will be human infrastructures and hierarchy and God has ordained that, for the time-being, it should be so. Why? Because while the kingdom has come, it is still coming and still yet to come. Things are not yet complete. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 "For 37 | P a g e

now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." I think Viola's biggest mistake with the book is the assumption that the practicing institutional church believes it is the full expression of the body of Christ in the world. While the world may see the body of Christ as the institutional church I can tell you that we (clergy) are quite aware that our one hour on Sunday morning constitutes a fraction of the reality that is the body of Christ in the world and so in light of this Viola gives us far too much credit...in some ways he speaks of and is angry at a church that only exists in places like Westboro Baptist or the middle ages. On many occasions Viola swings his axe against "empty religious ritual". While we agree that ritual is what it is...symbolic...it is not simply a human institution but rather a way of remembering the acts of God within human history. Ritual, however empty Viola believes it to be, is critical to our state of being as humans. One need only read Leviticus to see that God has been involved in the establishment of ritual. One need only read the words of Christ at Passover to understand the importance of repeated human action as established by God. Of course the danger of ritual is that it becomes the thing one is trying to remember rather then a symbol of it but this does not mean one abolishes all ritual, all human institution and all forms of authority because what is left is anarchy. Those that go out and start their organic churches will find to their shock and disappointment that people still end up abusing authority, that hierarchies will still develop, that rituals, symbols and a clergy/laity divide will still somehow form. I fear that people who buy in to the idealistic vision that Viola presents, when confronted with such human failure, will see it rather as a proof of the impotence of God rather than the impotence of humanity because they were taught that the organic church was the true, real and Godly, Spirit-led way of becoming church. Viola's vision of church is not wrong but it is out of time. His vision of the church is Christ's as well, but it is the church of the new Heaven and the new Earth empowered by the eternal imminant presence of the triune God when the brokenness of the world has been healed once and for all. Viola makes the mistake of so many brilliant thinkers before him (like Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Freud, etc) and surely those to come after - he reads too much of his own context, experience and pain into the lives of everyone else and into scripture and his response becomes a system to be applied outside of his context and into the broader contexts of "the rest of us". Another concern is that there are many leaps of logic that permeate throughout the text to the degree that it significantly undermines the whole premise of what Viola is trying to say. Too many to go into indepth one example comes from the end of chapter one that tells the story of the girl Genie, who having grown up in a highly deprived environment eventually loses the capacity for behaviours we believe are hardwired into us - Viola says "Some scientists concluded that her normal DNA was altered because she was deprived of proper nutrition and stimulation." Ok - if anything screams FOOTNOTE this statement does. Unfortunately there are no footnotes anywhere in the book. There are endnotes but they are sporadic and rather incomplete. Viola goes on to apply this story to the church and suggests that humanity has in some way done the same thing to the church that was done to Genie and the church's 38 | P a g e

natural, organic development was interrupted and what we have now is a corrupt and twisted version of what was intended. So what do we do with Viola? Well for starters he has brilliant ideas on how to structure the life of the church. I appreciate his focus on the trinity and that our ecclesiology needs to be Trinitarian in nature. I also appreciate his desire to flatten hierarchies and consider venues outside of the institutional church edifice and common business practices to develop new church experiences. I do not think denominations need to be abolished but rather their theological oversight needs to become administrative oversight and there is no doubt that a large collection of affiliated churches can better maximize their impact on the global scene for the gospel than individual and separate church's can (although there are always exceptions to the rule). If one strips away the ideological statements (and there are a lot of them) and tempers the practical ideas (i.e. rather than eradicate the institutional church as we know it perhaps help it transform into a local affiliation of house churches) then one is left with a remarkable collection of insights and ideas. Viola offers many fantastic ideas on reimagining the church meeting, the Lord's Supper, the gathering place, leadership, oversight, decision making, authority and submission etc. Read the book (it really isn't bad) but read it carefully and learn to separate out the ideology and iconoclasm from the practical ideas offered (as one would separate wheat and chaff).

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The Naked Christ
For years now I have been developing the idea of preaching a series, possibly writing a book and developing a church community on the following concepts: - The Naked Christ (already a book by Wayne Jacobsen called The Naked Christ from 1998) - The Naked Christian - The Naked Church The Naked Christ (God the Father) - The seeds of the idea were initially planted as I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer who referenced the need for the church to strip away years of human tradition which we have cloaked Christ with like heavy garments until he is nearly obscured from view. There is a saying that goes back to the early church fathers - nudus nudum Christum sequi - "nakedly following the naked Christ" and the idea which was picked up (somewhat literally at times) by St. Jerome (circa 380 AD) and St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1200 AD) among others, was that Christ is at his most brilliant and Godly when unclothed of all that the world would lay upon him. Christ being the new Adam is not ashamed of his nakedness though we, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve (to coin a phrase) are instinctively ashamed of the naked Christ and would clothe him with human robes of tradition and ceremony. Christ's own nakedness reminds us of our own and we are ashamed at ourselves as well. It is this Christ, who entered the world naked and left naked having been stripped of everything by humanity including his clothes not to mention his dignity from a human perspective, to whom we owe allegiance and homage. The Naked Christian (God the Son) - is who we become when we comprehend the naked Christ in all of his brilliance unadorned and allowed to shine forth in true Godly glory. Nakedness is what we strive for ourselves, a goal, however lofty, to aim at. That we might be able to unburden ourselves of human expectation and encumbrance and walk into the world as if from new Eden stripped clean of worldly expectation, washed of guilt by the naked Christ's own blood, and able to become a reflection of this new humanity modeled by Christ and available to all who would embrace him. The kingdom has come, is coming and will come and as a part of this enigmatic ongoing overlapping of heaven and earth we are capable of modeling these things even now as the old earth passes away before our eyes. As this happens we are reminded of the word's of Christ in Revelation 21:5 "Behold, I make all things new" and this includes us as part of redeemed Creation who are then truly reborn from above and enter naked into the world as we first did from our mother's womb. The Naked Church (God the Holy Spirit) - then, is what we, as a movement of Christians unencumbered by such coverings, would become. the very naked body of Christ moving in the world in a way that seeks to transform and announce the coming kingdom already present. Idealistic? Possibly, but it is an ideal worth pursuing I think. The world's response to such a church would be not unlike our own response to such a person - shock, fear, shame, and anger (not unlike the response of most people to Christ) and a move to cover the church's nakedness. I am reminded of when the restoration of the Sistine Chapel was done after years of painstaking work by experts seeking to restore the painting of Michelangelo to its 40 | P a g e

original state. When the chapel was unveiled the priests and pastors of the art world (art critics) responded in shock and many were angry. They said the painting had been ruined. They were cartoonish and garishly bright in comparison to the muted subtle colours that had earlier existed. The reality though was that the restorers had simply, painstakingly removed centuries of candle soot and buildup that had obscured the brilliant original glory of Michelangelo’s work. So is the likely response of the world to the unveiled, uncovered, naked church. Still some would be drawn, some would see the body for what it is, the promise of newness and salvation. It only takes a few. One God present amongst his children become 12, who become hundreds, who become thousands, who become millions, who become billions. All in all it is a compelling vision I think and one that requires humility and utter dependence upon God to be one's source for all things. One's covering, one's sustenance, one's shelter, one's healer, one's everything. We would become empty and naked so that we might be filled by him and clothed in his righteousness.

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Much Ado About Nothing
Too much to write. So many thoughts and ideas getting lost in the whirlwind of these days it is hard to put anything into pixels. I have been dreaming a lot lately but there is no sense to them that I can figure out and I know of no Joseph that I can trust. I have been on a reading lull lately...I need to pick something up and work through it. I miss my days of reading fiction...everything seems to be "real" these days or "true" in terms of what's being read. People do not value fantasy the way they used too...although you would think they would given the state of things in the world - it seems like a place worth escaping from time to time. I have read an interesting article on "The New Calvinists" - folks like John Piper, Mark Driscoll and others. While I respect their discipline (I have always respected the discipline of Calvinists) but they're no different then the Old Calvinists and so offer nothing new - just the same old burdensome ideas with a different wrapper...I find that where Calvinists are right they are profoundly right and where they are wrong they are profoundly wrong. The challenge with arguing theology with Calvinists is that they are "elect" and so they never really listen to you - not really. Not deep down. So what am I? Less and less do I find I fit into a particular box except Christian...that I become more certain of everyday...the rest is all an increasingly deep fog. I respect certain attitudes of Luther but despise his anti-Semitism and suspect it tainted his theology a bit. I appreciate Calvin and even got to visit his church in Geneva, Switzerland before I could appreciate the moment but cannot fully buy into anything in TULIP except for the T (which may say more about me then Calvin). There is much I respect about our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters and yet too much that I do not. Ultimately the Apostles' Creed says enough for me...and maybe enough for others too. It is winter these days...it came so suddenly it is like it has always been here. I busted the fish out of an alarmingly small icy prison outside the other day and nearly froze my fingers off in the process. The weren't as slow as I thought they'd be but they're now safe in a tupperware container in the garage for the rest of the season. I am looking forward to our Christmas Movie Night Double-Feature in youth this week - we'll be watching It's A Wonderful Life first followed by Elf second. Should be good. I am feeling like an old movie these days...like Bing Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary's or Holiday Inn maybe...something very old and somehow still very good. Well - this has been more of an exercise in writing then in saying anything too useful. I'm sure you don't mind though eh? It's been a week where I have not written anything. Perhaps my muse is frozen somewhere on the slopes of Parnassus or Olympia...who's to say really. This likely explains the drought in terms of poetry. I never worry about her disappearances though because she is faithful and always returns...next to Christ she is the one constant in my life. I love it when she returns and offers up some image or emotion...some idea or colour that I had never thought of before. She is a collector really...I think she travels far and wide seeking out shiny things to bring back to me that I might build something out of them...something they were never intended for but something beautiful nonetheless.

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Random Observations on a Day
Went to Winnipeg today and during the trip there and back listened to a couple of fantastic N.T. Wright lectures downloaded through iTunes University. They were: - Decoding the Da Vinci Code: The Challenge of Historic Christianity to Post-Modern Fantasy - The Christian Challenge in the Post-Modern World Both excellent lectures. For those of you who are not aware there are some pretty amazing lectures available through iTunes. You need not own a Mac or an iPod, the software is free and the lectures are free as well. Simply download iTunes and search for your favorite author, speaker, theologian etc or browse the courses available via iTunes University. On another note spent some time wandering St. Mary's Catholic cemetery in Winnipeg during the time between things and found it fascinating. It is old. Very full and was a grand mix of cultures - Italian, Irish, Polish, Russian, etc. It would be interesting to do a demographic survey of the cemetery and note the different cultures, birth and death dates and do all kinds of correlating (yes - sadly this is my idea of fun). Where Is God: Finally I began to meditate on the silence of God. Lately (and for some months now) God seems quite distant and silent to me. I am variously frustrated, angry, and puzzled by this and today a new thought came to me. I was told by someone that the silence of God in the inter-testamental period was a puzzle for them...some 400 years between Old and New Testaments. While no answer was forthcoming from said person their observation did trigger in my memory of another vast period of God's silence recorded in Scripture. The son's and daughter's of Israel had been in bondage to Egypt for more than 430 years. Naturally they began to doubt whether He was there or what was happening with their prayer. So the question then was - where is God? What is He doing in the intervening silent years? The answer is found in Exodus 3:7: The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. These words have been something of a salve to me. I have not been waiting on God for more then 430 years and I cannot imagine what that would be like however my own wait has been dark and quiet and full of questions like "what is God doing in this bleak and silent time?" The words of Exodus 3:7 have helped me frame something of an answer God has been listening. He hears my cries and prayers. He sees my struggles. In the intervening time of silence when it seems my own voice echoes back to me I am reassured by Israel that God is listening and this is no small comfort to me as I dwell upon it. I must learn to trust that - I am heard; I am seen; I am loved....even in the dark.

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I just read an article that disturbed me and in true Pete Cantelon fashion I thought I would pass on some thoughts and disturb you too. CNN.com has a very informative and interesting article about the state of the Pro-Life versus Abortion cultures in the United States (and by extension elsewhere). The article can be found here: http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/10/27/abortion.war/index.html I must start out by stating that for various reasons I am unequivocally against abortion under any circumstance. I consider it morally and ethically repugnant. I should also state that I recognize my limited ability to enforce that perspective as a man (which might sound ironic to some). My perspective is not one born out of simplistic moralistic thinking or breeding (I was against abortion long before I was a Christian). My perspective (and I suspect many other's) is one made up of a complex interweaving of experience, knowledge, wisdom (I hope) and faith. That being said there are those whose perspectives are simplistic in nature and perhaps stem primarily from emotion or upbringing or a mixture of those and other factors. I believe that those who support abortion are not always simplistic or amoral/immoral in their thinking but rather have arrived at their place after a long and arduous journey through experience and their own version of faith. My position stems out of a deep seated belief that human life begins at conception and I have not the time nor inclination to fully expand on that except to say that it has to do with God and the potentiality of humanity as much as imago dei etc. A few things I am not: - I am not against contraception (which sets me apart from my Catholic brothers and sisters) - I am not a person you will find waving placards or posting pictures of ripped up foetuses as I think it does the opposite of its intended effect - it numbs us to the horror of what abortion is. I also believe this form of lobbying appeals to a very animal attribute within our natures and fails to address the reality that the arena of Pro-life/abortion is rapidly moving from the clinic to the pharmacy. If we believe in life from conception then we must value such life even when it is a single cell seconds old and not simply because it looks like a human being. - I am not a person who advocates any form of violence in response to abortion - I do not hate (or even dislike) those who had had abortions or perform abortions and welcome their friendship A few things I am/believe: - I believe the only truly effective tools in a campaign for life are genuine love, forgiveness, compassion and relationship

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- I am a father of three children - I am a brother of five sisters and two brothers - I am a son - I believe God loves Dr. Henry Morgenthaler and the mother who has had an abortion exactly the same as he love me and Christ. - I believe that abortion is an industry with little difference from the car industry in its goals - profit first, welfare of people second. Take for example the case of Dr. LeRoy Carhart who runs an abortion clinic in Nebraska. He claims to have performed more than 60,000 abortions (400 beyond 24-weeks which is the estimated point at which the baby can live outside of the womb). Dr. Carhart charges between $430 to $10,000 for an abortion depending upon how late in the term the mother is. At the most conservative estimate Dr. Carhart has earned $25,800,000 dollars over the course of 21 years or $1,228,571 annually. A more realistic estimate would place his earnings at between $30-$40 million with an annual income in accordance. - I am the Chairperson of the Pembina Valley Pregnancy Care Centre; an non-profit organization that offers counseling to anyone impacted by pregnancy. Our website is www.pvpcc.com - I am a pastor - I am a hypocrite. I hold many values that are likely conflicting in nature for various reasons. My hypocrisy however does not change truth and it would be unwise to allow any person's hypocrisy to change your perception of the truth when they speak it. I find the above article compelling because it tells the story of two created children of God and think you should read it. You should be informed. Dialogue should occur between all sides and I encourge you to express your own doubts and critique of my position.

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Grace & the Church
I sometimes wonder if God is directing my reading because virtually everything I read speaks in some way or other to the circumstance I am in at any given time. It is probably some personal form of the hermeneutic spiral in action in which my life feeds my reading which in turn interprets my life which in turn further interprets and deepens my reading etc. etc. I am reading Barth for Armchair Theologians (which is a polite way of saying Barth for Idiots) and am finding this overview of his life and theology incredibly profound. Here is a thought from Barth on the church as an agent of Grace. Before the quote comes an intro from the book's author John R. Franke: "While the church is the instrument of God's grace in the world as a visible and historical institution, this does not in any way imply that the church has any control over the dispensation of grace in the world. This prerogative belongs to God and to God alone. Grace constitutes God's claim on humanity, and this understanding cannot be reversed, or grace becomes something that enters into human control and as such is no longer grace. Hence, neither the church nor any individuals in the church have a claim on the grace of God." Now for Barth: "The splendour of the church can consist only in its hearing in poverty the Word of the eternally rich God, and making that Word heard by human beings. The Church does not control that Word as earthly beings can be controlled. Nor does the church possess the Word as material or intellectual goods are normally possessed. Nor does the church take the Word for granted as it would count on something which was not a gift." Finally more commentary by Franke: "Thus from Barth's perspective, the four marks of unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity are not given to the church such that they become a part of its constituent nature. Instead, they are always to be understood as properties of God's action by which He brings the church into existence moment by moment."

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The more sermons I prepare the more unprepared I feel to speak to people about God. Every time I write a sermon I feel more and more uncertain and yet I'm still doing it. This is a good thing I suppose. There really is nothing like it...preaching; it is frightening and exhilarating and I am really trying to get out of the way and let His word be heard. Still...it is a disconcerting thing to speak about that which you feel you know less and less. Particularly since the trick to confident public speaking is talking about what you know. I know nothing of God. Less and less each day. How is it that there is even a calling to present the unfathomable infinite God to finite people in human language that cannot begin to scratch the surface of who He is? Yet the calling is there nonetheless and I have to trust that He knows what He's doing when He asks us to do these things. I worry sometimes that the hypocrisy will shine through like a spotlight in my sermons. Many people see truth for what it is. They see truth in fragments in themselves and others; they see truth in the world and through truth they see God and communicate these truths about God to others. Some of us see truth in its absence. I think I am that way. I see the absence of truth and know that by its very absence it must exist. I look into myself and see all that I am not and know therefore all that God wants me to be then I present that to others...in poems, in sermons, etc. Well - I am getting too philosophical for my own good. It must be late and I must be tired. Thanks for listening. :-)

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So I have been having thoughts on volunteerism for months now ever since a mentor challenged me (intentionally or unintentionally I do not know) about the nature of asking other people to do stuff for you. It has come to a head this morning because my thoughts regarding volunteers have gone to a dark place and I decided to actively reflect on my mentor's challenge. You see as a pastor asking people to do stuff for you with no expectation of reward is a little like breathing...it seems to be the primary focus of your life and job. I need to tell you a secret though (no doubt poorly kept) - I hate asking people to volunteer for stuff. I absolutely cannot stand it. First people are busy. How do I know this? I am busy and I am people - therefore people are busy. Second - I fear that I will become bitter and cynical because the more people I ask to do stuff the more people will say no. At any rate the cynicism was beginning to build and I rapidly moved into judgment mode as I began to look for Bible verses that suited my need to guilt people out of what I perceived as spiritual apathy and into hardcore God-mode (which in my world looks like youth sponsor or quizzing coach). This is where the mentor stepped in (as they usually do when you least want them to) and asked me a question. MENTOR- "Peter, how many hours do you put in at work?" PETER - "It varies a little but on average between 42-48 hours" MENTOR - "Do you volunteer in ministry anywhere?" PETER - "Well - I'm a pastor, why would I volunteer in ministry?" MENTOR - "Just humour me...do you put in unaccounted-for-ministry time that might be considered volunteer?" PETER - "A few hours here and there, between youth, quizzing, Pregnancy Care Centre etc probably about 10 hours a week - why?" MENTOR - "Good. If you are asking people who work between 40-50 hours a week in their careers (be it job or home maker) to add more hours on top of that as a volunteer - if you are going to expect people to do this for you then you had better be doing it as well." That's when the light went on in my head. It does not matter that for me career and ministry overlap; if I am going to expect people to volunteer in ministry I had better be doing the same. If I want people to donate several hours of their precious time to ministry I need to be setting the example and do the same thing. I cannot very well be asking people to tack hours onto their 40-50 hour work week if I am unwilling to do the same. Doing this (or attempting to anyhow) has helped remove some of the bitterness and cynicism I have felt. I say helped because this is still a work in progress for me. It has also helped me empathize more with the plight of the tired, busy congregant.

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The Challenge of Christ in the Present Age
This is short because I have no time to make it longer but I felt an urgent need to get some thoughts into the ether before they vanished forever. One of the books I am currently reading through is John R. Franke's - Barth for Armchair Theologians. It is clearly and concisely written and a wonderful alternative (for the time being) to Barth's 8,000 page omnibus Ethics. Well it is hard to avoid somewhat deeper thoughts when reading about Karl Barth (despite best efforts to the contrary) and something reasonably cohesive occurred to me during my reading. Barth's theologically formative years included a time when socialism was being embraced throughout Switzerland (where he was) and the rest of Europe in the early 20th century. Socialism was being viewed by many in the church as being a vehicle of God to usher in His kingdom. Barth struggled to synthesize his view of the gospel and the kingdom of God with what was happening realtime in his own culture and era. Socialism was dominated by Marxist atheist politicians and activists and it was hard to know if working in that environment meant the church was compromising Christ for the sake of a cultural movement. Fast-forward to today. The church (the Holy catholic (that is universal) body of Christ) is confronted on every front with challenge in a way that it has never been before. There is little doubt that statistically speaking Christianity is not the fastest growing faith in the world today (particularly in the west). Between the growth of other faiths and the growth of agnostic and atheistic thinkers in the west as well as syncretism (the blending of various incompatible faith components into a melting pot) things look somewhat bleak from a purely worldly perspective. How then does the church (us - you and I) respond to such a state? It is as though Christ has been betrayed and arrested all over again and is being led through trial to the cross once more for execution. How do faithful followers respond to such a scenario? First note Jesus response in Matthew 26:50 to being confronted by his betrayer Judas and the armed crowd sent to arrest him - "friend, do what you came for." There is no hint of sarcasm in Jesus words. He calls his betrayer friend and it is important for us to note this. Further in Matthew 26:50-51 it says: "Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear." The response of one of Jesus closest followers to his impending arrest was to resist and attack. This is understandable. But let us read further because it is of critical instruction to us. Matthew 26:52-54 says: "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" In that 49 | P a g e

hour Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled." Christ did not resist those most opposed to Him. When His follower attempts to gain His freedom through violent means he gently chastises him and reminds him that what is happening is necessary. In the end "all the disciples deserted him and fled." Christ is alone surrounded by adversaries and most certainly condemned to die. In Letters and Papers from Prison German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "the church is only the church when it exists for others..." In other words Christ is only Christ when He exists for others. The church does not exist for itself...the only validation of the body of Christ is its outward concern and work for the world. It has no concern for its own life and existence because it lives in the awareness of those words in Matthew "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?". The church exists with the knowledge that it could conquer the world through the calling down of God's power but this is not the will of God and so we do not call on such power. If the world that we serve comes to us and seeks to arrest, beat and execute the body of Christ then to the cross Christ will go. But make no mistake Christ goes to the cross not with a martyr complex seeking to show others how willing He is to suffer but rather He goes with full knowledge of the resurrection to come and the healing it will bring to the very ones who nailed Him there in the first place. Christ dies completely in love with his executioners and for their very sake...and so should the church, His body follow His example if called to do so, and resist the urge to take up our sword in place of our cross. As I said earlier these thoughts are barely formed and I will expand when I have time but they are meant to challenge us (myself particularly) to think deeply about our response to the world as it seeks our very destruction.

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Dedication Sunday
Today we dedicated the new addition to the Alliance Church and had a spectacular time. The service was pretty amazing. Founding members who are still with us were honored; presentations were given on the 65 year history of MAC as well as the construction of the new wing. Dignitaries came and spoke including Mayor Doug Wilson, MLA Peter George Dyck and Cam Friesen representing MP Candice Hoeppner. We had a packed house with overflow into the gym. Pastors from through out the history of the church were here as were other former church members, board members, and employees. Our District Superintendant and former MAC pastor Dr. Doug Gerrard spoke and our denominational President Dr. Franklin Pyles preached an amazing powerful message on being the church anchored in Acts 2. After the service a ribbon cutting happened and then a great lunch for everyone. The even was truly a whole church body effort. Now I am hiding out for a bit in my office typing this out and reflecting on the blessing on community and the faithfulness of God. As a call to worship this morning I read Joshua 4:1-7 and reflected on our need to remember. To remember God's faithfulness no matter what our circumstances are right now. Joshua 4:1-7 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, "Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight." So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever."

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Sept. 11, 2001
Our September 11, 2001 journey began on September 10...the day before. Six months previously the technology bubble burst and I was caught in the second round of layoffs at Gartner. I was in the US on an H1B visa and basically had to leave. We had sold our house in Florida (in DeBary just north of Orlando), packed a 28 foot U-Haul truck to the brim (including the passenger side of the cab), filled out van, loaded stuff on top of the van and strapped things to the back. We still had to leave behind a lot of things. The late afternoon of Sept. 10 we gathered in the front yard of our home surrounded by dozens of friends from our church as we were being prayed for and wept openly. To this date our departure ranks as one of the hardest things I've ever been through. We spent some prep time at good friend's next door and then hit the road. Carla with Matthew and Caleb (and Itsy in-utero) in the van and I alone in the truck. We were headed back to Canada, back to Ottawa where a very close friend of mine (Steve-o) was gracious enough to give me a job at his software company for a couple of years while we saved for seminary. Sometime around 5 am south of Washington D.C. on Sept. 11 we stopped at a rest area to sleep for a little bit. At about 7 am we awoke and were getting ready to leave when we noticed the van had a flat...weird...we arrived fine but in the space of two hours while sleeping the tire simply went flat. I put the little temp spare on and we managed to find a garage one exit down the I-95 and were waiting on getting the tire changed while watching the little colour tv hung in the upper corner of the wall in the office. We were just getting ready to head out at about 8:45 am when the tv news mentioned that a plane had hot one of the twin towers in New York. It was assumed to be a small commuter plane lost in a morning fog and reports were promised. So we left, turned the radios to NPR and began our drive north. The plan was to go through Washington DC (we would have been there already if not for the flat) and hang out there for a bit and look around. Within minutes of departing though NPR began reporting the true nature of what was happening. A large passenger jet struck on of the twin towers; 20 minutes later another plane had struck the second tower. 30 minutes after that the Pentagon was hit. That's when the true nature of what was going on began to hit. Carla and I were stunned and talking back and forth on the two radios we had asking each other if what we just heard on the radio was accurate or not. Soon the electronic signs along the highway began to change. ALL ACCESS TO WASHINGTON DC CLOSED; or MAJOR INCIDENT; I-395 CLOSED; We had to detour around Washington DC. If it weren't for the tire we would have been stuck there for who knows how long. As we continued north and the NPR broadcasters echoed our own disbelief at the towers collapsing we came within range of New York City. The signs were the same. ALL ACCESS NEW YORK CITY CLOSED; MAJOR INCIDENT. We saw national guard vehicles in convoys heading north. It was incredibly surreal and magnified by the fact that we did not see a single image until late afternoon when we finally stopped for the evening at a motel. I couldn't even pray. I distinctly remember trying but I didn't know what to say.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon and night glued to CNN watching the footage of what had happened over and over again in disbelief. All flights over the continental United States were grounded for the first time ever. Every border was closed for 24 hours. No one in. No one out. We began driving north again on Sept 12 and by the time we got to the border again it had just opened. The United States border folks had set up a temporary checkpoint about half a kilometer from the Canadian border. No one was allowed to leave the US without being inspected. We arrived. A packed van and a packed U-haul. A crying poopy Caleb in the van while the guard attempted to figure out who we were and what we had in the truck. We went to the back of the U-haul to open it but Carla had the key to the lock in the van...while she was looking and myself and the guard were waiting I expressed sincere condolences to him over what his country was going through. He seemed genuinely appreciative. Soon after it became obvious we weren't going to find the key in a short period of time the guard waved us through. We passed through the Canadian border without incident and that's when we saw the effect of having the US closed for 24 hours. A massive line of trucks stretched from the border to the 401 and beyond...kilometers of trucks stuck...waiting for the US to open again. Some of the trucks were starting to discard rotting produce along the highway. Weird. We got to Ottawa exhausted, in shock and knowing that we would never forget September 11, 2001 for as long as we lived.

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For once I looked up a definition in the Oxford Dictionary and came away unhappy with it. Oxford defines wisdom as follows: wisdom • noun 1 the quality of being wise. 2 the body of knowledge and experience that develops within a specified society or period. This is definitely one of its more unhelpful definitions...particularly number one. Number two has more of the ingredients of wisdom but it fails to do anything with those ingredients. Wisdom is most certainly a synthesis of knowledge and experience toward a certain way of life but like many things wisdom has lost its anchor and has become a "relative" term. Wisdom today has no goal. It could be the synthesis of any knowledge and experience into a certain way of life and expression of that way. In the Genesis story of Adam and Eve the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (I know that is an unwieldy sentence) was motivated partly by a desire for wisdom (see Genesis 3:6). This was a mistake which reflects a common error of humanity - the assumption that knowledge equals wisdom. The tree had nothing to do with wisdom and yet the temptation (at least in part) was to gain in wisdom. The reality is that wisdom is achieved through experiential application of knowledge and even this does not go nearly so far as to explain it. In the Bible (and in Greek philosophy) wisdom is seen as an attribute of God so valued that it is anthropomorphized and given a persona. Sophia is wisdom and she has a voice and is loved of and comes from God. In Exodus 23:3 God is the one who gives wisdom. This is also the case in Deuteronomy 34:9 where "the spirit of wisdom" is given to Joshua. Of course the most famous use of wisdom in scripture is that of Samuel who asks for wisdom from God and is granted his request. The granting of wisdom to Solomon led to peace and justice in the land such as had never been seen before (perhaps the absence of peace and justice in the world today suggests something of the quality of wisdom in the world as well). The book of Job is rife with a search for wisdom. Job's friends pretend to have it but Job calls them on their lack. It is in the book of Job we find the verse "the fear of the Lord - that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding." The Psalms and Proverbs take up this theme and report as well that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." The Proverbs say nothing but good things about wisdom and tell us that creation was made by the wisdom of God. Wisdom is anchored in God. Wisdom is thoughtful of what God seeks and follows the same paths. Wisdom is prudent and careful to speak and act, not reckless, not thoughtless. Wisdom and understanding are married to one-another...with wisdom comes understanding...the clarity of a vision that comes from God.

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However we are taught by Ecclesiastes 1:18 that "For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief." In this we are being given a caution - that to attain to the mind of God is to attain to something of the burden of God too. Wisdom gives us understanding but it does not give us the strength to solve the problems we see around us..it is at this crossroads that wisdom then says that these burdens are best carried by God and we are best made to trust and as the writer of Ecclesiastes concludes "fear God". Of Christ it is said "And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him." and in Acts seven were chosen to administrate within the church based upon being filled with the Spirit and wisdom...not one or the other but both. Finally in 1 Corinthians 1:18 we find that Christ is "the wisdom and power of God". In many ways Christ is the wisdom of God made accessible to humanity. But once again the stress must be made that simply knowing Christ is not the same as wisdom but acting in accordance to this knowledge. In Christ wisdom becomes our "righteousness, holiness and redemption"; no other wisdom leads to these things. They are mere shadows of the wisdom that is anchored in God who is Christ. So how do we recognize wisdom that we too might attain to it? The question is best answered by James when he asks "Who is wise and understanding among you?" and then answers - "Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom." Wisdom is seen not in words (that is the realm of knowledge) but rather in deed. Wisdom is the word of God at work in the one who seeks said word and then through God's Spirit enacts that word in the world until it become The Word. James 3:17 tells us "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." If we would be wise we would first and regularly ask for it from God and in so doing draw near and allow the Spirit to transform us that we might recognize the wisdom that is in Christ who would live through us and that wisdom would be seen as pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit (see fruit of the Spirit), impartial and sincere.

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Church & Necessity of Change
I am unsettled. I don't know why. I think I fear and I hate it. What do I fear? I fear change. Change is frightening. It scares most people to such a degree that they refuse to allow for any change settling for the "don't rock the boat policy". The church is one of those institutions that seems most frightened with change. This is one of the more ironic of her character attributes because God is not settled...he is unchanging yet he brings change with him where ever he goes. Nothing God is involved with stays the same - nothing...so why is it that we in the western church seek sameness at all costs? We are so focused on enshrining some traditions and agendas that they become like theology to us and eventually they are almost impossible to change. Fear of change is a cowardly attribute that stagnates growth and is an agenda driven by the lazy and the cynical. Hmmm - perhaps those words were too harsh...perhaps they are not harsh enough. If Abraham had been afraid of change he never would have left the comfort of Ur and his father's house; his father's gods. If Moses had been afraid of change he would have ignored God and remained a peaceful shepherd and Israel would have remained in bondage. Imagine. If the apostles had been afraid of change they never would have left Jerusalem and the church would never have survived. If Saul ha been afraid of change he would have ignored the light, got back up on his horse and continued persecuting the church till nothing remained. What are some examples of this horrible fear we in the church harbor? Sometimes it is as simple as becoming satisfied with the way things are. Contentment. We have a nice number of people, a decent tithe, some cool repeatable programs. and an order of service that is as predictable as a Mike Tyson fight when he was in his prime. Why complain? We've got a nice facility why invite new people into it...why not enjoy it amongst ourselves...after all we earned it didn't we? Of course we did not earn it. We earn nothing...everything is given from God to one end and one end only - service of the Gospel which is Christ. Our buildings, our services, our tithe, our clergy jobs, none of it is ours - it belongs to God and he would see us use it completely for the sake of those who do not know him. As a youth pastor I experience fear all the time. Youth can be a frightening bunch. Honestly the biggest fear I battle is the fear of new youth coming to my group. Frankly this is a stupid fear and I don't mind saying so. The reality is that new youth, particularly youth who are not close to God or have never even heard of him tend to be very disruptive to my nice comfortable ministry. I have sometimes even found myself tempted to avoid them. Imagine that...the very ones God has called me to minister to and I am actively battling the temptation to avoid them. Why? I fear change. I fear the extra work involved in change. I fear the anger of other comfortable people who don't want their nice warm fuzzy ministry changed. Fear is a killer and must be fought at every step. We must never give in to it...as one of my favorite books says "fear is the mind killer. I must not fear..." Christ followers must confront fear with the truth that God is stronger then our fear and what we are afraid of may be his very hand at work. We must be 56 | P a g e

willing to change everything for the sake of the gospel. If your newly built church communicates the gospel better as a food bank and homeless shelter then turn it into one. If the gospel is better heard at midnight on Thursday then at 11 am on Sunday then switch your services. Finally and most painfully of all - if the gospel is best served by another person doing what you are doing then quit your job. As a pastor I recognized a long time ago that to be remotely effective I had to be willing to lose my job for the sake of the gospel. I have to be willing to be fired for the sake of the gospel. The minute I become afraid of that I become ineffective. As a Christ follower the same challenge exists. We must be willing to lose everything, our very lives even (and yes, literally) for the sake of Christ or else we all become ineffective. Fear is the greatest tool of evil and the only antidote is to plunge into the dark. As I said earlier God does not change but the church does. The church is Christ, the very substance of God thrust into our world for our sake...becoming whatever he needed to become in order to communicate his love. Are we willing as the church to become whatever is needed in the service of the gospel or are we to become a Holy Club Med where Christ followers can relax till the coming kingdom? So - do not be content. Do not settle and become comfortable with your Christianity. Do not become comfortable with you church. Challenge your pastors. Challenge your elders and challenge one-another to plunge into the change that God holds before you. Every major reformation and revival within Christianity came from bold, fearless believers (or maybe believers who ignored the tremendous weight of their fear) who moved forward into the unknown knowing that God was with them...there is no room for cowards (but there is love). Hard, offensive, emotional words I know and I do not know what led to them but there they are nonetheless.

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Something Wicked this Way Comes…
By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.

- Macbeth, Act IV, scene i There is something about that turn of phrase, something wicked this way comes, that creates an inner shudder. I first heard it used by Ray Bradbury in his short tale of the same title Something Wicked This Way Comes (an excellent story), later I was to learn that it was from Shakespeare's Macbeth and is spoken by the second of three witches just before Macbeth arrives to see them. There is a great deal of irony in Shakespeare having a witch, seen as a great character of evil, pronounce that something wicked was coming and it turns out to be Macbeth himself. In some ways the scene challenges our perceptions of evil. Macbeth would (and does) consider the witches themselves to be the personification of evil and yet they see him as evil (albeit evil they helped to forge). Perhaps we spend a great deal of time trying to ferret out evil and wickedness in our lives like a beaver trying to stop up every small trickle in the dam and not realizing how hopeless the task is if one stops for even a moment. Maybe we live with a haunting sense that evil is somewhere nearby. It seems clear that Macbeth felt the evil that was causing all of his suffering was around him, outside of himself and he never stopped to consider that it was actually within him. This is what makes up a significant portion of his tragic flaw - that he did not know himself. When we have that feeling, that inner sense of dread that "something wicked this way comes" should we perhaps stop looking around and maybe look into a mirror and ask some honest questions of ourselves? Wisdom (and humility) would suggest that before we look outside of ourselves we look within first.

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I had the incredible honour of being asked to do the invocation at the 2009 graduation ceremony for the Morden Collegiate Institute. The text to the invocation is as follows: Congratulations to the 2009 graduates of Morden Collegiate Institute. Thank you for the humbling honour of praying the prayer of invocation here today. An invocation is a time honored tradition that is a calling upon God for assistance. It is a recognition of God’s presence in this place and a public witness of God’s role in the lives of these graduating students. Most importantly it is a welcoming of God’s presence into this moment and a seeking of God’s blessing upon these proceedings and all who are involved. To invoke God at the beginning of this celebration is surely a good thing. The challenge that each of you, the graduating class, must consider however is to ask yourselves if this is enough and to invoke God’s presence and seek God’s blessing every moment of every day for the rest of your lives and not merely on this one occasion, as important as it is. I know you are up to that challenge and I know God desires to meet you each time you call. Would you bow with me in prayer? Almighty God and Loving Lord, We come before you today in the spirit of anticipation and celebration as we seek to honour the hard work and perseverance of the 2009 graduating class of Morden Collegiate Institute, these your children assembled here before You. It is our humble request that you gift us with an awareness of your gracious presence and call upon your blessing in the lives of each of these students gathered here, all of the teachers and dignitaries present and every friend and family member as well. My prayer Lord is that the blessing you bestow here today be carried forward in each of these lives and that it become an empowering strength guiding these young women and men to become a movement of unity, love, justice and compassion rooted and founded upon you. May each person here, especially the graduating class, take hold of the spirit you offer them and may you be their strength, comfort and guide all the days of their lives. May they learn to invoke your blessing and presence in every moment of every day from this day forward and may they carry you into the world transforming it by your power along the way. Finally Lord may each one here today come to know that the greatest knowledge to be found is the knowledge of your love and forgiveness freely offered to all who call to you. Thank you for this graduating class, may they reflect your glory in the lives of all that they encounter. In Jesus name I pray – Amen. 59 | P a g e

I had the blessing to be involved in a memorial service for a young couple who's pregnancy ended far too soon. It was a moving and thoroughly appropriate affair and it has got me thinking about life and its value. The child in question died at just over three months. It occurs to me that we have a hard time valuing life before conception. While this may be obvious to most it is often the most obvious things that elude our gaze. To get it out of the way at once I should say that I believe that life begins at conception and that one life is as valuable as another. Now when we speak of value we need to know who's value we speak of for there are different kinds. Most times when we speak of value we speak of it from a human perspective (and some may ask - "well what other kind is there?") but there is a greater measure of value that is absolute in nature as compared to human measures of value which is inherently flawed. By human standards life (and virtually all things) has varying levels of value depending upon a myriad of factors: - length of relationship - depth of relationship - contribution to society - drain upon society - conformity (or lack) to cultural standards of beauty There are many more examples I'm sure but you get the point. It is because of the application of human standards of value to life that we have the pathetic philosophy of eugenics (which is from the Greek meaning Good Born). Wikipedia defines eugenics as "the study of, or belief in, the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics)." The founder of Planned Parenthood (the strongest advocate of abortion) in the United States was Margaret Sanger. Sanger was a very strong proponent of negative eugenics and wikipedia reports the following: Sanger was a proponent of negative eugenics, a social philosophy which claims that human hereditary traits can be improved through social intervention. Methods of social intervention (targeted at those seen as "genetically unfit") advocated by some negative eugenicists have included selective breeding, sterilization and euthanasia. In A Plan for Peace (1932), for example, Sanger proposed a congressional department to: 60 | P a g e

Keep the doors of immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feebleminded, idiots, morons, insane, syphilitic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class barred by the immigration laws of 1924.[20] And, following: Apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.[21] Her first pamphlet read: It is a vicious cycle; ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance. There is only one cure for both, and that is to stop breeding these things. Stop bringing to birth children whose inheritance cannot be one of health or intelligence. Stop bringing into the world children whose parents cannot provide for them. Herein lies the key of civilization. For upon the foundation of an enlightened and voluntary motherhood shall a future civilization emerge. Hitler had similar ideas about the need to purify race as did the Greek city state of Sparta and countless other people and civilizations. I believe a society that is built upon or allows a gradient scale of value to human life is doomed to ultimately devalue all life. I believe God values all life from conception onward and that unless we strive for the same sense of value we are going to repeat the same eugenic patterns laid before us. It is also important to note that this same flawed system of human value leads to programs of euthanasia (greek meaning "good death"). Although both abortion and euthanasia have been rationalized as being systems of mercy helping women deal with unwanted and potentially dangerous pregnancies and giving the elderly, the infirm, the critically ill and in some cases the severely physically/mentally disabled a dignified death. No matter the rationalizations it is the foundations that ultimately direct the systems that we put in place. I had a friendly conversation this morning with someone about the value of life and I was moaning about how we put in place barriers of value to the unborn and the parents of children who die as a result of miscarriage (the very term infers fault to the mother). I was saying that if a child were to die one day after birth we would unquestionably have a full funeral but a child who dies in-utero often has no such ceremony and it is ceremony that helps us (parents and others) deal with the grief of loss. Attitudes I have encountered when it comes to memorial services for the unborn run the gamut from annoyance to downright anger that parents would "inconvenience" people with such requests when after all it was "only three months along" as though the child were not human; as though the child was not loved. It is such attitudes that create a barrier within the minds of mothers and fathers who have lost children before birth. They fear even asking for a memorial service. They do not want to inconvenience or burden others with their grief and are condemned to carry the pain within for the restof their days. 61 | P a g e

For the past three years we have had Korean students living with us. One of the things I have learned and appreciated about Korean culture is that when a child is born they are considered one year old. In Korea they measure life not from the day it exits the womb but from conception. I believe this makes a huge difference in attitudes toward the unborn. When I think about the child who died at three months in-utero I am reminded of my sister April who I love dearly. My sister was born three months premature. A mere twelve weeks further along then the child who died in-utero. I wonder - when did she achieve full human value? Was it not from the moment of conception or was it at some nebulous point afterward arbitrarily determined by well-meaning (and sometimes not so well meaning) philosophers and medical ethicists? There are so many people today who would argue that perhaps she should have been allowed to die. After all her birth and ultimate survival came at great cost to society. Her mother a single mother on welfare did not pay for her care. She was flown by helicopter from Guelph to McMaster Medical Centre in Hamilton no doubt at enormous cost. She spent three months in an incubator being cared for by a public health care system. There are many who would and have argued in hypothetical’s that such expenditures are not worth the cost. She was born with cerebral palsy, is slowly losing her eyesight and continues to require assistance from our public health care system. The question in some people's mind is was she worth it? Had she been aborted or died in-utero what would we have lost? We would have lost: - a brilliant mind who has a Bachelor's degree in Criminology - a remarkable public servant who has risen very quickly in the federal department of Border Services - a supremely talented writer - a deeply loving sister, daughter, and friend - a passionate Canadian - a child of God What are these things worth? Is she somehow less valuable then the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra? If we apply arbitrary human standards of value to a life then for some yes but not for me. I was asked the hypothetical question - if I were to run into a burning building and could save either an in-utero child or a full grown human which would I save? I cannot answer the question. No matter who I save the loss to society in my mind is the same. There is no greater value in me then in the 1 minute old fertized human egg. The only way we can see human life in such a way is through the eyes of God. Humanity cannot understand such value without a Godly perspective. People of varying cultures and belief systems wonder if we're losing much by discarding God...well one of the things we will lose is people like my sister because without God and an absolute measure of value people like her rapidly become disposable and discardable. This is horrific. It is inhuman.

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All life is of equal value from God's perspective and this is the perspective we need to strive to attain if we wish to sustain anything resembling humanity within us. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13,14

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I'm not sure why but I was thinking about the nature of human kindness today and the whole point of it. Frankly without God I cannot understand why people in general are kind to one another. It seems that most of the world these days shares my sentiments based on what I've seen in the news so far. The humanists who have abandoned God have philosophized that kindness and "doing unto others..." is simply good sense. They claim that it is the only way to ensure self-preservation. We must be kind to the ones around us so that they will be kind to us. This is rationalizing of course...the humanist need to understand why our morality exists if there is no God. The humanist argument however is deeply flawed because it only works in a society where all are equal in terms of power. No one has more power then the other - this is one of the foundational thoughts of Marxism and Communism both of which were born out of the enlightenment (which ironically was made possible by the reformation). For a world (universe) without God to work no one can have more power then the other because it is power that leads to corruption and abuse. Theoretically this seems to work - practically speaking it does not. First in order to establish a new order of absolute equality the people must gather together and revolt which in itself is an exercise of extreme power. Then the people must establish a government that exercises power on behalf of the people. This government recognizes that when people gather together they gain power through association and so it limits and restricts the citizen's ability to gather by eliminating churches and other organizations. Such a state rapidly realizes that although equality may be mandated within its political boundaries it has no authority over other countries. This is worrisome because a power imbalance may arise on the world stage threatening everything said country has worked for. Therefore the only solution is to maintain a posture of threat and strength or else seek to conquer the world. Another ironic exercise of power in a system that claims to want to eradicate such things. Outside such a state and without a loving God to show an absolute love as a guideline for us the only thing that maintains peace is law. Law enforced by a state empowered by average people who do not want to have to worry about being murdered in their sleep or having their things stolen. Without God there is no innate reason for people to be kind to one-another. Rather we would seek power over oneanother as our way of survival (it is happening everywhere). God teaches that we are loved. We are created beings bearing the Creator's image and this creator has said we should love the image bearers as much as we love ourselves and because God loves them too. I think when we fail to love one-another as Christ followers (something we do far too often) it is primarily because we have long moments where we forget that God is there. Our nature is broken and driven by fear. We in the west do not fully understand this because we live in comfort and with a broader sense of safety because power levels are relatively equal. Those outside of the west understand what it is like to live in a situation where one's power determines one's survival. More on this later...most of this is a muddled mess because I am tired. I will edit and clarify in time. 64 | P a g e

A Sunday Post
A near perfect day today weather wise. Finally. I have been low on deep thoughts lately. Not sure why. It has been busy. Lots of planning and preparing for various ministry things. Had a bunch of people over during various parts of the day. Had friends over for lunch and a swim; had a bunch of newly minted young adults over to hang out with Han Jin (our Korean exchange student). More swimming, some Zombie killing on Call of Duty (a video game) and then they hung around for dinner. The pool is resting now after an exhausting day; getting a little refreshed with extra water. I am sitting on the deck now with some Tim's coffee enjoying the still-up-but-setting sun, the cooling air and the sound of lawnmowers droning in the distance while birds begin the twilight chorus. Starting to feel a little poetic. I read John 4 today for my call to worship. It is the section involving the woman at the well...I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to end it with a challenge to come to the well regularly even if it means being challenged by Jesus on our lifestyles and state of being. I think I got that across but it was awkward and not as smooth as I would have liked. The bats should be out soon. I've always liked bats and their mass consumption of mosquitoes. I should really build that bat house I've been meaning to build for ten years. I have the plans - just need to get motivated. Well that's it for now. Hope you all have a good eve!

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A Morning of Rebirth
This morning was a brilliant morning. Six people were baptized today in church and it was something to see! So fantastic to watch people as young as 11 and upwards into their twenties taking the plunge soto-speak. Best of all were the numerous witnesses watching as each person took a step of obedience dying to themselves and seeking to emulate Jesus through baptism. There upwards of 430 people packed into the church and this is exactly as it should be because baptism is a public affair. Pastor D. led us in some great musical worship and the singing really did flood the space filling every last nook and cranny. We went a good half hour over our typical service and that's with Pastor P. graciously sacrificing about 90 percent of the sermon he had prepared. It really was a festival of sorts. After the service we were invited over to one of the baptized's homes for lunch and celebration. I ate far too much (which means I ate what I usually ate). I played football with my son Caleb which was a blast and then we went and picked up my eldest son Matthew who had a GREAT weekend at another church's family camp with a friend. Finally we came home and I went swimming with my daughter Itsy and one of her friends. The pool was warm and refreshing and now I am relaxing on the deck with the laptop writing to you, good friend that you are. In the midst of all of this celebration of new life and rebirth I am conscious of the pain dear friends are going through right now. My heart aches for them and their loss. I think also of my father-inlaw Mack who lost a grand-daughter and great grand-daughter to a fire last week and I am conscious of how fragile what we have is. I pray that I can find a deeper sense of God's joy that perseveres through pain and suffering.

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Waiting. We have rooms designated for it. It is as though we need four walls to contain us while we wait. I do not like waiting. I quite despise it if I am being honest. We wait for many things and in the meantime we try to keep busy with jobs and lives and hobbies and things. Some people seem destined for certain things and certain times. Winston Churchill seemed made to lead Britain in WW2. As though if WW2 had not come along he would have ended up as some irritated angry man running a private boys school somewhere always wondering why he felt as though something were missing. Always wondering why things nagged at him so. The disciples waited for Christ to return. They waited and they waited and they waited. For the most part they did not wait patiently. You can even read the impatience between the lines of scripture. There was a sense that He would come at anytime. That perhaps tomorrow was the day but most certainly within their lives. Their impatience was so great that it comes through the pages of God's inspired word. What happens to a man destined for greatness if the times do not oblige him? Simeon was promised he would hold in his arms the Messiah, the Son of God. He was even told that he would not die until this came to pass. How must it have been for him to wait for this? He was an old man when it finally happened. I think how we wait is a test of our faith in what we are waiting for. I am guessing that Simeon waited patiently. His words uttered in the Gospel of Luke after having finally been given the child messiah to hold suggest a person of trust and faith: Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel. The question we should ask ourselves is not "what" are you waiting for but rather "how" are you waiting for it?

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When Faith & Politics Collide
The latest survey from the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life has found a disturbing figure. 62 percent of white, evangelical Protestants in the United States say the use of torture is sometimes justifiable compared with just 40 percent of the religiously unaffiliated. This is radically backwards. There is nothing in scripture to support this attitude. Torture is wrong. So if the Bible does not support torture where do these Christians get there ideas from? They get them from the world, particularly the political world. This is what happens when religion and politics begin to mix. When Christians are supposed to be Republicans. When this happens we begin to assume that the political world we are affiliated with teaches us the same things Christ does. It does not. It works the same way when Mainline Christians assume they are supposed to be Democrats too. I have been teaching lately on the imitation of Christ and why that is so important. How imitating Christ offers the world a living vision of God. When Christians support things like torture the world assumes we're still imitating and emulating Christ. Do not trust that the world fully overlaps with your faith in the areas you assume it does. Do the work yourself and do not rely on political parties to line up with your faith. Read the Bible for yourself, pray through it and decide in conversation (midrash) with other faithful Christians friends what God meant when He said "love your enemies". For a Christian to support torture is nonsense.

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The Nature of Ugly
I have to admit I am a fan of Eminem but not for the reasons you might expect. I am looking forward to hearing his latest album Relapse but once again not for the reasons you might expect. Most of the folks who go out to buy the album when it comes out tomorrow will blindly appreciate everything about it and possibly even decide to participate in the very activities it is attempting to disdain. This is a sad lack of discernment but then many in our culture lack discernment. Discernment BTW is not the ability to avoid evil but rather the ability to comprehend the whole and differentiate between the good and the evil and even distinguish when the two are hopelessly intertwined (as I suspect Relapse will be). I struggle with the ugly. I ask myself if I should even bother listening to Relapse. I've read the reviews and I know that it is really not a pop album at all but an artist's cathartic biographical work. Eminem continues to try to exercise the demons that control him by being open and honest about what he's struggling with and what he has been through. Sadly it is clear that he is filled with a brutal hate and part of the point of this album is being honest with that too. Philippians 4:8 says "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things." While the verse does not preclude dwelling upon the ugly it makes it clear that there is a place where we should park our brains and it is that which is praiseworthy. So the question then is - can there be value in the ugly? Is there value in dwelling upon pain? The danger of staying in a place like that is that you would slowly come to enjoy the dark and the ugly for their own sake. The value come from learning to engage the ugly. Learning to participate vicariously in the other’s pain and suffering so that one can empathize and identify with a deep need that only God can fulfill. I will listen to Eminem primarily to engage with his pain and try to understand something of the nature of the ugly. I will also recognize that despite his themes and language Eminem is an incredibly talented poet and lyricist and while I cannot agree with everything he says I cannot deny the ability. Will I let my seven year old daughter listen to it. Of course not. Why? She lacks the talent to discern. She does not know how to interpret art created to exploit and and art created as an outlet for pain. She does not know how to empathize with that pain and pray for the artist's relief. One day she will but not yet. If she models herself on Christ then she will develop His ability to look into the worst of pain and empathize and engage it directly. She will recognize that one of God's most powerful acts was to actively look directly at the ugliness of broken creation and determine to enter into it, be impacted by it and transform it. She will be able to look into the heart of darkness and see the potential for life and not be drawn into its blackness because she is anchored in a good and gracious God. I hope all of my children will be able to do this. 69 | P a g e

I will listen to Eminem's new album but there are some that shouldn't. This is neither arrogance nor is it elitism - it is simply the truth. The trick then is asking yourself if you are discerning enough to engage the material or if you should, for now, avoid it.

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Ohhhh man...floor hockey tonight was especially brutal on me. Every joint on my left side is killing me. I wondered if I would have hurt this much 10 or 20 years ago...I decided I wouldn't but I also realized I wouldn't have been playing 10 or 20 years ago because I wasn't as relational. It is amazing how much a person can change over the course of 20 years. How much one can learn and how much one can stay the same. You know despite the fact that I have been alive for 41 years, have more experience and knowledge, I don't feel much different in my inner self then when I was 12. My thought's voice is the same. My fascinations are the same. I ask myself the same basic existential questions like: - when will I die? - what will it be like? - what will eternity be like? I also noticed that I like pretty much the same things now that I did when I was 12 but I am limited by the reality that 41 year old men generally don't climb trees or go on adventures in the storm sewers beneath the town. They also don't spend all their money on candy and comics. No, there is an societal expectation of the 41 year old man; that he will be a certain way and dress a certain way and speak a certain way. This is sad on many levels...to lose one's childlikeness is a death of sorts and I resist it as strongly as I can. I think there is something valuable and living about it that I must hang on to. I don't really feel age. I mean I feel it in my joints, I see it in my face, but I don't feel it - my thoughts are as young as ever...I hope they stay that way.

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The Act of Confession
I am doing some research on the practice of confession for an upcoming sermon and stumbled across some prayers of my childhood. There are two prayers from my Catholic childhood that continue to echo in my mind to this very day. I remember many of the prayers like the Our Father, the Glory Be, the Hail Mary, etc. but those only come to me upon willful recall. The Act of Contrition and The Confiteor however, come often and of their own free will. When they come they are usually jumbled together because in many ways they are cut from the same cloth. Both prayers are prayers of confession - one is personal and the other corporate. The Confiteor I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God. The Act of Contrition O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins above every other evil because they displease Thee, my God, Who, in Thy infinite wisdom, art so deserving of all my love and I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace never more to offend Thee and to amend my life. Amen. The Confiteor is a corporate prayer which opens every mass and is started by the priest while the entire congregation joins him in finishing it. The Act of Contrition is the prayer said after having participated in confession (the sacrament of reconciliation/penance).

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For no reason that I am aware I often find the words of these prayers bouncing around in my mind in the midst of daily thoughts some 27 years after my last regular attendance of mass and confession. The words are in some way comforting because they offer a kind of formal apology to God and the community for harms I have done them. They are also something of a period at the end of confession and yet they continue to come back. It is as though, of all the prayers I have learned, these two are the strongest reminders of our endless need of God's grace. We seek forgiveness, repent and are forgiven by a gracious God. The stubborn return of these prayers to my mind is a constant reminder of my need to live in His grace because my state is one of constant brokenness. A state of healed, being healed and will be healed. A state of forgiven, being forgiven and will be forgiven. The struggle is always to allow the awareness of my sin to drive me to the joy of His grace and not to hopelessness.

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How does one talk about the untrustworthiness of feelings without making feelings seem evil? A challenging task. Feelings of love, anger, happiness, sadness, and all their variations, are good gifts from God. But - like every good gift from God they have been corrupted, broken and are often abused and stretched well past the point of recognition. A classic example of the untrustworthiness of feelings is as follows Person says "I do not feel God here in this place therefore because I do not feel God here God must not be here." The reality of course is that the presence of God often goes as unnoticed as a still small voice on the wind. Sometimes (quite often I think) God's presence needs to be discerned by the silent searching heart. The heart and mind need to be quieted and the spirit trained to sense the presence of God wherever we are. Nevertheless we have trained ourselves to trust our feelings in these and other things. Some of us have been trained to only sense the presence of God in the grand gothic cathedrals of our hometowns (I think of the Church of Our Lady in Guelph where I grew up). Our feelings in these circumstances are not sensing God so much as being manipulated by the very things that are designed to emulate God's greatness and presence - the sweeping buttresses and enormous pillars, the ceilings rise to unimaginable heights, the brilliant flood of colour from the dozens of complex and artistically rendered stained glass windows, the candles burning, the echo of footfalls on stone floors etc. It is one thing to use the environment as a tool of reflection bringing us to a place to sense God, pointing us to Him in fact - it is a whole other thing to allow the environment to manipulate our feelings into a place where we say to ourselves "God is only present in a place such as this" for this is a lie. Styles of worship often work this way too. Some only feel God's presence amidst to whoop and hollering joy of a charismatic service. Hands are raised, voices lifted in joyous cacophony, people are slain in the Spirit and the music is loud and you FEEL the power and presence of God. Yet - we often allow our feelings to be manipulated again to the point where we only feel God's presence in such circumstances. That in fact, when we visit our friend's stoic Dutch reformed church with the quiet reverence and the stark decor we silently feel sad for these people because God is not present here and if He is He must be disappointed by such stodgy reservedness. Alas, once again our feelings betray us and limit us. What we feel (or do not feel for that matter) is an exceptionally poor judge of what really is. If I feel unloved does this mean I am unloved? No. If I feel that I am hated does this mean that I am hated? No? If I feel alone does this mean I am alone? No and no again. Don't get me wrong, feelings can be useful gauges to quickly measure up a situation and can offer us guidance but they are rarely completely accurate measures of reality. Take for example the following situation. Two carpenters are standing at a construction site preparing to build the frame for the walls which are to go up. One says "I feel as though the distance from this corner to that is about 30 feet". The 74 | P a g e

other carpenter has a choice - they can agree and begin building a 30 foot wall or they can take their tape measure and measure the distance and learn that the distance is in fact 31 feet. Not a big deal you say. In terms of construction however the difference of one foot can be the difference between a house that stands and one that does not. Our feelings are so often dependant upon things that have little to do with what they are feeling. Factors such as our surroundings, our biology, our upbringing, our relationships with others, how much sleep we've had and even what we ate for lunch contribute to what we feel and how much we feel it. Do we want to make life decisions and critical choices based upon something so fluid and untrustworthy? Of course not. Feelings can be good indicators of a circumstance - like a triage unit that assesses the situation, but we would not if we had the choice, want all of our emergency health care needs handled solely by triage units but rather by fully equipped, well staffed hospitals. Feelings should point us in a particular direction worth investigating with less malleable tools like God's Word, prayer, fellowship etc. When we feel worthless we read in God's word that we are in fact of infinite worth. When we feel alone we pray and know by the very act of prayer that we are not. When we feel discouraged or hated we enter into fellowship and know that others are there to encourage us and love us for who we are. Let us take these thoughts with us wherever we go and learn to respond to our feelings more appropriately then we perhaps do at times. The next time I visit my friend's Dutch reformed church and am tempted to believe that God left this place (if He was ever really there) because the people aren't dancing may I challenge that feeling with the certain knowledge that "where two or more are gathered in my name so I will be present as well" and may I seek Him that much more as a result.

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God In Ezekiel
God is raging right now. He is all fire and flame and pouring wrath out to Ezekiel...telling him to pass the word(s) on to Israel and Judah (as well as some neighbouring nogoodniks the Ammorites). God is angry. God is wrathful. God is going to judge and bring the sword. There's no good way around these verses and they hit us like cold water on a hot day. When I approach the Bible I do so with certain foundational perspectives: 1. I read it as a believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and somehow this makes a difference. Sorry to my non-believing friends because this will make no sense to you and may seem patronizing. It may seem quaint in a pre-modern kind of way. I understand. 2. I read it affirming the great cry of the Old Testament - "Here oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one" and by extension then I never entertain the idea that somehow the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament...they are one in the same God. God is Christ, God is Holy Spirit, God is Father, God is all these and God is one. 3. I read the entirety of scripture Christologically...that is - every word is inspired of God to reveal Christ. 4. I read the Bible with the certain knowledge that every word meant something significant to the original audience. That every word contains a truth that God wanted the original audience to understand within their context and I strive to bring that truth to today and to my context. Conversely I NEVER succumb to the temptation to believe that there is anything in scripture that was meant for a future audience first and foremost; to do so is the height of egotism. 5. I read the Bible always keeping before me that God is many things but first and before all other descriptors God is love. When I encounter actions of God that seem unloving I return to this foundation and must believe that however they seem to me in my limited finite perspective - every action of God is an expression of His love and I must content myself with not knowing much of why God does what God does. 6. With respect to #5 I never assume that because God does something in scripture I can too. War, death, judgment, wrath and vengeance - these I leave to Him.

So as I read Ezekiel I do so with these principles in play. What I read in Ezekiel 21 makes me want to skip to chapter 22. If I am to be completely honest I would have to say that I do not like these acts of God. I do not like what happens when He pours out His wrath. I do not like His judgment and I do not like His anger. In these moments somewhere deep inside I hear subtle tempting thoughts that say "if I were God things would be different" and then I am immediately thankful that I am not God (and you should be thankful for this too). This is the original temptation - to be like God. To be God. It is primal and works itself out in us in far more ways then I think we realize. 76 | P a g e

The other temptation I encounter when I read Ezekiel 21 and the like is to gloss over God's wrath and it's consequences in people's lives. I sterilize it and distance myself from it. The great war historian and analyst John Keegan writes in his book A History of Warfare of a similar attitude amongst ethnographers and anthropologists. Keegan says that many anthropologists go happily about their field work collecting, cataloguing and ultimately displaying the instruments of ancient warfare with so much as a basic understanding of what those instruments were meant for and how they impacted real people. There was a long-standing myth that the ancient and noble peoples were not as warlike as these instruments suggested. It was not until certain anthropologists went to war and then went back into the field did a new, more realistic perspective arise - that the stone flint arrow head of an ancient human was designed to pierce flesh, rip through organs and bring maximum pain and death. When we read Ezekiel we must read it with this sense of realism...that God's wrath is going to mean serious damage to Israel. Real people. Husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, moms and dads etc. They all die. They are hacked and beaten and torn asunder by the swords of enemies used by God as instruments of His wrath. As unpleasant as that seems it should be a part of our reading and then it is our task to reconcile these actions with the reality that God is love. When we cannot reconcile it we must then resist the temptation to say "a loving God would not __________" (fill in the blank) because it is folly for limited, finite human beings to begin to try and define an unlimited, infinite God. In these moments we must live in the mystery and "be still and know that (He is) God". Anyhow - I do not like Ezekiel 21 but - I love the God who revealed it. Yes even the God who was the wrathful one in this chapter...the very same God.

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Henri Nouwen said…
Henri Nouwen wrote the following provocative words in his book The Wounded Healer and I believe they are worth dwelling upon: "When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived His, then there are many ways and forms in which a person can be a Christian." One who has read Nouwen knows this is not the statement of a universalist but an Orthodox Christian thinker trying to better understand what it means to be an imitator of Christ. Jesus knew when He told His disciples to imitate Him as He imitated the Father that He was asking for something deeper then "walk like I walk", "lift your cup as I lift my cup". This is a sentiment that focuses on the way the heart is changed and not what a person wears for example...inner transformation can bring many kinds of outer changes.

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The Furious Longing of God
If I never read another book again as long as I live I will be content. I just finished reading Brennan Manning's latest book entitled The Furious Longing of God and I can say without risk of exaggeration, that it is the best book I have ever read. I should also say it is a very personal book and so it won't be everyone's "best book ever read" but it is mine. There is only one other book that got my on my knees to pray by the end of it (besides this one) and that was John Stott's Basic Christianity - and back then that prayer ushered me into the kingdom of God and saved my life. Manning's book is a short collection of spiritual reflections on the nature of God's furious love for us and our desperate need to reflect that and believe that above all other things. It is a book written by a man in the twilight of his life at 74; a man who is almost the definition of broken healer. Manning is to the point with his insights. He does not beat around the bush but drives his points straight home with the confidence not of an arrogant man but of one who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is loved by his creator. Each of the eleven chapters in the book ends with a couple of questions for thoughtful reflection. This makes the book ideal for personal devotions as well as small group settings. It is provocative and ultimately very, very truthful and moving. There are too many quotes worth pulling out to put them all here. One quote which I liked especially sums up one of the main themes - that Christianity must move beyond theoretical head knowledge and legalistic living to something driven by and from the heart. Manning writes: "In times of persecution, theoretical Christianity will collapse." Brenan Manning's book The Furious Longing of God is a must read. It is an instant classic destined to be read and reread by many until worn out. To read it once is to simply scratch the surface. If you are not Christian and you want a true sense for the heart of this Christ that Christians worship - read this book. If you are Christian and you want to know what it feels like to be soaked in the unbreakable, unbearable, furious longing love of God - read this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Notes on Ezekiel 13
Don't count on notes from every chapter of Ezekiel (I know - you are disappointed aren't you) but Ezekiel 13 had some nice interesting verses that caught my eye. We read in Ezekiel 13:2-4 the following: "Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: 'Hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, Israel are like jackals among ruins.'" The whole idea of prophets and prophecy interests me because it seems we have an abundance of prophets, prophetic movements and prophecy in general throughout portions of the body of Christ these days. First it seems fairly evident that Israel was loaded with false prophets (and I have no doubt little has changed). Many people spend a lot of time flocking from one prophetic movement to another and I confess I would usually get fairly bent out of shape because to be honest it's fairly tough to figure out who is genuine. Christ suggests one method - find the people we are stoning and killing and you will likely find the true prophets...translation - you don't often have a clue who a prophet is because you prefer those who say what you want to hear and you kill the ones who tell you the truth. At any rate Chapter 13 as a whole as well as Ezekiel's experience hearing the Lord and every other prophet in the Old Testament suggests something interesting; something that has helped me with my concern over whether we can identify the real prophets or not. God is not focused on punishing Israel for misidentifying prophets in Ezekiel...He's actually fairly angry with the false prophets themselves for deceiving Israel. The real clincher in Ezekiel 13 for me, the revelation if you will, is that the real prophets know for themselves that they are real. They have no doubt. Whether we can tell or not is not of primary importance to the fact that genuine prophets know who they are - every time. They may not want to be a prophet (see Jonah), they may end up hated (see Jeremiah), they may end of dead (see John the Baptist), but every one of them knew without a doubt that they were called as prophets of God. So frankly I am a little less concerned about the abundance of prophets in our time because those who are true know without a doubt...and those who are not...well...God knows (and they suspect) and will He will deal accordingly. I am liking Ezekiel. It's amazing what you get out of a book sometimes...

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Notes on Ezekiel 12
Tonight's devotional was from Ezekiel 12 and I was struck by it and its content. First I have come to notice that Ezekiel has a fairly common refrain which is "Then they will know that I am the Lord". Generally this occurs after a God reveals to Ezekiel how Israel will be punished for its lack of faith. It is as though God is telling Israel that its lack of faith demonstrates to the world that it does not take God seriously and if God's covenant faithfulness to Israel is not enough perhaps God needs a more forceful presence in their lives in order for them to take Him more seriously. I have also noticed the continued use of the phrase "son of man" throughout Ezekiel. In fact nowhere else in the Bible does it occur more frequently. Ezekiel 12:2 is interesting because Jesus clearly picks it up and uses it or at least the phrasing. It says: "Son of man you are living amongst a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people." Contrast this with Jesus words in Matthew 13:16 which says "blessed are your eyes because they see and blessed are your ears because they hear". The phrase is first used in Deuteronomy but is also found in Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah and Jeremiah. I think it would be a good phrase to do a study around. Finally I am struck by the following from Ezekiel 12:27-28 - "Son of man, the house of Israel is saying, 'The vision he sees is for many years from now and he prophesies about the distant future.' Therefore say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord.'" This is a nice reminder to us that there is much in Old Testament prophecy that has already been fulfilled (much - not all). Each generation has a morbid desire to attribute every Biblical prophecy to itself somehow (this is highly egocentric) and assume that the audience originally receiving the prophecy was merely a vehicle to transmit the meaning to its real intended audience us. In reality this is a poor reading of scripture. Anyhow - Ezekiel is awesome and I am enjoying every line. More to come periodically.

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Our Faith: A Brutal Club or Subtle Beauty
I am thinking that we (most of us) lack a certain subtlety when it comes to our faith and the exercise of it. I find that more and more we wield our faith like a crudely fashioned club dragging it around with us and bashing ourselves and others around with it as we exercise it in various ways. God calls us to strike a profound balance in our life. We are meant to be tightrope walkers along the narrow way flexing every muscle we have as we move along interpreting and reinterpreting His Word as the world around us changes and our lives change. As our perspectives move and we see our faith from a different angle every moment of every day. We know His Word never changes. We know His truth remains the same but we forget that everything else in existence changes - everything; and so we must constantly reevaluate our perspectives. The challenge of the narrow way, the tightrope if you will, is that it is simply easier to fall off. Easier to fall to our left or to our right and into the net we know awaits us below. Most often our fall occurs in the exercise of our freedom in Christ. There is a spirit to every situation we find ourselves in that needs to be read. The apostle Paul speaks most clearly of this when he instructs the Corinthian church about the sensitive issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8: Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. There is so much in these verses that to unpack it all here would take far too long. The short interpretation however is that we must be careful of how we exercise the freedom we have in Christ...always thinking of our neighbor, our brother and sister. We are also called to recognize that those of us who think ourselves wise may not be so wise as we think. In the verses we recognize that the church in Corinth was dominated by two kinds of believers: those who were going to eat meat sacrificed to idols "because there is no way I am going to let anyone dictate what I can and can't do when I know there is nothing wrong with it in God's eyes and to Hell with everyone else (literally). Then there was the 82 | P a g e

other group who refused to touch the meat for fear that it would somehow defile them and they wanted to maintain their high level of purity (self righteousness). Both groups are what I would call club wielders. Too fearful or lazy to take the subtle tightrope of faith that requires every situation to be read and interpreted. No reality is as simple and black and white as we think it is (or want it to be) except that Christ came and died for us that we might have this freedom we so clumsily and cavalierly swing about damaging everyone in our path in the process. So many of us strive to answer every question presented to us with a simple response assuming that everything is yes or no. Corinthians teaches us that the most likely answer to questions and situations posed to us is "it depends". It depends upon the group of people we're with, it depends upon their maturity, it depends upon my state in that moment, it depends upon the local culture, it depends upon the demographic. So many possible variables. So subtle and beautiful and so difficult sometimes to balance. But there it is all the same. We have many examples of meat sacrificed to idols these days. The two most dominant ones I find in our culture are church adherence and alcohol consumption. Both are meat in the Corinthian sense. Both are issues we typically club each other about the head with in ignorance or selfishness or self righteousness but so often not with a keen eye to scripture and the spirit of the situation. How many times have I heard of situations where believers throw caution to the wind and create an environment that inevitably leads to drunkenness for many involved? Too many. The most common excuses: - "there is nothing in scripture against drinking" - "anybody who criticizes me about this is a hypocrite" - "I'm only human and God knows I screw up" - "you are just judging me and God says not to judge" All of the above and more are absolutely true and are also often weak, lame excuses to become selfindulgent and justify failure. Of course we are broken still, of course we are falling regularly and of course God forgives us. Still in our selfishness we fail to recognize that over time there is nothing compellingly different about us from the world. No reason for those in need of the gospel to be attracted to us because we show no strength. Christ said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light but there is still a yoke and there is still a burden and there is still a cross we are called to carry. One can equally condemn the perspective that all drinking should simply cease and that those we do drink are partaking of evil and not fit to be called members of the body of Christ. This is simply the other side of the laziness coin...the easy path of self-righteousness, the easy path of setting up new laws despite the fact Christ has freed us from the law. Neither perspective looks to interpret the Word within the context of the situation they are in. Both perspectives are clubs that drive the world away from Christ and divide us against ourselves. Both are wrong. Our call is clear. There are times when it is ok to eat the meat and times when we must abstain for the sake of our brothers and sisters and if not for them then for no other reason than that Christ has called 83 | P a g e

us to be smart and sacrificial about our faith. I am guilty of all of the above. We all need to throw away our clubs and pick up the multi-faceted gem that is the Word of God. To hold it before our eyes and look at it from every angle and allow its beauty to be our guide and motivator as we seek to stay on the tightrope. It is hard work and we will fall often but we must strive to return to the rope for the sake of our brother and sisters and for the sake of a world dying to see something different. Something hopeful and strong.

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Lectio Divina – Psalm 14
Tonight I went through lectio divina with the junior youth since it had been a while and we have a lot of new juniors. The practice of lectio divina is an ancient Christian discipline that combines the reading of scripture, prayer, and meditation. The goal is to gain a deeper insight while seeking God through His word. We went through Psalm 14 which reads as follows:

Fools say in their hearts, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the LORD. But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge. Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!







The insight that the youth offer when we go through this exercise is always a wonder to me. This evening was no different. I appreciated all of the feedback particularly when one youth was reminded of his recent watching of the movie Watchmen. He said he imagined God as a superhero looking down on a city and seeing only corruption...finally in exasperation he sets aside his superhero status and joins the people in the city. This is of course what God has done as He took on human flesh in Christ and became humanity as part of His covenant plan to redeem all of creation. As the Gospel of John 1:9-11 says:

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"The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." And further to the verses from John, Paul's letter to the Philippians verses 5-8 says:

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!




I love that even from a single Psalm we can detect God's plan and how it has unfolded and continues to unfold. I appreciate their insight.

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Live Birth Abortion
I am confused. A story that is making big headlines in the US has confounded me. It is the story of a court case in which a doctor is on trial because his clinic performed a "live birth abortion". http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/02/06/florida.abortion/index.html . What in the world is a live birth abortion? As I read the articles it becomes clear that a woman went into an abortion clinic to have an abortion (at 23 weeks) and while there her baby was born. After the baby was born the staff place the baby in a plastic bag, while it was moving, while it was breathing, while it was alive, where it slowly and no doubt agonizingly suffocated to death. The official autopsy report confirms this. So - why in the world is this being referred to as a "live birth abortion" when it seems clear that it was murder - even by our culture's crazy standards? In some ways my cynical nature suspects this to be a case of doublespeak. Doublespeak, according to Wikipedia "(sometimes called doubletalk) is language constructed to disguise or distort its actual meaning, often resulting in a communication bypass." I mean if we can call the killing of a living human being, outside of the womb, a "live birth abortion" we may as well erase the word 'murder' from our vocabulary and use the word 'live abortion' for the killing of any human being. Prisoners facing the death penalty would not be executed - they would simply face 'penal abortion'. I find it disturbing and interesting that we cannot bring ourselves to use the word murder, even when it is obvious, because murder is loaded with ethical and moral meaning and content that makes us uncomfortable. How sad. How cowardly.

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Columbo, Matlock & Jesus Christ
I'm sitting in the sunroom (wishful thinking because although it is warm there is no sun - just a variation on the theme of grey) and I'm enjoying some pretty nice Rwandan dark roast courtesy of my homies on the Westside (yo, yo) and I am thinking about Colombo, Matlock and Jesus Christ. When I was little there weren't as many channels to choose from as there are now - we had channels 2 through 13 and that was pretty much it. We also had one tv. This meant that we pretty much watched what mum watched. Now mum was not a fan of Colombo or Matlock but periodically if nothing else was on one of these two shows would come on and although as a kid I would not pick either since it was on tv I would watch it. It really is amazing what children remember. I don't know when it was but at a certain point I adopted some of the character attributes of both Matlock and Colombo. It was a conscious decision sometime in university I think. SIDE NOTE: I adopt all sorts of other people's attributes. It's what I do. I am a mocking bird with no real call of my own. Not sure why I do this...I just do. I like a person's laugh I will take part of it. I like the way someone walks or talks and that gets rolled into the mix that is me too. I'm sure that's a whole other blog post though. Anyhow back to business. The characters of Matlock and Colombo, both detectives, share an interesting character attribute. They both, in their way, enjoyed exploiting the arrogance and pride of the people around them to get at the truth. Of course such a tactic came at a cost. Both Colombo and Matlock would have to sacrifice their own persona's for the sake of the goal - truth. This sacrifice came in the form of presenting themselves as somewhat clueless in the face of their suspects. In the ongoing interview process both Colombo and Matlock would feign a deep level of respect for the clearly superior intellect of the suspect while at the same time modeling classic fools of themselves in the face of such cleverness. If you've read any amount of Shakespeare you know that the fool is often the only wise person in the entire play. So it is with Matlock and Colombo. By the end of the show our suspects have been lulled into a false sense of security by our heroes who have admittedly become somewhat annoying to them with the constant questioning. Each question forming a thread in a web that will eventually bind the very ones who are weaving them with their answers. By the end of the show when it becomes apparent to all that Colombo and Matlock are not as stupid as they appear it is far too late for the suspects who are being hauled off to their reward. I think that in many ways Christ does the same thing, both with the disciples and with the Pharisees. "Who do people say I am?" Christ asks the disciples. Of course He knows the answer but there is often more power in the question then the answer. The comparison is more apt with the Pharisees...who often derided Christ as a poor teacher at best and at worst a heretic deserving of death. The attacks of the Pharisees were loaded with arrogance and pride in their own knowledge of love of God. In response Christ would tell a story about a farmer or a shepherd and in the process, as the Pharisees tried to work

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out what was being said they would inevitably show themselves for who they were - whitewashed tombs. Don't get me wrong, Christ is not a bumbling fool stumbling through the New Testament trapping Pharisees in their own egos - but in comparison to His heavenly nature Christ was very much the celestial Matlock or Colombo as Philippians 2:6-8 says of Him: "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! " Christ was clearly under-estimated by the people around Him and this was not an accident but to what end? In His weakness the truth is revealed and salvation can come to the entire world. In His weakness the arrogance and ego of others are revealed for what they are -compensations for a deep-seated insecurity that all that they are is still not quite good enough. So sometimes I imagine Christ, like the Heavenly Colombo or Matlock turning all questions on there heads and trying to get the suspect (us) to reveal our own guilt and our own need. There is Christ being confronted by the teacher of the law who asks "who is my neighbor?" Christ who responds with a parable that somehow ends with the teacher answering his own question and in the process standing wordless and dumbfounded before the Word and being directed to take the truth which he is cognizant of and live it. Christ could penetrate to the heart of things because He came stripped of all arrogance and ego. He came in full humility and allowed the arrogance and ego of the world to reveal its own corruption. As much as I try to model myself after the Columbos and Matlocks of the world I often find myself no different then the teacher of the law filled with arrogance and pride and in need of Christ to force me to ask the very questions I ask of Him. He is patient and loving though and I am thankful for that.

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Family, Friends, Fellowship
So the last few days have been a blessing of family, friends and fellowship. It has been a true celebration of the season and I am glad that Christ's birth can bring such fellowship in our secular age. Of course i personally feel as though I have gained 397 and 1/4 pounds in the past couple of weeks. Gluttony has been a dominant sin in my life lately and I am paying for it now. The other night we were over at Angie and Wes's for a fantastic dinner and a little after dinner Call of Duty. Woo hoo. Yesterday we really needed to stay home for New Year's Eve as is our tradition. Last week the Magi came over and a little Fallout was had. Our friends Ben and Megan came over and we celebrated with them and watched an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun. They got us the entire season one for Christmas. So much fun. Megan also pointed out to me another group that is reminiscent of Ida Maria - it is the New York band the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs - so far - I like them a lot. Today we were over at our friends Loni and Jim's and family for a casual afternoon hanging out and a fantastic meal in the evening. Whew. What a blessing is our community. Now I am not feeling well and going to bed right after this post so I can be rested up to finish my sermon for Sunday. Loni introduced me to a new author who I think I will greatly appreciate - Timothy Keller. I ordered two of his books this evening and will keep you posted. The books I ordered were The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism; and The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. Final Thought: Speaking of Ida Maria, her song Stella has an interesting scenario in which God offers to give the world to an old prostitute if she will spend the evening with him in conversation. In the course of the lyrics she sings: And It made me realize how much you wanna give away just to feel love And the Lord blinked to me and asked what is real love to you what is fake and what is true

Of course the song is far from being a sacred song but as is usual with art you find glimpses of great wisdom. How much are people willing to give in order to feel love? Perhaps everything? How much was God willing to give so that we might share in His love? He gave Himself? How much are we willing to give back in response?

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What Is Church?
"It is easily forgotten that the community of Christians is a gift of grace from the kingdom of God, a gift that can be taken from us any day -- that the time still separating us from the most profound loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.) I have been pondering the nature of church lately and wondering about the components of a typical Sunday service. I wonder sometimes if we have forgotten the grace that Bonhoeffer describes above. I wonder if we are so far removed from experiencing "koinonia" (fellowship) that we no longer recognize it when we have it. Each week we have the opportunity to gather together in a culmination of a week long walk with Christ and celebrate with our brothers and sisters that which has saved us. We do so through song sermon, through tears and laughter, through teaching and tithing and so many other ways. But sometimes I wonder if perhaps we have forgotten why we gather at all. If we ever do. If we begin to resent the very grace of our weekly gatherings (where ever we gather). We will lose something of the grace God wishes for us in our lives. Any who have been called as leaders into this community must model the joy of gathering together. If we cannot do that we cannot question members of our congregations when they struggle with joy in fellowship

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Dignatas Personae
Periodically I will appeal to our brother and sisters across the aisle of faith in the Roman Catholic church for varying perspectives. Two in particular that I appreciate are their perspectives on the spiritual disciplines and on sanctity of life issues. This post is about the latter. Recently (today) the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a document entitled Dignatas Personae which can be translated as The Dignity of the Person (technically it is called "an instruction" but I do not receive it as such). It is specifically an instruction from the Vatican to Catholic adherents on "certain bioethical questions" like fertility treatment, embryonic research, in vitro fertilization, gene therapy etc. While I believe there are many drawbacks to the Catholic system of faith one of the brilliant aspects is its ability to focus massive amounts of resources and mental energy on issues of life that overlap and intersect with faith. While most of us on the evangelical side of the church are generally aware that we do not agree with abortion, we are not very good at fully understanding why, aside from a vague sense that it goes against God's character. The Vatican on the other hand spends a great deal of time researching issues such as abortion and obviously digs to a very granular level on related bioethical questions from a faith/biblical perspective and offers some wonderful, faith-based and nuanced arguments for why we, as people of faith, disagree with some of these things and what the moral and ethical implications are. Having said all that I highly recommend the document Dignatas Personae for your reading (although it may put you to sleep you'll be happy to hear it is a scant 26 pages). You can download the PDF here: http://www.usccb.org/comm/Dignitaspersonae/index2o.shtml Of course issues of bioethics and faith are of interest to me not simply as a Christ follower but also because of my role as chair of the board for our local Pregnancy Care Centre. It is good to be on top of these things.

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The Scandal of Christian Self-Pity
I sometimes wonder if being raised in such a blessed culture is a good thing. There are times when I wonder if we ever even notice the abundance of goodness that surrounds us and threatens to overwhelm us. Perhaps it is my perspective these days but lately things have been feeling pretty good. You know - one of the things I notice when I'm in a good mood is the intense sourness of the world around me. I mean sometimes people can be pretty darned miserable. I know at this point I'm sounding fairly unsympathetic and for that I apologize so let’s just consider this a small rant. Ron Sider is a great Christian writer in the Anabaptist tradition and he's offered up some pretty good books in the past few years especially Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Reading Sider can sometimes feel a little like taking a cold shower on a warm Summer day. He points out a few things like: - we live in the richest culture on the face of the Earth - if the world was a street with 100 houses we would live in one of maybe three wealthy homes while the rest of the street lived in abject poverty You get the idea...despite the fact that even the most poor in our culture live like kings compared to most of the world we seem to have cornered the market in feeling sorry for ourselves. We moan about our jobs and how difficult they make our lives and fail to see the blessing of even having a job. We complain about how small our homes are and fail to see the uniqueness of having a roof over our heads. We gripe about the lack of the latest fashions in our closet or that we only have one car or that we don't have the latest toys when the rest of the planet cries out in pain every second on the day. In the midst of our self-pity we drown in a pool of medication and therapy while most of the rest of the planet doesn't even know the definition of those two words. Eventually, when we've been pushed far enough about our situation compared with others, we can often be heard saying in exasperation - "I don't care what everybody else has or doesn't have, I care about ME and what I DON'T HAVE!" Exactly. Deep down I think we know that the things we have, the people in our lives, the blessings of our country, all these things do not ultimately make us happy. Sadly - when we realize this we fail to look in the correct direction and assume a buffet mentality which says "maybe if I have more I will feel better". Ultimately our needs are fulfilled by Christ but He is often the last person we look to. We will pray as a last resort when all else has failed and when the latest shopping trip and half-caff caramel machiatto has not soothed our souls. I wish we wouldn't have to suffer as Job suffered before we recognize our hope is found in Christ alone but sometimes I think that's what it will take. We are not very much different than Israel when it was released from slavery in Egypt...we get part way through the desert and we're already thinking our captivity was better and maybe we should return. We think maybe God does not have our best interests in mind. 93 | P a g e

I realize the irony of ranting about our culture's self-pitying lack of love. I mean, it's hardly a Christ-like thing to be doing. I should be meeting such attitudes with compassion. I hope you'll forgive me. In the mean time I really do love you all (just venting) and wanted to leave you with maybe the ultimate expression of love in the face of real adversity. It is Christ's prayer for His followers just before His arrest and crucifixion and it is my prayer that maybe in the midst of your own pain and lack of joy it creates a little perspective: After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

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Christ is not Attractive
I read a few pages of Philip Jenkins book The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South and I began to wonder about what makes a church an attractive place for people. I mean, whether I like it or not, that is one of the things I think about as a pastor - why this church? Why do people come here and not there? Or worse - why do people go there and not here? We are tempted to believe that when things are going "well" from a ministry perspective and you've got lots of people and lots of programs for those people that this is occurring because you are becoming more and more like the body of Christ and therefore more and more attractive to people. But - is the body of Christ attractive? This sounds like an easy question to answer...of course Christ is attractive, to say otherwise would be blasphemy, but consider the following verse from the Gospel of John 1:9-11: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Does this verse tell us that Christ, the Word made flesh, was attractive? It tells me that the world was not in the least attracted to Him...that in fact He did not reflect the world and therefore the world ignored Him (to its own peril). What are the implications of this for the church? Should we be wary of too much "success"? Should we be wary when the world is beating a path to our door and overwhelming our sanctuaries? This goes for whole denominations as well. When the world is beating a path to your door is that because you are so good at reflecting the character of God that they can't resist or is it, perhaps, because you are so good at reflecting the character of the world they see you as one of their own? It has been said that growth is good and a sure sign of health. This is true, growth can be a sign of health but growth can also be a sign of cancer. By definition uncontrolled growth, growth for its own sake, is cancer and if left unchecked it will surely destroy the body. The goal of course is not to intentionally make the world hate us by being intentionally anti-world and anti-contextual. God did the most contextual, culture-pandering act ever when He put on flesh and became one of us to deliver the good news in a way we would understand. We should never slander fellow churches for attempting to deliver the gospel in a culturally contextual way...nor should we be critical of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for doing this. We should however always question our motives. If we are clergy we need to ask ourselves why we do what we do and plan what we plan. Is it to draw more people or is it to better emulate the character of Christ to the world? As Christians the question we should ask ourselves is why do we like or not like something about a particular church or person? Do I dislike my church because I find it boring? Do I find it boring because I want to be entertained? Am I more focused on having my needs met then on meeting Christ in every situation no matter what the circumstance? The reverse of the question should

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also be asked: Do I like my church because it meets my own self-centred needs or because I am genuinely meeting Christ?

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Just a Kid in Guelph
It is a day of memories. I have fond memories of small me when I was between 5-10 years. I spent most of my time wandering as a child. I would head outside on a Saturday and disappear for the day somewhere. There were times I would walk and walk...I never met a limit to how far I could walk...I think I could walk forever if I had to. Not run or jog, just a casual stroll through creation. So I would walk, or bike, and find my destination based upon chance direction. I remember living on Elizabeth Street in Guelph in a little white house that I thought was haunted. The warm breezy summer days were the best as far as I was concerned. I would head out in shorts, no shoes, just bare feet and head down the street to the exposed shale hillside by the road near the raised railroad tracks. I would go there and sit on the side of the hill in the endless piles of broken dry dusty rock searching hour after hour for fossils. I would find different ones - leaves imprinted in the rock or small shells etc. I don't recall ever bringing any home. I just liked looking at them. Maybe I felt as though the hill was their home and what kind of a boy would I be if were to spend my time kidnapping rocks, ones that served me so well, from their home? I was about 6-years-old when I did this. The exposed hillside was also the avenue for a set of stairs the went steep up and over the tracks at the top. Guelph is a hilly place and so these sorts of things were not out of place. We had a name for these steps - they were thehundredsteps, it all ran together like that. I don't know why we called them that, there were a lot more than 100 steps, maybe it was because most of us couldn't count that high yet and it seemed like a crazy high number. Who knows. Most of my days were spent alone. I pretty much liked it that way, which was good because we moved so often I didn't have many friends. If I wasn't hanging around thehundredsteps I was walking along the train tracks looking for spikes and railway explosives. I found lots of spikes, never found any railway explosives though. I started looking for the explosives after a city police officer came to our class one day and gave a presentation on urban explosives so we would know what to avoid if we ever saw it. I wonder why adults can be so simple at times when it comes to children? Of course the first thing half the class did after school was head straight to the tracks to look for explosives. I enjoyed walking those tracks...it was right near downtown Guelph in a sort of industrial, sort of housed area. Along both sides of the tracks was a fairly wide expanse of long grass and milkweed which I would pull out and break open to expose the silky threads inside, all the while baking in the summer sun. I had so many sunburns as a kid coming home beet red almost everyday it was crazy. I remember once hanging out in the school yard with a friend of mine, Tony Thomas, he was the biggest kid in the class mostly because he was held back a couple of times. He was the Indian kid and nobody bothered him (we had never heard the word aboriginal then). Anyhow he and I would hang out once and awhile because he was pretty cool and I don't think many people could get past their fear to see that. This time we were wandering the fence line of the school yard when I found a two dollar bill. Well I 97 | P a g e

was pretty overwhelmed having never had so much money before and Tony just sort of stands there and says to me: "Hey do mind if I have that? I have this money collection back home and it'd be cool to add that." Well I just went and gave it to him. No problem Tony, you've got a money collection, I don't. We don't collect money at home it pretty much comes and goes out right away so here you go. I look back and laugh now at how naive I was. I think about this and wonder what happened to Tony. Most of the guys I hung out with as a kid didn't do so well. Back through grades 4-8 one of the guys I went through school with was Mike Keunzig. He had the brightest fiery red hair and freckles all over his face. He was pretty much a trouble maker and a tough guy. Most folks were scared of him. He wasn't really a big guy, just a tough guy. I remember being paired with him in wrestling for grade 7 gym class. As soon as the pairing was announced I was doubtful I would survive the encounter. I was all of maybe 60 pounds in grade 7 and skinny as you couldn't imagine. Well the two of us got on the mat with the others around us in a circle. Mike was prone position and I was kneeling next to him. Well the gym teacher blew the whistle and I had Mike down and pinned in like 10 seconds. I really didn't realize what was going on. I couldn't believe that Mike wasn't as strong as he acted. After that he lost all his fright for me. We never really talked much and he kind of fell out of my world after that. Once in grade 12 while I was on a co-op placement with the Guelph Police we were patrolling and there was some tall skinny run down guy stumbling around on the tracks. Well, we got out of the cruiser and wandered over and I knew who it was right away. The officers I was with were pretty familiar with Mike by this time. He had a lot of white foam around his mouth and seemed fairly senseless. The officers were making crude jokes about what Mike might've been doing to get all that on him and just generally bullying him. They put him in the cruiser and we brought him back to the station. I didn't know until I was much older that the foam was a reaction to drug use on Mike's part. A couple of years later when I was home from university I found out Mike had been shot to death by a homeowner who had discovered him trying to break in to his house. It makes me sad sometimes to think of Mike and wonder what he might've become. He wasn't such a bad guy. When I was in grade 6 we were living on Garibaldi Street next to Roma Salami. The whole area was Italian. I'm 1/4 Italian and 3/4 Irish. My friends on Garibaldi were pretty much all Italians. I remember Franky Sarafin. He was younger then I and his Dad owned the salami factory. He was kind of pudgy but he had a pretty hot sister so I enjoyed hanging out with him if I could catch a glimpse of her once and a while. Frankie and another friend of mine and I would often spend a weekend day in rubber boots with flashlights exploring the storm sewers of Guelph. There was a large opening in a field behind Frankie's house where the grate had rusted out and we would enter there and just start roaming. We had no idea where we were going. It was pitch black except for our flashlight's beams and we would walk for hours. Once we came to a manhole and as we were about to push it open and climb out a car drove right over it and scared us half to death...we kept walking and came out in someone's backyard at the base of the hill those tracks I told you about ran on. Those were the same tracks I would walk along on occassion and pitch stones at the glass telegraph insulators trying to smash them off the poles. This was a fun and reasonably easy sport because the poles were planted at the base of the hill while the tracks were at the top which meant the insulators were pretty much eye level. 98 | P a g e

Anyhow back to Frankie. He was a cool kid. I remember climbing into his big German shepherd's dog house once and having the dog get pretty ticked and bite me right around the eye. Well I went home screaming with my hand over my eye and blood pouring out...mom thought I'd lost my eye somehow. She was pretty freaked out. Another time a different friend of mine and I thought it would be a good idea to ring Frankie's doorbell and run away. We never counted on the fact the his Dad had a pretty nasty temper. We also never counted on the fact that we'd be stupid enough to run only five feet and hide under his steps. Well - his dad came out steaming and raging and found us hiding under the steps. He picked both of us up by the ankles one in each hand. Then he dropped me and slapped my friend across the face which sent us both flying home in fear. We never pranked Frankie's house again. This same friend of mine was also the guy I would hang out with on boring days. We'd head to his basement and sit at opposite ends, backs to the wall and legs outstretched. Then we'd toss darts at each other and see who would move first. Usually neither of us would move and we'd get darts stuck in our legs. Yeah - good times. There are lots more but I'm running out of memory for now.

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Value. How do we cram value into the lives of the people we love? I have thought about this off and on now for years because it is one of the central aspects of life in community. Our sense of self-worth is critical to our health and place in the community we exist in, be it the community of believers, our community of friends, our work, our school, our marriage - whatever. Ultimately a lasting strong sense of value cannot come from outside of us. It cannot depend upon the people around us because our community exists to affirm what is already there. The community of Christ values the Spirit of God within. It cannot value that Spirit in the other if it is absent from the other otherwise our sense of value, given by the community is based upon a lie - and surely this is not good. But how are we to value the world than? There is no spirit within the world. Then we value the image of God, broken though it is, within the world around us. We value the world because God values the world. It needs to do nothing to earn this...it is already done. The greatest barrier to relationship is a deep and inherent sense of worthlessness; an impoverishment of value. We are tempted to look at God and say "Why do you love me? I am worthless and my mere presence would soil you." We are tempted to say to the community "Why do you love me I offer you nothing in return?" We are tempted to say to our loved ones "I don't understand why you love me and drag you down." Ironically it is these kinds of comments that become the thin edge of the wedge between people and communities. Comments designed to gain a false sense of value simply ensure we never gain a real sense of value. There is only One from whom we gain true value. When we try to speak value into the broken lives of the ones we love so we can "fix" them we can inadvertently become the main obstacle to it. How? By injecting false value like a drug into their lives that they become addicted to. By building a sense of value based upon lies. Better to point the way through our own life lived in connection with God. This way we can accomplish the whole law. When we come to know God we learn that He loves us unconditionally. When we learn this we come to love ourselves unconditionally. This is important because if we don't love ourselves we cannot love others and if we don't love others we cannot fulfill the law which is: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

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Koinonia is the Anglicization of a Greek word (κοινωνία) that means communion by intimate participation. The word is used frequently in the New Testament of the Bible to describe the relationship within the early Christian church as well as the act of breaking bread in the manner which Christ prescribed during the Passover meal [John 6:48-69, Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthian 10:16, 1 Corinthians 11:24]. As a result the word is used within the Christian Church to participate, as Paul says, in the Communion of - in this manner it identifies the idealized state of fellowship and community that should exist, this we call - Communion. I just came back from a fantastic mini-retreat at Camp Koinonia with 7 other youth pastors/community youth workers. We had a fantastic time! We spent the night in a cabin and I cannot express adequately the fellowship we shared and continue to share. I know that it is not common for most pastors to share such a genuine level of friendship with the other pastors in their community. We are all aware of the blessing we find in one-another and mourn that it does not happen more often amongst our brothers and sisters elsewhere. There are many I am glad to be journeying with - my wife, family and friends; the youth God has led my way; my co-workers - each brilliant and passionately faithful; and I'm glad to be journeying with my fellow disciples. Thanks for a crazy-fun, moving, ridiculous evening. Thanks for sharing the yoke.

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Random Observations of a Godly Nature
Today is a day of random thoughts. Preaching: There are many fantastic, well thought observations on preaching. Let me add my own humble comment to the mix. Preaching is the Spirit of God acting on the Word of God forming a message delivered through the filter of the Preacher who exists within the context of the community, that is, the body of Christ. The quality of the preaching is directly impacted by the balance of these four factors - Spirit, Word, Preacher, Community. The Spirit is the catalyst acting upon the two key components - community and the Word, synthesizing them into something new and the preacher is the delivery system for this new creation. If you remove or diminish any of the four components you harm preaching. If you have the Word, the Spirit and the Community but lack the preacher, you lack an effective delivery system and risk haphazard distribution of truth out of context. If you remove the Spirit you have dead words that might be relevant but will transform no one. If you remove community (the body of Christ) you have an ascetic monk who grows alone and dries up. If you remove the Word you have a charismatic preacher and congregation seeking greater and greater emotional peaks as substitute for the truth and risk catastrophic collapse and deadly disappointment. A further note on the preacher who exists within the context of community. Such a preacher delivers the Spirit inspired Word of God shaped by the context of the community they exist within and serve. When the Word of God is delivered into the life of the community by one who is in passionate relationship with that community it is as if Christ Himself is speaking. The Word is fresh, relevant, contextual and spoken out of relationship. This is why it can be difficult for the preacher to speak into a community they have no relationship with. The Words, although true, may not be relevant to the context of the community. It is as if Christ were to deliver the sermon on the mount when confronted with the disciples fear n the storm-tossed boat...His words are true...but they make no sense. These thoughts serve to remind me of how critical it is for the pastor to be connected in deep relationship with the community in which they serve. To be a pastor without a relationship to the congregation is to be like Christ in a crowd...powerful but irrelevant. Christ is never simply in a crowd, Christ is in love with the crowd, and this makes all the difference. Some Quotes: Today in our worship preparation meeting pastor C. was asked to pray. This reminded her of a quote she had recently read from the life of Henri Nouwen when one of his spiritual mentors prayed for him "May all your expectations be frustrated. May all your plans be thwarted. May all your desires be withered into nothingness that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God the Father, the Son and the Spirit." 102 | P a g e

The Nouwen quote reminded me of another quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book Life Together when he is speaking of the Christian attitude in community and prayer: "...we enter into that common life (Christian community) not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; rather we thank God for what He does give us daily."

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Tonight I am restless and thought I would write a bit on a theme. Tonight's theme is marriage. Mine is going pretty well these days. I am blessed to have the wife I have and I realize this more every day. Nevertheless I think it is important to note that marriage is not easy. This is an understatement marriage is pretty darn hard at times. Some people are pretty good at hiding the hard things in their life. You know what I mean. We all hide things of one sort or another for one reason or another. We've all got secrets. It's usually pretty tough to spot the strong marriage from the struggling ones in a crowd because the folks who are struggling pretty much feel like they are the only ones in this situation and so they do their best to hide the pain in public. My wife and I have been married 15 years. This is nothing compared to some marriages and it's eternity compared to others. So I figure we have something to offer some folks in terms of a little wisdom. Like I said before, marriage is hard. Marriage is an act of becoming. You are two becoming one. You are something old becoming something new. There is great pain in the process of two becoming one. Often there is also a great deal of doubt as well. Sometimes we even forget why we ever got married in the first place and that's a dangerous place to be. Jesus talks about marriage in the Bible but only as a result of being questioned about divorce. He was being tested by a teacher of the law. The basic question was "is divorce allowable?" Of course Jesus knew his scripture and told the teacher that divorce was allowable but it was not desirable. It was allowable only because people are stubborn and refuse to look at the alternative. It is not desirable because it is the painful rending of the one new creation that God has been weaving together through marriage. It is the destruction of community. There are times in a marriage when one might contemplate divorce. One should consider that the alternative might be worse than what one is in the midst of right now. Of course there are always times when divorce may be the only option - when one's well-being is being threatened by the other, when a spouse has chosen to unite with another and disrupt/corrupt the sacred bond that already existed between them and their partner. I know this is a bit of a ramble but there's been a lot of broken marriages lately and I think I want to encourage people to hold on for dear life if they can. There are always going to be times when you want to throw in the towel. Times when you think the alternative might be better. The reality is that marriage asks us to discard our expectations and mutually sacrifice for the other. It is a very selfless act. More often than not the primary reason that a person has for separation is they have unmet expectations. I hate to say it but at the core what we're talking about it selfishness. Marriage requires the sacrifice of the individual's dreams in exchange for something greater - the new dreams of a new creation. The dreams of the two who have become one. If any one person's dreams

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begin to take precedence over the others than bitterness is not far behind. Bitterness can lead to hatred and as has been said before hatred always leads to death. Always. There's just no avoiding it. You know what the most ridiculous reason people often have for divorce is? A loss of love. People fall out of love. I say this is ridiculous because God calls us to love everyone...even our enemies. How in the world are we to love our enemies if we lose love for the one we have been most intimate with? Love is always possible. It can be rekindled. Rediscovered. It must be otherwise our Lord is a liar. The interesting thing about love is that it is often found when we serve, sacrifice and pray for the other. It is often lost when we become self-focused. This is why it is said that to love God is to die to oneself. To love we must put the other before ourselves. We must put their needs ahead of our own. Now having said all that I don't want you to get the impression that I live in the perfect relationship. None of us does. As long as we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world we will have imperfect relationships. Bear this in mind the next time you feel like it should end because it fails to meet a fairytale expectation. That's it for now. I am no expert. These are just some random thoughts written by a guy trying to avoid sleep.

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More Greek…
Still reading Cahill's book and thought I would pass on some insights from the Greek. Two words in particular that Cahill provides some analysis of as they are significant in his analysis of Greek drama and its reflection of and impact on the emergence of Athenian democracy. The first word: Basileus/Basileia - The word is used in the New Testament and is often translated as king and kingdom respectively. The word in translation is an interesting thing. It can seem deceptively simple and can often lead to simplistic interpretations. Cahill talks about basileus in the context of the Odyssey and Odysseus who is King of Ithaca. Cahill lends some depth to our understanding of basileus by helping us understand that the early word "had connotations of chieftain, captain, lord, leader, judge...but it was a decidedly hereditary position." The point is that Odysseus is basileus not because he took the role by force but because it is inherently his role by birthright and it comes with a broad set of roles. When we apply this to God we see that He is King for the same reasons - by His very nature...and the role is broad and extends itself into the nature of His kingdom, his basileia. Incidentally we get our word Basilica from this Greek word - early churches (post-Constantine) were modeled after the basileus' place of ruling and hence shared the name. The second word: Hamartia - this word was used by the writers of the New Testament and is most commonly translated into the English word sin. In our sermons we often here the word described as "missing the mark". Cahill references hamartia in the context of Oedipus Rex. If you have never read Oedipus Rex by the playwright Sophocles you really ought to (http://records.viu.ca/~Johnstoi/sophocles/oedipustheking.htm). When Cahill translates the word he does so as "tragic flaw", the inescapable flaw that is essential to his character, in many ways this flaw drives other character attributes of Oedipus that we initially find compelling. Cahill says "he is strong, courageous, self-possessed, taking charge and striding boldly where others fear to go - the very qualities that foretell his undoing." Adding Cahill's understanding of hamartia to our own provides us with perhaps a more approachable, accessible understanding of the concept we simply call sin. It is helpful to hear the understanding of hamartia as something deeply, inescapably flawed within each of us...surely what we mean when we speak of sin. Another reason I appreciate Cahill's interpretation is that I believe we (the church) need to find a new way to speak of what we call sin (GASP). We may be completely content with sin - as a word but our culture is rapidly losing an understanding of the word - to say sin to many today is to speak foolishness to the Greeks, so to speak. It makes no sense. Now before anyone posts a comment of rage or panic you should understand I am not advocating for a wholesale departure from what we have always meant by sin - rather a recognition that the word is archaic and does not communicate God's truth effectively to our culture. I appreciate much of what Cahill is saying in this volume of his series. As he writes on the emergence of drama from the pagan religious liturgy of the Greeks he speaks of its impact on the audience. The 106 | P a g e

impact I think is something we need to pay attention to in the delivery of the gospel. Cahill paraphrases Aristotle's review of Oedipus "We remember in the final moments of the drama...that this is not life, this is mimesis, a mimicking of life, an imitation. The actors leave the stage and the central doors are shut for the last time. It is as if we have been playing with dolls, imitation humans that we have now put back in their box. We leave the theatre warned by what we have witnessed but purged of negative emotions. We are pleasantly exhausted now, as if we had recently expelled a poison from our body. We are at peace, exalted by our encounter with this pageant of truth, just as a medieval pilgrim would have felt after looking on a sequence of brightly coloured windows depicting the passion of Jesus. I am restored by this vicarious brush with destruction and death. I didn't die - I am still alive and can face tomorrow with a certain placid wisdom." When we come together as the body of Christ in communal worship we are doing something far more powerful then performing a drama. We come together and Christ is present and we are in the holy of holies bowed before the presence of God. That being said when I preach I want people to feel "exalted by our encounter with this pageant of truth" recognizing that in preaching the preacher is delivering God's truth and having God's truth delivered through them. All that to say I am gleaning much from Cahill and will ruminate for a while.

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Christian Community & Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I have made no secret of the fact that I consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be my greatest spiritual mentor (aside from Christ). Bonhoeffer was a German, theologian, pastor, prophet (my opinion) and ultimately a martyr...executed by the Nazi's a few days before his prison was liberated by the Americans. Bonhoeffer died when he was 39 years old...I sometimes find it hard to believe that I am older than he was when he died. I believe his contributions to the faith will have profound impact in years to come. I am currently re-reading his excellent little book, Life Together, which he wrote at the ridiculously young age of 29 and not 10 pages into it I have to blog a few great quotes I am culling from the text: "It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living amongst other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not to the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work." "Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this."

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When I’m Up
On my walk to work this morning I was listening to "The Pod" when the Great Big Sea version of the song When I'm Up (I Can't Get Down) shuffled to the fore. Now I REALLY like Great Big Sea (www.greatbigsea.com) and this is my favorite song by them. The song was originally written by Oysterband (www.oysterband.co.uk) a British folk-rock group. As I was listening to the lyrics I began to sense Christ in them. This can be frustrating for some who know me...there are times when I can see Christ in everything...they are thin places for me when Heaven and Earth feel very close. They are rare moments and I treasure them. Anyhow as I was walking to work listening and re-listening to the song I was struck by how powerful the lyrics are and I imagined the song as the words of Christ to His disciples (and to us). I don't know what the original meaning of the song is despite deep web searches I can find nothing from the band. Some have suggested that it is about the up side of manic depression, others about drug abuse. Who knows - all I know is that when I listen to the words as though they are both Christ speaking to me and someone speaking about Christ, I am up too: I am the fountain of affection I'm the instrument of joy And to keep the good times rolling I'm the boy, I'm the boy, You know the world could be our oyster, You just put your trust in me, Cause we'll keep the good times rolling Wait and see, wait and see....oh wait and see! His exaltation, a sweet disintegration. A few discolorations, then it comes along up is why he chooses, the kisses and the bruises There ain't nothing he refuses, then it comes along It comes along, and I am lifted, I am lifted, I am lifted! [Chorus:] When I'm up I can't get down Can't get down, can't get level When I'm up I can't get down Get my feet back on the ground When I'm up I can't get down Can't get down, can't get level When I'm up I can't get down Get my feet back on the ground 109 | P a g e

He just needs, something to blind him Something to wind him up It won't take long to find him When it comes on strong. Wise guys are grinning, street lights are spinning The night is just beginning, and then it comes on strong It comes on strong, and I am lifted, I am lifted, I am lifted! [Chorus] Oh it comes on strong, and I am lifted. It comes on strong, and I am lifted. I am lifted, I am lifted! Chorus In the words I hear Christ speak of Himself and His nature as the source of all good and joy. I also hear the need to walk to the cross and to be lifted up. I hear the reality that this is the only way for this joy to be made permanent and accessible to all...He can't get down...this is not the way. Up is why He chooses the kisses and the bruises. To be lifted up is why there ain't nothing He refuses. Christ is the fountain of affection and the instrument of joy in whom we put our trust. The sound of the song is joyous and reflects the true tenor of the crucifixion - we are too sombre I think in our reflection on the cross. It is through the pain, sacrifice and the death of Christ that the Kingdom of God enters the world - and this is joy. It is the common mood and response to death in the Irish wake (another reason why I appreciate the Great Big Sea version)...a mood of celebration and not gloom. I should stress that this is MY interpretation of the song and not necessarily the meaning intended by Oysterband when it was written. Nevertheless it has been a valuable exercise for me to look for Christ in the world.

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Memories of Savagery & Holocaust
Serendipity occurs in such interesting and unpredictable ways (such is its nature). Tonight I was driving to Tim's to pick up a coffee for myself and an Iced Cap for Carla when I began to think about lost memories that have been found; about the nature of memory and what's important to remember and what we should forget. So I decided I would come here to virtual land and write some observations I have about the whole thing and maybe work through it a bit. As I was firing up the laptop Criminal Minds started (very good show) and at a certain point one of the FBI officers has to meet the father of a murder victim near the body of his dead daughter. As the father is attempting to get to the body the FBI officer quietly speaks the following words to the man: "It's not a memory you want." They've used this line before in the show and I love it. It leaves the person with a choice to avoid pain. "It's not a memory you want." What kind of memory don't we want? We do not want memories that cause us pain or remind us of pain. These are not memories we want. When I was visiting Ontario after the death of my step-father last month I learned to my surprise in conversation with my Mum that I had forgotten some pretty significant incidents from my youth. Pretty savage and horrific things that we went through. My aunt (who was there at the time) thought it was probably a good thing that I had forgotten these things. My Mum on the other hand was adamant that I remember them and so she went through them in fairly uncomfortable detail. I'm starting to think that maybe Mum was right and that these memories, as terrible as they are, must be retained. Memories of savagery. Memories of holocaust. Poet and philosopher George Santayana wrote "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (1905). The idea behind this is clearly a warning to remember horror. If we were "condemned" to repeat unremembered bliss we would all frequently have our memories wiped. No - this is a warning to not forget the evils that have been perpetrated on us and by us; on others and by others. In our lives painful memories tie us to the past in ways that bliss does not. Pain is more concrete. And the past is important to who we are now. And - who we are now is important to who we are becoming...who we will become. To restrain or deny these memories is to run the risk of having them repeated or worse - sub-consciously re-enacted by us in twisted new ways. In 1 Corinthians 11:24 Paul reports the words of Christ as He presided over the Passover supper with His disciples - "And when he had given thanks, he (broke the bread), and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me." These words reported to us by Paul are older than the recollections of the Gospels (according to a scholarly consensus) and have been dated to roughly 54 AD, or within approximately 20 years of Christ's resurrection. 111 | P a g e

These words of Christ are the foundation for one of the two ordinances or sacraments we observe in the Protestant church (seven in the Roman Catholic tradition) and they are not meant to create a memorial of the triumphant resurrection of Jesus. Communion/The Lord's Supper is meant as a memorial of Christ's death. A memorial of a gruesome and painful execution. Remembrance of personal savagery and horror. It is important to recognize that this memory of horror is vital not simply because it illustrates the evil humanity is capable of and the ultimate end of all evil (death) but also because it was through Christ's death that something significant happened in human history. We remember this death in all its gruesome detail because it has caused us to become who we are now and this memory should shape us into who we will become. We remember the resurrection not as the ultimate saving act of Christ but as evidence the saving act had happened, the first fruits of the saving nature of His death...this is why the imagery used by Jesus is that of a broken body and shed blood. Memories of savagery and holocaust are important. If we hold them we can allow them to shape us in a healthy way, we might become something better than what we were...if we deny them or try to hide from them they will still change us, but not necessarily for the better.

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Why I Believe
I was asked recently by someone why I believe what I do...this was my response: ==================== I was raised Roman Catholic in the sense that we were Irish/Italian so we had to be Catholic. We never went to church as a family. My dad was agnostic and my mom just never went. She would send us to Catholic school (my parents we divorced when I was 5) and so this was my primary exposure to faith from Kindergarten through to Grade 9...from Grade 10-13 I went to a public high school. My mom had us baptized at Sacred Heart Catholic church by Fr. Stinson when I was 12. When my sisters and I were young (between the ages of 5-10) we were exposed to a number of different protestant traditions simply because my mom would send us with whatever relative would take us to church on Sunday. I think this was her way of trying to teach us morality. For a couple of years we went to a Pentecostal church where we were exposed to hardcore pre-millenmial dispensationalism and speaking in tongues. We went to a Salvation Army Bible Camp a couple of years in a row and attended a Baptist church for a while as well. As I grew I drifted away from thoughts of God, faith and religion. It just wasn't talked about in our home (it was assumed). By the time I was in university I enjoyed faith from the perspective of a gadfly constantly trying to lure inspecting Christians and Muslims into debate and lead them into unanswerable questions (I was a jerk). After university I got married, got a job and forgot about God completely. When I was 27 my first son was born and this led me to wonder about the moral & ethical framework I would weave for him with my wife. I didn't feel I had one and I felt that letting culture weave it for him was fairly dangerous. This started me thinking about God again...I was a classic agnostic at this point and that was becoming increasingly unsatisfying - like sitting on the fence and not coming to any conclusions on things of eternal significance one way or the other. Well - in the coming years we moved to Florida where I worked for a major IT research firm and had brought myself to a point of making a firm decision in the direction of atheism. The decision was brought about by frustration and not by thorough thinking and research which was unusual for me because I would spend weeks researching the purchase of stereo speakers but I literally spent minutes on this. I remember it like it was the proverbial yesterday - I was standing on our porch looking at the Florida stars and I asked myself two questions - "Do I believe there is a God?" "No."; "Do I believe that Jesus was God's son?" "Well if there's no God He couldn't have had a son so - no." These decisions were designed to make me happy and end the spiritual angst of not making a decision but all they made me was miserable. I felt hopeless. I felt like there was no point to existing at all without God. I mean, why bother suffering through this world and dying for nothing and then blinking out of existence? This was where my mind was. 113 | P a g e

Realizing I had been intellectually dishonest I committed myself to doing some hardcore research/reading. I read some of the major faith's primary sacred texts - The Koran, The Book of Mormon, Buddhist and Hindu writings etc. I also decided I should commit myself to reading the Bible cover to cover to give Judeo-Christianity a fair shake. I was reading books by Elaine Pagels at the time (The Origin of Satan, The Gnostic Gospels) and so I emailed her and asked what translation of the Bible she would recommend to someone like me on a quest like mine. She graciously responded and recommended the New Revised Standard Version which I bought. I also picked up a New American Standard Bible for a more literal text and away I went. During this we started attending a non-denominational church that met in a school gymnasium led by a couple of ex-Baptist pastors. There were about 50 people and they were some of the most loving folks you'd ever want to meet. The first Sunday we went my wife was about 8.999 months pregnant with my second son. The following Tuesday she gave birth and when we got home there were flowers and meals waiting for us from this small faith community (Faith Community Church in DeBary, about 50 people at the time). Well, as you can imagine we were hooked. I decided we should go primarily for the social interaction and so my wife could make some friends because I was travelling most of the time with my job. A couple of months into our attendance I took the pastor aside and said: "I think we'd like to get our son baptized or whatever it is you guys do?" We needed the cultural rite of passage. He responded by saying they did not baptize children but did perform a ceremony called a child dedication and wanted to come over and talk to us more about that. I agreed and he came over and had coffee with us and chatted. At a certain point in the conversation he began to sense that we weren't like the average attendee at the church so he asked a fairly risky question that I honestly am not a big fan of but for his purposes it worked quite well: "If you were to die tomorrow do you think you'd go to Heaven?" (see Bill Bright, Campus Crusade for Christ for source of question). My response: "Well, I'd be a fairly arrogant guy if I told you I knew where I was going after I died (I didn't want to tell him I was an atheist). I said I figured that I was generally a good person so on the scale of good and evil I was more good than evil and would probably end up in Heaven. He decided that he and I should meet regularly for breakfast and chat a bit about what they believed so we didn't dedicate our child into a faith we knew nothing about. I agreed and looked forward to some good sparring like the old university days. In the meantime I was still reading through the Bible (cover to cover) as well as reading C.S. Lewis's book Mere Christianity and John Stott's book Basic Christianity. I also received a copy of Lee Strobel's 114 | P a g e

book The Case for Christ from my wife's grandmother which was weird because we never talked...ever...and she decides I would like this book because I was once a reporter with The Ottawa Citizen and Strobel was a reporter as well. So I read that alongside the Bible, Stott and Lewis. It was a powerful combination. I kept challenging the pastors and other folks at the church we were going to about their faith and asking tough questions about where good people like Gandhi went when they died and why, if God was so loving was there suffering, and how can the Bible be the truth simply because it said it was, etc. They were gracious and patient in the responses and if they didn't know the answer they simply said they didn't know. Well - I neared the end of John Stott's book and at a certain point he writes that if I (the reader) had gotten this far and agreed with what he had been saying about Christianity and God that maybe I might be willing to accept the whole thing and possibly even try praying to this God I had doubted so much. He suggested I might even converse with God about how I actually believed and maybe thank God...I realized at that point that at some point in the journey I had crossed an imaginary intellectual faith line into belief and so I prayed there alone in my living room. About two months later I was baptized in a trailer park pool in Florida (I still have the video) in the presence of my wife and two kids and in the coming months watched my wife's childhood faith move out of infancy and blossom. I became a small group Bible study leader because those ridiculous pastors in Florida were willing to trust a new guy like me for some reason. Eventually I became aware of a gnawing tug pulling me in the direction of full-time pastoral ministry - I wanted to teach...I just had a great passion to teach and preach. I told my wife and my pastors, my family and friends. We all prayed for quite a while. My pastors did their best to talk me out of it. They told me being a pastor these days was no picnic. The culture was leaving the faith. They told me these things but I was not persuaded and told them so. Eventually they relented and told me they thought I would head this way. My wife told me she somehow knew as well. Everybody was supportive. It meant I had to go back to school though. I decided if I was going to be leading and teaching people about Christianity I owed it to these people to have a solid grounding because I did not grow up in the faith. I decided to pursue a Master of Divinity, Pastoral Studies. I looked at a lot of seminaries and settled on Tyndale in Toronto because it was "trans-denominational" and meant I would be exposed to professors from a variety of denominations. We sold our home in Florida, we sold our home in Ottawa and I worked for two more years at a software company in Ottawa to save money while we lived in my mother-in-law's house. We moved to Toronto and rented a house about four kilometers from Tyndale. We attended and I worked as a maintenance guy at a Christian & Missionary Alliance Church called Bayview Glen. This church used to be the Avenue Road church started by Charles Templeton who eventually lost his faith and became a famous atheist. The church was also pastored by A.W. Tozer. It had some serious history.

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Well I went to Tyndale full-time straight through the summers and graduated with my Master of Divinity, Pastoral Studies. I had profs who were Baptist, Anglican, Pentecostal, Alliance, Salvation Army, and two spectacular United Church pastors...Victor Shepherd and Andrew Stirling (pastor of Timothy Eaton United Church in Toronto). Gary Hauch, pastor of Church of the Ascension Anglican in Ottawa was my Old Testament studies prof - fantastic. Well - by the end of my seminary studies I had come to realize that I was closest in theology to the Christian & Missionary Alliance. I was invited to become Pastoral Intern at Bayview Glen and eventually called to Morden, Manitoba where I am Associate Pastor for Youth & Young Adults at Morden Alliance Church (a wonderfully supportive and loving congregation). My daughter Isabella was born in the midst of all this. This is my story to date. It's still unfolding. I wrestle with my faith every hour of every day. This coming Sunday I am baptizing my son. I am blessed.

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Have You Noticed?
So you've probably noticed that I've been writing a lot lately. I know you've noticed 'cause I know you and you notice all sorts of things (that's what I like about you). Well I've been dwelling a lot on the nature of the church lately (go figure - who'd a thought a pastor would dwell on such things). The more I think about it (ecclesiology in GreekGeek speak) the more my head and my heart hurts. Writing then is therapeutic. I get to blast excess thoughts into my digital pensieve and come back later to them on a consultation basis. So the church is many things to many people: - a building - a group of people - pain - love - a corporate entity - judgementalism - fear - joy You get the idea...so I've been reading about it in bits and pieces...a little of 1 Corinthians, a little of Acts, a little of John, Ephesians...and I'm still reading and have realized I'll be reading till my bones are in the ground. Have I learned anything? Some. There is much the church is (and we'll get to that someday) but one thing it is, unequivocally and without a doubt - the church is a ragtag group of believers around the world who confess belief in Jesus - this group, this church is the body of Christ, the presence of God in the world right now. The fearful thing is that this is a surprisingly forgettable fact. Somehow the reality of being God's hands and feet in the world is so incomprehensible to believers that I think there is a willful forgetting of this...a surprised "this can't be" state of mind. Do we will ourselves to forget who we are? Is the church sometimes like Christ with amnesia stumbling through the world? The very thought is offensive and hopeless. Of course even in the midst of our own denials of our own saved nature there is hope...Christ continues in the world and in our lives even when we deny Him...our own forgetfulness will not separate us from His love (nothing will). We can deny Him once, twice, three times by our own actions and He will continue to look at us and ask "do you love me?" until we respond - "Lord, you know I do" and when this

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happens and we hear His voice and we remember Him and He sends us out into the world to love as He does. Powerful...I'm glad Christ is stronger than my greatest weakness. So it's fitting and weird that as I finish this post Joan Osborne has been shuffled to the forefront of my iPod and has started to sing to me "God is great, yeah, yeah, God is good..." He is at that...He's the best thing there is...even when I forget Him He still remembers me.

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Matthew 5:44
I just watched Dutch politician Geert Wilders' short film on the Quran which was released today on the net and I am very frightened for the future because of it. Wilders is the founder and leader of the Dutch People's Party for Freedom and Democracy and there is more info about him here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geert_Wilders . The film is a warning to the Dutch (and obviously the rest of the world) about the rise of Islam and the content of the Quran, which he calls a fascist book. The film is made up primarily of news footage images and clips edited together with ominous, somber and often depressing music in the background. The imagery is often brutal and shocking and I strongly urge you to avoid the film unless you are 18 or older. Wilders' movie is inflammatory and emotionally manipulative. It selectively presents the most violent and hateful portions of the Quran out of context of the whole, edited together with hate speech from Muslim leaders and vile imagery primarily from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The point of Wilders film is to shock and frighten the Dutch people into driving Islam (and Muslims) out of Holland and eventually out of Europe. He compares the current rise in Islam to Nazism and Communism and something that needs to be defeated. The film paints every Muslim as a potential danger that should be driven from the hallowed soil of Europe. Wilders is a polarizing force and he will lead nowhere except to further conflict. His film demonizes an entire people and the path he wants to take Holland and Europe down is simply wrong. So what is the right path? What do we do when we are confronted with horrific and hateful violence that threatens to swallow us whole? How do we respond when this is real to us? When there is a sword to the throat of our loved ones (or possibly our own)...how should we respond. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:43-48 These words of Christ beg the question - how can we possibly live up to this standard? How can we possibly respond to evil this way? Are we not to defend the ones we love? What power is there in submission? Surely this is not what Christ meant. Surely we are misinterpreting His words. Jesus replied, "What is impossible with human beings is possible with God." Luke 18:27 The point is that God's way to confront evil is not the human way. God met evil with a cross. Allowing Himself to be beaten and humiliated, emptying Himself of His own nature and as a man being nailed to a 119 | P a g e

tree all the while looking upon His tormentors and praying "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34. If we are confronted with evil whether it comes from a Muslim, a fellow Christian, or anyone, there is only one response that Christ has shown us - love and forgiveness...there is no other way. We must pray that God gives us the strength to respond the way Christ has taught us. P.S. Wilders has a film coming out about Christianity and the Bible <shudder>.

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Christ – The Author of all Things
'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.' "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." 'If a priest's daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.' There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' " 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. 'For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

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"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. AMEN

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The Foolish World
In the New Testament Paul says that "we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23). This was paraphrased by the great missiologist Leslie Newbigin in his ground-breaking book Foolishness to the Greeks by which he meant "the Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks" - the Greeks being the pagan, unbelieving world outside of Judeo-Christian sensibilities. It is foolishness because it is not understood and goes against the nature of this world which is ruled (for the time being) by darkness. Darkness has always struggled to understand light as it says in John 1:5 "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it." Even within ourselves our very dark nature struggles to understand the light of Christ's Spirit within and the battle often rages on. I think as much as the gospel is foolishness to the world in the sense that the world does not understand it, the world is often foolishness to those of us who purport to have the gospel. I was almost 30-years-old when I became a Christian and I was every bit the worldly person you could find...now, less then 10 years later (you do the math) I find I am confused and paranoid about the very things I used to embrace. I wonder if this confusion, this lack of understanding can impede communication with the world? Is it a wall of cultural prudishness or is it a wise conservativeness? If it is a wall then it is false and needs to be torn down as Paul writes in Ephesians because it is a "dividing wall of hostility" and Christ will not stand for it. If it is wisdom it needs to be nurtured. Clearly discernment is required here. Things are usually not as clear cut as we would like and I think this question is no different...I think the answer is that a bit of both exist in our lives...a very real and wise caution with the world mixed with an unhelpful, cultural prudishness/snobbery that needs to be cleansed away.

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I had coffee by accident with an older gentleman (O.G.) this morning...my regular coffee buddy wasn't able to make it so I was reading and then O.G. sat down and we talked. Old is getting more and more relative as I accelerate away from birth but I'd say O.G. was about 76ish. He was having his coffee and getting ready to head back to the farm to assist some cows in the birthing process. We talked a bit and conversation led to his resigned realization that one day in the not too distant future he'll lose his license and then he won't be heading up to the farm anymore to help his son out. "That'll be it then I guess" was what he said. It sounded pretty final, it sounded tired and a little regretful. I think what he was getting at was once he no longer had anything "useful" to do his days would be numbered. There was a time in our culture (and still is a time in other cultures) when families would take in grandparents and continue to honor them by allowing them to contribute in their old age. Communities were broad enough that even the elderly without children were welcomed into adoptive families and cared for. Contributions would vary from accessible wisdom to helping with the kids to simply being a presence in the lives of younger family members, teaching them the value of life in all its phases by allowing others to take care of them. I really do imagine that when O.G.'s license is taken away and he is no longer able to help out at the farm he'll likely diminish and pass on having past a point of feeling useful or needed. I can't help but wonder if our elders would live longer lives if they could live with and be taken care of by the generations they spawned. I can't help but wonder if their end years would somehow be better if they were surrounded by family. I know there are special needs for some that require special training. I know there are circumstances where the best possible situation for the elderly is to be in a place where their specific needs can be well met. I understand that we, as a culture, are busy with our jobs and raising our own children. I know that it would add massive marital and financial stress. Still, it makes me wonder if we are missing something. It makes me wonder where I will be when I am 80. I think like most people I'd love to live with one of my sons or my daughter but I also wouldn't want to be a burden. I would "understand" that they have lives too though...

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What & Why Do I Believe?
The questions of what do I believe and what must I believe often find their way into my thoughts. Belief is an interesting and sometimes conflict laden area. I have learned that people have no problem holding two or more beliefs that are diametrically opposed to each other. For instance one can believe that abortion is absolutely wrong in all instances and without exception based upon sanctity of human life arguments (I am one of those people) but can still manage to support a war built on shaky reasoning that sees thousands of those same human lives sacrificed regularly. I look at belief like a shadow or an eclipse; there is an umbra (the deep defined central region of the shadow) and a penumbra (the much larger area of the shadow in the outlying surrounding region that is a less defined gray mix of light and dark). In terms of my own belief it goes without saying that I believe what the Bible tells me (which is ironic because I am saying it). Of course this statement is vague and simplistic and does not come close to revealing the nuanced nature of my reading of scripture and all that has yet to be revealed to me. If one were to ask me "what do you believe?" how do I tell them without keeping them captive for 72 hours while I explain it all? I don't want to simply say "go read the Bible, this is what I believe" because there are many Christians who have read the Bible and still manage to disagree about things in spectacular fashion. I could say however that they could read the following in order of focus as though moving from the centre of the umbra to the outer edges of the penumbra: Umbra: 1. Acts 13:30-31 2. Apostles' Creed 3. Nicene Creed Penumbra: 1. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis 2. Basic Christianity by John Stott 3. Simply Christian by N.T. Wright If a person were to read all of these things they would come to a very good understanding of what I believe. At its core my faith is simple and unchangeable but it increases in complexity and flex towards the outer edges. If you have ever been confused or curious about what I believe - the above list is a good start...and if you disagree or agree maybe this is the beginning of a conversation we can have - who knows? Cheers! 125 | P a g e

Us & Them
There is a certain tone of us & them that seems to be increasing in volume throughout the global church. It takes on many identities: evangelical & post-modern, west & the global south, catholic & protestant, in crowd & outcast, etc. Some claim to be involved in conversation or dialogue but this dialogue often turns into diatribe, dichotomy, and divisiveness. Some Christians speak of the church as though they are no longer a part of it. As though they could somehow separate themselves from the body of Christ. Other Christians validate this skewed perspective by taking ownership of the church and allowing the self-professed outcasts to remain outcast - as though they had this kind of authority over the Son of Man. It is as though the hand points to the eye and says "if it weren't for you all would be well here" and all the while the eye responds "if things are so bad then perhaps you should leave" failing to see the ridiculousness of their words. Both perspectives are ultimately poor ones because both fail to see the nature of Christ's body as a unity (whether we feel that way or not). Perhaps the great struggle in the church today is a failure of Christians to love Christ as we should. When one fails to love oneself the response is often conflicted self-loathing and certainly disgust of others. When the body of Christ fail's to love itself this same thing occurs. The body of Christ is a human body but it is indwelt with the eternal spirit of God. This same body has been broken, torn and hung on a cross. It has been resurrected by this same Spirit but it still bears the marks. The body must not look at the wounds as imperfections but as evidence of eternal love and forgiveness. We must not look on each other as cancerous imperfections needing to be excised but as evidence of our need for love and forgiveness. If we fail to do this we will not be able to love and forgive those outside the body...Christ is the head and directs us in all that we do while we are the broken body bearing the wounds of sacrifice for a reason. There is no us and them, there is only Christ.

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An Incomplete Truth
I had a brief discussion the other day about the differences between the health & prosperity gospel preachers and emergent preachers. In this case a little knowledge is a dangerous thing I think. It occurs to me that the primary reason we would criticize the health & prosperity gospel movement (legititmately so) is because it seems primarily motivated by the needs of the culture it is trying to serve rather than the whole message of scripture. It may be a chicken & egg question - which came first the message or the crowd? I mean it seems to me that the movement has developed to a point where it has understood a particular desire in culture and has found aspects of the Word to satiate this need. God can bless you. God will bless you. These blessings often are presented in worldly terms such as health and wealth. It is a presentation of the incomplete truth. The question I have is simple. Have the various and ever-changing folks who make up the indefinable movement (very post-modern) called the emerging church by some done anything different from the prosperity gospel folks? Is the emerging church a movement of people who, like the health & prosperity gospel folks, have first and foremost tapped into a cultural need within a certain demographic and have found a set of scriptural interpretations that meet that need? I know where I would align myself if I were given only these two options however this is not the point. The point is where do we find a complete and compelling presentation of truth (Jesus Christ) today? Dietrich Bonhoeffer predicted that the church of the 21st century would likely become a remnant forced into the role of safe-guarding truth until culture was ready to hear it again, in its uncompromised form. If churches and denominations are the God blessed human institutions created to assist in disseminating truth to the world perhaps they all fall into the same category as the health & prosperity gospel and the emergent forms. Are we all offering incomplete pictures of Christ, incomplete truth modeled more after the cultures we are in (or come from in the case of the more traditional)? Do we learn the needs of the culture and then force Christ into that or do we bring the compelling Christ to culture and allow Him to speak contextually to that culture? No answers, just questions to ponder.

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The Doctrine of the Absolute Primacy of Christ in the Universe
Recently I read an article by Philip Yancey posted to Christianity Today's website (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/january/20.72.html?start=1 ) about John Duns Scotus and the Doctrine of the Absolute Primacy of Christ in the Universe. As high-minded as the doctrine (teaching) sounds it can be boiled down to the idea that Christ's incarnation was not simply a restorative response to our brokenness (a simplified version of Scotus contemporary Thomas Aquinas's approach) but would have happened even if we had never sinned. Scotus felt that to suggest that the incarnation was a reaction or response of God was somewhat limiting Him (in the sense that a reactive God would be a limited God). Scotus uses scripture effectively to show that the incarnation was always a part of God's grand plan of creation and whether it occurred in a broken or an unbroken world was not the primary point. The goal of the incarnation first and foremost was to join creation with God and God with creation. The fact that such joining is also restorative is a testimony to brilliance of God and His nature. On the spectrum of God-centric versus Human-centric I would say that Scotus's teaching is more God-centric whereas Aquinas's (at least in this instance) is more Human-centric. Seen from this perspective we become part of the redemptive creative nature of Christ furthering the restorative work of the incarnation through Christ's body - the church. Yancey points out that the broken nature of the world constantly distracts and fragments the church which requires re-creation and re-union on the Sabbath when we come together again as the body of Christ regularly resurrecting and extending the Kingdom of God into the world. Scotus' views tie nicely into my sermon last Sunday on the tapestry of faith & works because they emphasize action not for (as Yancey says) humanistic, Arminian reasons, but creative kingdom reasons. In summary - I need to read more Scotus.

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Everything Old is New Again
A little over 200 years ago there arose a movement in western thinking we now called the Romantic era...not to be confused with cupid and Valentine's Day this period of time that spans roughly the period between 1780-1850 (give or take a few years). Wikipedia has a nice little descriptor that sums up the movement nicely: Romanticism is an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated around the middle of the 18th century in Western Europe, and gained strength during the Industrial Revolution. It was partly a revolt against aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment period and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature in art and literature. The movement stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror, and the awe experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature. It elevated folk art, nature and custom, as well as arguing for an epistemology based on nature, which included human activity conditioned by nature in the form of language, custom and usage. It was influenced by ideas of the Enlightenment and elevated medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived to be from the medieval period. The name "romantic" itself comes from the term "romance" which is a prose or poetic heroic narrative originating in medieval literature and romantic literature. The ideologies and events of the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution are thought to have influenced the movement. Romanticism elevated the achievements of what it perceived as misunderstood heroic individuals and artists that altered society. It also legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority which permitted freedom from classical notions of form in art. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism) As an English major I was introduced to a number of periods of art and literature but the one that holds the greatest number of favorites for me is the Romantic era (this is true for the art of the time as well). My favorite books of all time include Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (a remarkable book written by a remarkable young lady); poetry by William Blake (his art as well), Percy Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Edgar Allen Poe and Lord Byron. The part that I am most interested in is romanticism as a revolt (or reaction) against the structures of the enlightenment. Today, by all accounts, we seem to be exiting the modernist period (which was birthed by the enlightenment) and are entering into something different. This transitional stage is often unhelpfully referred to as post-modernity. Some of the signs of the end of the age include the rapid deconstruction of long held modernist frameworks/paradigms/structures. Rampant and somewhat indiscriminate iconoclasm is occurring throughout the western world (and the globe inasmuch as it is influenced by these movements). It seems to me that in the same way that romanticism developed in part as a reaction to the enlightenment we are seeing something of an emerging neo-romantic movement in response to the death of modernity. Signs of this neo-romanticism include an increasing awareness of ecology (nature), a call to return to a 'simpler' existence or to our 'roots'. In theological terms this includes the increasing emphasis on the early church as a cleaner, simpler, more Godly model to follow. Certainly there has been an increasing emphasis on the value of emotion and personal experience over systematic, 129 | P a g e

structured presentations of info. Romanticism was inherently anti-structure whereas the enlightenment, through scientific achievement, continued to reveal more and more structure to the world which reinforced new structures within economics, politics and religion (structures which would solidify into modernist edifices). In the same way there seems to be an increasingly anti-structure movement/tendency in this new and emerging age. I use the term emerging intentionally here because there are many characteristics of romanticism to be found in the western Christian movement called by some the emerging church. Once again Wikipedia can provide a little clarity in terms of helping us understand what this emerging church thing is: The emerging church (also known as the emerging church movement) is a controversial 21st-century Protestant Christian movement whose participants seek to engage postmodern people, especially the unchurched and post-churched. To accomplish this, "emerging Christians" (also known as "emergents") deconstruct and reconstruct Christian beliefs, standards, and methods. This accommodation is found largely in this movement's embrace of postmodernism's post foundational epistemology, and pluralistic approach to religion and spirituality. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerging_Church) Take this definition with a huge block of salt because the emerging church is something of a moving target. Being inherently anti-structure and somewhat of a response to evangelicalism/modernity it is still in the very early stages of formation (if it is forming into anything). Like post-modernism the emerging church is likely more of a transitional movement from something (traditional modernist evangelicalism/Protestantism) to something else (???). Like every other structure in the western world the church is undergoing dramatic and seismic shifts as modernity dies. The question is what will emerge from its ashes? This is why I am so interested in the 18th/19th century movement called romanticism. If we are seeing a similar movement arise in the form of neo-romanticism perhaps we can learn/discern something for ourselves now by studying this period. Ultimately the enlightenment entrenched itself firmly (particularly in economics and politics) and romanticism left its mark primarily in literature, art and music. For my purposes as a pastor I have to wonder if I can learn something from romanticism in terms of its impact on Christianity and only one significant religious movement comes to mind during this period – the Holiness Movement. Wikipedia is decidedly less helpful in defining the Holiness Movement, it should suffice to say that this movement in protestant Christianity spanned primarily England and North America and led to the founding of the Wesleyan, Methodist, Christian & Missionary Alliance and Pentecostal denominations. The movement had a strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. The movement was also somewhat rooted in a theological reaction against the structures/thinking of Anglicanism/Presbyterianism (possibly other state sanctioned churches as well like Lutheranism although I don’t know). Anyhow – that’s a bit of a brain dump. As inaccessible, long and rambling as it is I should say it is still a VERY simplistic overview…the reality and interconnectedness of these different historical movements is far more complex. This is where my mind has been swimming lately and my thoughts revolving around questions like: 130 | P a g e


Are we in for a neo-romantic period? Is a new Holiness Movement coming?

Will modernity reassert itself in something like a compromise with neo-romanticism or will it come back twice as hard in some Ultra-modernist form? What does this mean for the church? What can we learn from the romantic era to prepare us for the future?

For further reading check out the book Nineteenth-century Religion and Literature: An Introduction edited by Dr. Emma Mason and Mark Knight. I have not read it (yet) but I’ve added it to my wish list. ;-)

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The Last Word
The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture N.T. Wright Published 2005 Harper San Francisco 146 pages ==================================================================== The title of this new work by N.T. Wright alone is audacious enough. There are mutliple layers of meaning to it ranging from a suggestion that this very book is the last word on the authority of scripture to the more obvious reference to canonical scripture being the last written word received by God. The premise of the book is simple enough - Wright, a well known Anglican bishop and theologian proposes the following - "the authority of scripture is really a short-hand for the authority of God exercised through scripture; and God's authority is not merely His right to control and order the church, but His sovereign power, exercised in and through Jesus and the Spirit, to bring all things in heaven and on earth into subjection to His judging and healing rule." Though only 146 pages long Wright manages to cram as much insight about scripture and the church's historical interaction with it as possible. The point of the history lesson which starts with Israel and leads us through to our post modern context is simply to show how the church has by and large drifted rather far from a healthy understanding of the authority of scripture and thus to a reasonably unhealthy place today. The book is not meant to be bleak and certainly doesn't come across that way. Rather it is meant as a corrective or a realignment for the church in terms of how we should relate to and honour scripture. There is a brilliant overview of the period of history from the enlightenment to the end of modernity which history will most likely mark as Sept. 11, 2001. Wright provides compelling evidence that this 200 year enlightenment period has dramatically undermined the role and understanding of scripture both inside and out of the church. He also offers thoughts on how this new iconoclastic post modern age we're in is rapidly tearing down a lot of modernity/enlightenment assumptions which suggests on opportunity to reshape (or reform) our thinking regarding scripture and it's primacy in the life of the church and her members. While Wright points out some of the positive impact of post modernity he also warns against blindly embracing it in replacement of modernity. Wright offers an intriguing hermeneutic model for the reader's use in approaching and understanding scripture - that of the five-act play. Wright says "the Bible itself offers a model for its own reading, which involves knowing where we are within the drama and what is appropriate within each act."

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The acts are: 1. Creation 2. the Fall 3. Israel 4. Jesus 5. The Church We find ourselves in the fifth act and as Wright says "we must act in the appropriate manner for this moment in the story; this will be in direct continuity with the previous acts (we are not free to suddenly jump to another narrative, a different play altogether), but such continuity implies discontinuity, a moment where genuinely new things can and do happen." Wright's approach is intriguing in that it suggests that with the proper understanding of scripture and the authority God exercises through it we can become aware that God is continuing to do a new thing with His creation. That it is possible that we will come to new understandings and insights even now, 2000 years since Christ, and that we can do this while maintaining a high and orthodox view of scripture. The book is brilliant. I would highly recommend it as an introductory companion to the Bible. It reads at a university level but this should not frighten anyone away. In his discussion of common misreadings of scripture Wright is even handed in observing the failings of both the traditional "right" and "left" while at the same time openly dismissing the right/left cut-and-paste dichotomy (Bible Wars) as simplistic, rooted in enlightenment/modernist tendencies and overall of great waste of time and energy which dishonors scripture and God. I should say that Wright ends the book with a short encouragement to the highest levels of church leadership to re-establish the reading of scripture in our churches, not merely as an afterthought or a short introduction to the sermon but rather as "an act of worship, celebrating God's story, power and wisdom and, above all, God's son. This is the kind of worship through which the church is renewed in God's image, and so transformed and directed in its mission." The call by Wright is clear - church leaders need to take scripture seriously and centre themselves and their denominations on scripture. "All too often," says Wright, "the official leaders of the various denominations are so swamped with bureaucratic and administrative tasks (which Wright is quick to say is important), that, although they still preach sermons and perhaps even give lectures, they do not give the church the benefit of fresh, careful and prayerful study of the text, but rather simply draw on their studies of many years ago and the inspiration of the urgent moment." Within an hour of finishing the book I read a pastoral letter from the president of our denomination, Dr. Franklin Pyles. In one of those strange God-coincidences that happen periodically Dr. Pyles' letter was a

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brilliant post-script to Wright's book. Among other things Dr. Pyles challenges us on the reading of scripture in our churches "Recently," Dr. Pyles writes, "I walked past a Roman Catholic church in Taipei. I spoke to a man who had just emerged and he told me that he was the morning lector. What is a lector? It is the lay person who reads the Scriptures that morning. Usually Scriptures from the Old Testament and the New are read. May I humbly point out two things: first, hardly any evangelical bothers to bring their Bible to church anymore, and second, in some churches (hopefully not yours) the public reading of scripture has been diminished or has disappeared. So I want to ask you a question. Which church, ours or the Roman Catholic, is truly honoring the Bible?" In the letter Dr. Pyles urges the leadership of our denomination to "forsake the Modernist Church, and move forward, not to Post Modernism, but to a full presentation of the glory and riches of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as like John, we fall at his feet together in worship." The letter was a great bookend to Wright's book - both were an encouragement and a challenge. Notes on Harmony In my relatively short tenure as a pastor here in Morden (a scant 2 ½ years) I have come to notice a couple of things. One of the things I have noticed is that whenever two or more churches in our community work together (i.e. the Community Christmas Dinner spear-headed by the St. Paul’s United Church) people become enthusiastic and somewhat optimistic. There is something attractive in these periodic shows of harmony that draw people’s gaze. Now I am hardly what you would call a "musical" person in the sense that I have absolutely zero capability in terms of musical instruments (we won’t talk about my singing). That being said I recently attended the Brian Doerksen concert in Gretna and on the way home had a great and varied conversation on music with my friend T. The conversation wandered all over the place (as conversations with me are wont to do) and hovered for a while on musical concept of harmony; more specifically the incredible harmonies of the Beach Boys and the Beatles. With Christmas coming the idea of harmony rises briefly to the surface of people’s minds and my conversation with T. led me to think about harmony and its meaning. The Oxford dictionary defines harmony as follows: harmony • noun (pl. harmonies) 1 the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect. 2 the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole. 3 agreement or concord. This definition works well (harmoniously one might say) when considering ways to describe a vision of a healthy community (or family for that matter), one that has a “pleasing effect”. A community built on 134 | P a g e

the principles of harmony is a community that recognizes that such harmony cannot exist in isolation. Individuals, alone and in concert with no one, cannot create harmony, as beautiful as a solo can be it cannot compare to the harmony of many voices (to feel the full effect of this idea buy John Rutter’s new rendition of Handel’s Messiah on CD). So - with this in mind the individual who steps into the community must recognize that in order to lend their voice to the chorus they will have to adjust the pitch and tone of their life to the unique sound of the larger group. If they do not, the result is divergence and eventually a parting of ways. As true as this is for the individual it is just as true for the community. Harmony cannot exist without many and diverse voices. When a new voice enters the chorus the chorus itself must adjust to allow for this new sound. If the community and the individual do not adjust to each other's uniqueness through a certain compromise - what arises is dissonance and discord. Harmony is a mutual recognition of value, a mutual willingness of the individual and the community to change for the sake of one-another. Out of this mutual sacrifice arises harmony. Of course in our many (and often failed) attempts at harmony God Himself has played no small role and leant no small voice the grand chorus. You might say that the voice of God is foundational to the dream of harmony being realized. God has demonstrated how participation within a harmony works by offering Himself as a sacrifice and emptying Himself through Christ (the divine kenosis). This act of sacrifice is God's work in the harmony, it is God's voice being made accessible to our voices, without which (or against which) discord reigns supreme in lives. Our discussion of harmony has now happily become a trinity - God sings and sacrifices holding, surrounding and enlivening us with His voice while we attempt to do the same with Him and our fellow brothers and sisters all the while offering Himself as the perfect example of harmony in the eternal three-in-one relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So what can we say at this point? As we enter the Christmas season and Advent approaches we are distracted on all sides by rampant consumerism and worldly noise that threaten to drown out the harmony. In this time we would do well to ask ourselves (individuals, churches, families, towns etc) what we need to sacrifice for the sake of harmony. Harmony requires personal, corporate and Godly sacrifice for the sake of the other...always...but the peace and beauty that results is worth it. This season I urge you to join in community and with the heavenly host in harmonious praise and sing of the advent of God’s voice to the grand chorus – “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

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I was talking with fellow book nerd BD tonight about a new book I got for ordination - Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. After the discussion I was inspired to dig into it a bit and ran into the following quote (very long) which lays the foundation for the rest of the book. These days I am often caught between a desire to teach deeply or to try to be culturally relevant - as though the two were mutually exclusive. Of course I am beginning to realize they are not mutually exclusive but rather very dependant upon each other. Unfortunately we often take two things that are meant to be held in tension with each other (or balance) and create a dichotomy of them - forcing them apart and forcing a choice of one over the other. Check out the following quote which I think is reasonably brave and too often describes myself: "Our churches are overly populated with people whose minds, as Christians, are going to waste. As Malik observed, they may be spiritually regenerate, but their minds have not been converted; they still think like nonbelievers. Despite their Christian commitment, they remain largely empty selves. What is an empty self? An empty self is a person who is passive, sensate, busy and hurried, incapable of developing an interior life. Such a person is inordinately individualistic, infantile, and narcissistic. Imagine now a church filled with such people. What will be the theological understanding, the evangelistic courage, the cultural penetration of such a church? If the interior life does not really matter all that much, why should one spend the time trying to develop an intellectual, spiritually mature life? If someone is basically passive, he will not just make the effort to read, preferring instead to be entertained. If a person is sensate in orientation, then music, magazines filled with pictures, and visual media in general will be more important than mere words on a page or abstract thoughts. If one is hurried and distracted, one will have little patience for theoretical knowledge and too short an attention span to stay with an idea while it is being carefully developed. And if someone is overly individualistic, infantile and narcissistic, what will that person read, if he reads at all? Books about Christian celebrities, Christian romance novels imitating the worst that the world has to offer, Christian self-help books filled with slogans, simplistic moralizing, lots of stories and pictures, and inadequate diagnoses of the problems facing the reader. What will not be read are the books that equip people to develop a wellreasoned theological understanding of the Christian faith and to assume their role in the broader work of the kingdom of God. Such a church will become impotent to stand against the powerful forces of secularism that threatens to wash away Christian ideas in a flood of thoughtless pluralism and misguided scientism. Such a church will be tempted to measure her success largely in terms of numbers - numbers achieved by cultural accommodation to empty selves. In this way, the church will become her own grave digger; for her means of short-term "success" will turn out in the long run to be the very thing that buries her." I can't help but hear a certain intellectual arrogance in the text which may be one of the things that keeps people from embracing such a perspective in the first place.

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Waiting for God
Samuel Beckett wrote a play entitled Waiting for Godot. This is an interesting play in which two men (Lucky and Estragon) spend a great deal of time waiting along the side of the rode for a character called Godot...Godot never arrives. Many have interpreted this play to be atheistic and an attempt by Beckett to ridicule religion and theism. Beckett himself however never liked such an interpretation and actively spoke against it. Be that as it may, Godot is an interesting study in character and in many ways reflects a human tendency to allow ourselves to become immobilized with expectation. Take prayer for example. I often wonder how my prayers may in fact be exercises in immobilization. How often do I pray to God for the very thing which He Himself has already asked of me (part of His church, the Body of Christ) to accomplish by His strength and on His behalf through the Spirit He has given to me? When I do this do I then become like Lucky and Estragon waiting on God and in the mean time keeping myself busy in ridiculous ways? What do I mean by all of this? Well - How often do I find myself praying for the sick and asking God to bring healing and strength (which surely I must) and then forget that my own ministering presence has already been asked for by God? - How often do I pray that God would comfort the shut-in or prisoner and fail to recognize that He has already asked me to do this? - How often do I find myself praying that God would provide for the poor when He has already asked me to do this? - How often have I asked God to go into the world and work in the lives of the nonbeliever when He has already asked me to do this? - How often have I asked God to draw near to me when He has already asked me to draw near to Him? Then, after prayer, I will sit and wait and wait and wait wondering at times if God will ever come...immobilized with expectation. A verse seems appropriate to all of this 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

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- Matthew 25:34-40 Postscript: Later in the day I was finishing up Jr. Youth night planning when I came across the following prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. In light of the above thoughts I think it is an appropriate addition. Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.

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Ecclesiastes: Existential Anecdote
Reading Ecclesiastes today I am struck by the following verse: "And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after the wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain." - Ecclesiastes 1:17-18 It is an enigmatic couple of verses and it sets the tone of the text balanced only by the author's admonitions to "remember your Creator". The text mourns the state of humanity, most especially thinking humanity and finds hope and meaning only in God. Ecclesiastes is a funny text because if you were to remove the references to God it would be a powerful existential work speaking of the condition of humanity. Existentialism, a movement literature and philosophy anchored in 19th/early 20th century writing, sought to show how we must define ourselves and our condition (reality). That meaning can only come from within and not from outside (see the writings of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus and others). Without this self-definition one exists in a constant and increasing state of anxiety and hopelessness. There are echoes of existentialism in postmodernism (see The Matrix series, Ghost in the Shell, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep etc.). What prevents Ecclesiastes from tipping into existentialism is the assertion that meaning comes only to the life pointed at God. Reading it feels like reading an antidote to a sickness that was still to come.

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Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth: A Review
Recently Joseph Ratzinger published a book entitled - Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. I had heard rumours that Ratzinger was a profound theologian but had never read anything by him before this book (the first of a two-volume work on the life of Christ). Based upon my initial reading of the text I can confirm that Ratzinger is indeed a theologian worth reckoning with. I am in the habit of marking up and highlighting books as I read them for future reference purposes - I should have simply highlighted the whole book and saved myself some time. Every page is filled with a lifetime's worth of insight and study from a man who clearly has a deep faith. Ratzinger prefaces his book by explaining the purpose and methodology of his approach. The point of the book in his words "is solely an expression of my personal search "for the face of the Lord" which is to say Ratzinger's primary goal is to counter and possibly strip away much of the obscuring darkness that has ironically covered Christ as a result of 40 years of historical Jesus scholarship. Ratzinger employs primarily Canonical criticism methods in his approach but also draws on (or tries to extend) the historical critical approach and in doing so he readily acknowledges the limitations of both (particularly historical criticism). The obvious question for any reader of this book, particularly those who stand outside of Catholicism, is - how accessible is this to non-Catholic readers? The first hint that the book is a broadly readable work comes in the forward when Ratzinger states "that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search "for the face of the Lord". Everyone is free then, to contradict me. The brilliance of this statement of course is that it both removes and acknowledges papal authority in one not unlike the apostle Paul telling believers when it is his opinion apart from God's divine inspiration speaking and then leaving it to puzzled believers to try to understand what God meant by enshrining Paul's "opinions" in the canon of scripture. It may be that Ratzinger was smiling when he wrote that statement. Apart from the initial qualifier there are very few allusions to the papacy and reading as an evangelical pastor I found nothing overtly contradictory to my own theology (such as it is). The reader is led through the life of Christ as portrayed in the Gospels and with the assumption that the clearest most accurate portrayal of Jesus comes only when they are included. Not only must the Gospels be a part of any search for Christ but the whole of scripture must be a part as well, and that only from the perspective of faith. With these rules of engagement in place the book itself is meant for the believer and may be seen as "foolishness to the Greeks" as it were. Ratzinger is comfortable with this. As Ratzinger follows and presents Jesus life in light of His major discourses (Baptism, Temptation, Sermon on the Mount, etc) he interprets them in light of the Old Testament. Further to this the reader notices that he also interprets the Old Testament in light of Jesus - Christologically. From this point Ratzinger then presents us with an interpretation of history Christologically - and not simply history post-Christ but all of history. In this way Ratzinger redeems and shows how Christ is not challenged by 140 | P a g e

previous cultural mythologies that in some ways resemble His story but Christ in fact redeems and completes these mythologies which are revealed to be incomplete and shadowy prefigurings of Himself. For Ratzinger then, the only proper way to interpret Christ is through a Christological reading of scripture and history, or more plainly put - that when we interpret scripture and history in light of Christ we interpret Christ correctly and see the Father in Him and He in the Father. From this point we can then see ourselves in Christ (or where we should be). Ratzinger is not restricted to Catholic sources but draws upon a very broad list including the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) and authors as diverse as C.S. Lewis and Rabbi Jacob Neusner (whose writings Ratzinger brilliantly turns on their head to support his own argument for Christ's divinity). As the reader winds their way through the text Ratzinger continually shows the harmony of the synoptic Gospels with the Gospel of John and finally with all of scripture in terms of affirming the divinity of Christ - this is what he is most concerned with, that the reader come away with a clear, biblical picture of Christ as God (and in the process a reaffirmed image of the Trinity). There are no end of great quotes to draw from the text that demonstrate Ratzinger's faith and understanding; here are a few that I like: "Where is post-Easter faith supposed to have come from if Jesus laid no foundation for it before Easter?" "It is only in God and in light of God that we rightly know man (sic). Any self-knowledge that restricts man to the empirical and the tangible fails to engage with man's true depth. Man knows himself only when he learns to understand himself in light of God, and he knows others only when he sees the mystery of God in them." "It is not the Scripture experts, those who are professionally concerned with God, who recognize Him; They are too caught up in the intricacies of their detailed knowledge. Their great learning distracts them from simply gazing upon the whole, upon the reality of God as He reveals Himself - for people who know so much about the complexity of the issues, it seems that it just cannot be so simple." Once again there is a deep sense of irony in the above quote but by this point the reader is certain that Ratzinger is conscious of this and intentionally employs the irony. As the reader approaches the end of the book they will realize that they have been given a redeemed image of Christ. Ratzinger fittingly weaves the text to a final interpretation of Christ's use of the phrase "I Am" and the profound implications in terms of His equality with God and ultimately His nature as God. The final sentence of the book reminds the reader of the Nicene Creed's agreement with this reading and with the statement of Peter from Matthew 16:16: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

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Overall the book is inspired and brilliant. It serves as a new commentary on the nature of Christ and as such takes its place alongside other such works. A warning to readers - this is not an exceptionally accessible book as it presumes a fair foundation in theological terms and some basic Greek. Credit needs to go to Adrian J. Walker who translated the text from the original German to English. Walker does a wonderful job in that the reader does not feel his presence at all. A final note to the non-Catholic reader who is concerned about the author's Catholic perspective. It is wise to approach this book (and all books frankly) with a critical eye. This book is not written by just anyone but the spiritual leader of more than 1 billion people. This same leader who as pope has reaffirmed Latin Mass and Catholic doctrine which at the very least presents any person outside of Catholicism as incomplete in the faith and any church outside of papal authority as broken and out of communion with Christ (see the church document Dominus Iesus, authored by Ratzinger when he was Cardinal and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). This doctrine certainly comes through on occasion (as it must for obvious reasons) as we have seen in the forward comment regarding the magesterium as well as later in the text when Ratzinger interprets the "upon this rock" verse from Matthew as establishing initial church leadership and authority on Peter. These instances are exceptions however and barely make up a footnote in the primary message which is the reliability of scripture in providing us with a clear historically accurate picture of who Christ is. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to deepen their understanding of Jesus or simply desiring to develop their own interpretive skills. It is clearly a work of faith leaving the reader enriched and with the feeling that this work is merely the preface for the main act to come.

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These are rough thoughts, bound to change over time and with experience. I have been thinking a lot about love lately. I'm not sure why. I think it started a couple of weeks back when I was walking home from work and began thinking about mid-life crisis (MLC). The thing is I'm 39 and will be 40 in May and I suppose I'm in the danger-zone for something like a MLC. Don't get me wrong, I don't remotely feel old or even rebellious against age - in fact I'm pretty darn content these days, all things considered. Nevertheless the thoughts were there and I explored them. The most common symptom of the MLC is an affair. The affair often stems from an inner sense that one is no longer as desirable as one once was which signifies a great problem in our understanding of love its confusion with attractiveness and other temporal attributes. It occurred to me that men (and women) who are struggling with a sense of being loved will often reach out to the first thing that loves and accepts them (or at least who they perceives loves and accepts them). It also occurred to me that a great number of people these days will look outside of the marriage or relationship they are in for love. This often gets them in a boatload of trouble. Of course what is often being sought out is not love at all but a variation on the theme of selfishness and lust. A great deal of rationalizations are offered in response to infidelity including: - a poor sex life - lack of respect - laziness on part of spouse - we've changed (physically, emotionally, spiritually) - boredom The interesting thing about these and other motivations toward infidelity is that they hint at how we often define what love is. This is where I began thinking about the nature of love. What is it? Of course from a position of Christian faith I cannot help but recognize that scripture says "God is love" (1 John 4:8). In some ways this is incredibly frustrating because God is God and we are not and so if God is love then it is a standard we cannot hope to achieve. This is a poor excuse however because God is a trajectory He put us on...sanctification plays a part here. So God is love. Still this leaves us with questions. We know God is love and we know that we are to emulate God and so our love is meant to be a reflection of His love. But what is it? This question is critical because much in our lives will depend upon how we understand the answer. Plato spoke about love quite extensively in his various writings. Of course this was 2,500 years ago but it's impact has been substantial. Plato's theories are quite good but in the end they reflect an opinion of humanity as endlessly seeking after for the self. No matter how noble or high-minded the lover becomes ultimately in Plato love is a selfish extension of humanity. 143 | P a g e

Only in God does love become both noun and verb...otherwise, in humanity, love is a verb/adverb. As a verb love is an action or series of actions. It may even be descriptive of an action. But I think the character of true love is selfless action or outflowing. If we take the husband or wife in crisis for a moment we would like to say a few things. First we would like to say to them that no matter how attractive (physically) their spouse is there will always be someone more attractive - always. This seems the height of unhelpful but the goal is to move the person beyond the physical...past lust to something higher. The point is that if our love is founded upon or based merely upon physical attractiveness it is doomed. It must go beyond this to something deeper. This also underscores a critical defining characteristic of love - love is not depending upon anything outside of its source. I went to a wedding the other day and it was a beautiful affair, it was outdoors and the sun was shining, the wind had died down the groom was handsome and the bride was beautiful and all was good. Here in this setting I heard the expected, a quote from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." This is as much a definition of God as it is of love...for our purposes we will focus on love. Our journey has led us to the cusp of revelation - that love is not dependant upon the one that is loved. Godly love is utterly separated from the attractiveness, actions or character of the one who is loved. All of the attributes that define love in the above verses are a testimony to this - patience, kindness, protection, hope, perseverance all speak of the independence of love; they are all attributes that describe character that is not impacted by its immediate situation. Further to this the verses speak to us about how love does not react to the negative with negative by keeping no record of evil, not being easily angered, and of course love is not self-seeking. The nature of love is easier to understand than to put into action because action is dependant upon a reaction or a previous action - love is dependant upon nothing and is fed from within. This means that love remains in place despite the person being loved not because of the person. The broken character of the other should not remove our love for them, the inevitable deterioration of the other should not impact our love for them, nothing the other says or does or feels should impact our love for them. But, you say, if this is true and we were to love this way then we would love everyone equally. Ahhh...see that's the trick...that is the nature of God that "God so loved the world that He gave..." (John 3:16). Love gives. Love gives with no strings attached. Now wait a minute you say! God requires something...His love comes with strings...you have to accept His son. Of course this again is the nature of love - it needs to be accepted, or rather it can be refused. Love respects the one loved and would never force it - so it stands and offers itself completely which means it opens itself up to complete rejection. This rejection does not reflect the quality of the love, it remains the same but the one it is 144 | P a g e

offered to loses the opportunity to be transformed. Love transforms. This is the secret of the Grinch's transformation in Dr. Seuss's classic - he witnessed true love that was not dependent upon anything when he stood puzzling about the nature of Christmas: "How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!" And he puzzled three hours, 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. "Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!" And what happened then...? Well...in Who-ville they say That the Grinch's small heart Grew three sizes that day! Love is foolishly dependant upon nothing. Love makes absolutely no sense when you think about it because love would sacrifice itself for the sake of the other and this goes against our own instinct for self-preservation. Love is a contradiction. If we are to love then we are to be as foolish. If we are to love this way we will begin to understand enigmatic sayings such as `Matthew 12:48-50 "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." or Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. There are more to these thoughts but it`s all my little brain can come up with right now. I`ll add later. LATER - Of course I should mention briefly that God is love and so God is the source of all love. We offer various and sundry interpretations on the theme and our attempts at love seem more like poor artisans attempts to fashion something beautiful in a medium they've never used before. We create small idols of our love and put them on our shelves and worship them...but they are mere projections of lust and selfishness usually.

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We said earlier that love was powered from within and dependant upon nothing external to allow it to exist. But doesn't love need an object? Is this not some external requirement? God's love exists well within His triune self. God's love can exist apart from anyone else because He can commune perfectly within Himself...it is a pure act of grace that He has chosen humanity, who stand outside of Him, to be recipients of that love...He does not require us to be recipients. In terms of humanity, we are not created to commune with ourselves. Our love, to be a reflection of God's, must come from a source other than ourselves, but within ourselves - we must rely upon God's spirit within us to be the source of our love. We must learn to relate to and commune with God's spirit within us to effectively love those around us. The irony here is that there are many with God's spirit who choose to attempt love without it (or choose not to love at all)...in these instances our love falls far short and wreaks havoc and we become confused because we did our best but it was not good enough. Still others who do not have the spirit of God have been able to see enough of Him in creation to create a reasonable facsimile of His love enough to put us to shame.

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Blessings? Still Counting…
So this week I have been working on my sermon for Sunday - it's the first part of a two-part series on Doubt...Sunday's title: The Dark Side of Doubt. Now the thing about preparing to preach on the dark side of doubt is that you can't avoid confronting it, wrestling with it and realizing how powerful and how subtle it can be all at the same time. What I'm saying is it is a tough subject and I'm not sure how it's going to turn out because I have found that people like to avoid doubt (including myself) as a way of dealing with it. It's been a dark week from that perspective. The good news is I come home today and get to jump in the pool with the kids and then Carla brings out some lamb and we sit outside and enjoy the perfect blue sky. Then I can go inside and watch my awesome wife rockin' out to G&R's Sweet Child o' Mine on Matt's Guitar Hero II (he bought with b-day $$$). The antidote to doubt for me today? It's not the family or the pool or even the great weather - it's God taking hold of me and saying - "take a look around you, you are blessed." The antidote to doubt for you? It's not family, kids, weather, or pools...its you letting God take hold and say "take a look around you - you are uniquely blessed where you are. To find our blessing not in our surroundings but in the value God vests in our surroundings...and in us (although it can be easier to see this under blue skies...).

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I was reading Judges, chapters 1 through 3 the other day and a couple of things stood out to me: 1. At the beginning of chapter 2 it says "Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, "I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you into the land I had promised to your ancestors." ". What strikes me about this verse is that the angel of the Lord (some believe this to be a euphemism for Christ) was doing in Bochim. Why did the angel not get to Bochim from Heaven but rather from Gilgal? Why was the angel of the Lord hanging about in Gilgal in the first place? Why bother with this detail unless it is important? Gilgal was where Joshua set up the 12 stone memorial to the crossing of the Jordan. It was also where the Israelites re-committed themselves to God's promise by getting recircumcised (OUCH!!! Once would be enough but twice would call for certain miracles I would imagine). Gilgal is certainly a hub of activity for the early Israelites...there is much coming and going from Gilgal. 2. In Joshua 2:22-22 it says "Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, "Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their ancestors did." Interesting. It reveals the character of God. I wonder how this translates to His interactions with us today on a personal level? On a community level? ==================== On another note I am listening to Michael W. Smith and I love the lyric "though you are mourning and grieving your loss, death died a long time ago". Such a powerful lyric. What prevents a person from crying out to God "I am yours - SAVE ME!", I wonder? What stops a person from hearing His voice as He yearns to take us into His arms? Why do we struggle against our creator with our every breath? At 18-years-old Mary Shelley had powerful insights into this - read Frankenstein.

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The Good Critic
You know I actually appreciate criticism. I find that I can thrive in a critical environment. Don't get me wrong I love compliments too but I am awkward with them. I'm not sure what to do with a compliment. Compliments are like underserved gifts or like grace, for a task-oriented person like myself there is nothing you can do with a compliment - except receive it. Criticism on the other hand must be responded to. Criticism can send a person into action. Compliments can do this too but to a lesser degree as affirmations of action already taken. It occurs to me however that there are two kinds of critics. There are good critics and there are bad critics. The bad critic is the person who does not like something but is unable to explain why. They are the person who drifts silently away from something without offering so much as a constructive explanation. The bad movie critic will trash a film and leave it at that. Often the bad critic is the one who sees their own hateful flaws in the people and things around them and responds by transferring this despisal of themselves into a despisal of the people and things around them. The thing about a bad critic is that they are a little like the boy who cried wolf - eventually they are ignored, which can be a very isolating experience. The good critic on the other hand offers criticism out of a sense of love and responsibility to the person or thing that is being criticized. The good critic considers the best way to present criticism and the good critic ALWAYS offers alternatives and suggestions to the area they are critical of. The good critic speaks without anger, resentment or a desire to hurt. In film the good critic is the one who offers helpful solutions to the issues they see. In life there are bad critics and good critics everywhere. Within the church, as a body inspired and indwelt by Christ Himself there should only be good critics but, of course, this is not always the case. If we look to Christ as the example He always offers explanations with His criticsims. When He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple this is what is recorded in John 14:13-16 "When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father's house into a market!" If Christ were a bad critic He simply would have driven them from the temple and overturned their tables and said nothing. Or He might have walked away in disgust and never returned. Instead He offers a solution - remove these animals. Stop selling them here. Christ's anger stems from the reality at the time that the only way Israel could draw near God and seek forgiveness was to offer a ritually pure animal for sacrifice. The temple had set up a system of animal 149 | P a g e

sales that gouged people to such a degree that the poor could not afford to sacrifice to God. Not only this but under this system you were not allowed to bring your own animals - you had to buy a temple animal. Christ's anger stems from the fact that this system had set up an artificial barrier between God and His people and woe to the one who would prevent the Father's children from coming near to Him. Christ was a good critic. He criticized out of a deep sense of love and responsibility and a desire to guide the offender back to the right way. What kind of critic are you?

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God Talk
As I was walking home from work this afternoon I had one of those moments. You know, a moment where you are transported to a different time. A different place. I was walking and I was praying. Just conversing with God about stuff that the days and weeks have brought. It was a casual conversation and God is patient 'cause I tend to do all the talking. The sun is a brilliant bright white-yellow and the wind is strong but not cold. The streets were dry and dusty and suddenly it was 1974 and I was walking home from school. You know I walked home pretty much every day and it felt like a long walk but then maybe it was the rambling, half-searching kind of walking I would do that made it feel that way. Every so often I would stop along the way and dam up some run-off stream to see how big a lake I could make. Sometimes I would pause along the train tracks and tug at the odd spike to see if I could get lucky. The whole time I would be praying. I didn't know I was praying. No one ever spent a lot of time with me saying that you could pray to God. You should pray to God. He wants you to pray to Him. It was just something I did to pass the time. We'd converse mostly about stuff going on around me. The weather was good and I'd thank Him for that. I'd pray for things that a six-year-old prays for telling Him it would be nice to find some detonating caps along the tracks I could blow up or maybe a new bike to make the trip go by faster between school and home. Some days it would just be a rambling kind of talk letting Him know how the day went and what I had been up to. As if He didn't know. There was never any question about whether He heard me or listened. I took it for granted that He did and that was good enough. Then - when I got home the praying stopped and I went inside. I didn't pray much inside except at bed. Maybe it was easy to pray outside in the summer sun because the inside was dark and the walls were close and the ceiling seemed ominous in our small home. Like God needed me outside in "His" world to really hear me. I don't know. All I know is my conversation with God dried up as I got older the way a summer friendship dries up in the cold of autumn. Friends move on, they turn to memories and memories to myth and eventually there's just a space and dust where the one you loved used to be. So today I'm walking home in the sun and the wind and I'm six-years-old again and I'm talkin' to God and I know He's listening. My prayers have not changed much since then...I still ramble on and on, sometimes about nothing at all just wanting to keep the line open as long as I can like a love-struck kid who calls his long distance girlfriend at 1 am and lets her fall asleep on the phone because that's ok - he knows they're connected over the line and that's all that matters. She's still there breathing softly at the other end. So there I am walking.

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There I am talking. And I still ask for stuff I shouldn't and I still pray for people I'd rather not pray for but know He wants me to so I do (and I know He can hear the grudging tone in my voice like Jonah in the desert). I'm just talking to God and walking along and asking for foolishness and wisdom and praying that He will separate the two and give me what's good. And there's the sun shining and wind blowing and the streets are dusty in a good way and there's nobody there but me and God and I wish it would never end.

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Caution: Atheists Ahead
I don't spend a great deal of time in consideration of the atheist religion for obvious reasons. It is easy to ignore the ridicule of Richard Dawkins simply because he is as petty, childish and mean-spirited in his attacks as he claims Christians are. But it seems that the atheists are on the march as popularity in their ideas is growing again in direct response to the increasing interest in spirituality of all forms. They are like some form of cultural counter-weight. This week's Maclean's has a provocative cover titled "Is God Poison?" followed inside by a feature article looking at this new rise of old atheism. After briefly and dismissively talking about Dawkins and his popularity the article focuses most of its energies on Christopher Hitchens and the ideas of his forthcoming book - God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I will not, at this time, go into pointing out that confusing religion with God has been one of the primary mistakes atheists have made since there were atheists. Suffice to say I will quote Tolstoy (as I have in the past) who once said "do not judge the path by how poorly I walk it...". As atheism's popularity rises no doubt apologetics will also rise to meet the challenge head-on. The old apologists are still out there like a vanguard ever watchful. G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis continue to speak from the grave. Ravi Zacharias, Alistair McGrath and to a lesser extent Josh MacDowell continue to offer defense in the way seasoned veterans continue to take up arms in defense of their nation. Keep an eye on the next generation of apologists like Brit - Joe Boot, who heads Ravi Zacharias Ministries in Canada. Check his bio out at http://www.rzim.org/team/?personid=33 . I'm convinced that mature Christians do not read enough books that attack the faith. I say this because it is difficult to defend against an attack if one has not bothered to study the tactics of the aggressor. A thoughtless response like "'cuz the Bible says so" simply has no effect on one who sees no difference between the Bible and the local McDonald's menu. All this approach does is serve to fuel the impression that Christians are dumb, couldn't argue their way out of a paper bag and need faith as a crutch. Whether you care or not what other people think, the fostering of the idea that Christians are stupid does not serve the cause of Christ well - particularly in following the great commission. Of course we are aware that Paul was quick to point out that his preaching was not with wise words but plain and simple - but this is not a euphemism for stupid...simply for an economy of thought. Afterall it was Christ who said that we should not "babble on" in our prayers but get to the point - so it must be with our apologetic. Further to this the Bible clearly states that "the Gospel (good news of Jesus Christ) is foolishness to the Greeks (the non-believer). Paul himself valued an intelligent apologetic otherwise he would never have been invited to preach in Athens from Mars Hill - the place where the philosophers held court and presented their ideas to the Athenians. Still, in the end we must recognize that, as Andy Stanley says, we (the faithful) are in the business of creating environments that are conducive to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people. We do not 153 | P a g e

save people. We do not save ourselves. We do nothing. God saves, it is His work and His alone. Apologetics is a recognition that God for some unfathomable reason, has decided that we can take part in this work. That we can allow Him to use us as tools. An intelligent apologetic will never save, but it can create an environment conducive to the work of the Holy Spirit in the mind of the one who doubts. In the end belief will come through the hearing of God's Word but apologetics, like a hearing aid, can help to remove the spiritual deafness that increasingly pervades our world and allow the Word to penetrate. All that to say I will likely read Hitchen's book much the same way the Allies read intercepted messages from the Axis - I only hope my enigma machine is working well.

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I am reading (along with waaaay too many other things) Alistair McGrath's new book Doubting. Here's a quote: "To believe in God demands an act of faith - as does the decision not to believe in him. Neither is based upon absolute certainty, nor can it be. To accept Jesus demands a leap of faith - but so does the decision to reject him. To accept Christianity demands faith - and so does the decision to reject it. Both rest on faith, in that nobody can prove with absolute certainty that Jesus is the Son of God, the risen Savior of humanity - just as nobody can prove with absolute certainty that he is not. The decision, whatever it may be, rests on faith. There is an element of doubt in each case. Every attitude toward Jesus - except the decision not to have any attitude at all!- rests on faith, not certainty. Faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservations - trust in a God who has shown himself to be worthy of that trust." I appreciate McGrath's use of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Ancient Sage" here: "For nothing worth proving can be proven, Nor yet disproven; wherefore thou be wise, Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt." I have met many a ranting, raving believer that suddenly bursts with their great frustration over people who refuse to see the certainty of their faith. They speak as though the Bible were some great book of mathematics and that those who do not "get it" must be some form of moron. I believe the not-sohidden rage of these folks speaks more of their own struggle with doubt rather than others. Their faith is a house of cards and their anger is a wall to keep out any subtle breeze that could topple it utterly. We must remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

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The New Faces of Christianity
I have been reading Philip Jenkins excellent book about Christianity in the Global South and have had some thoughts. Matthew 12:1-8 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath." He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Christ is on the move in the world. As always the poor, the dispossessed, the hungry, those whose need of Him is palpable flock close as He passes by. The world is His Israel and He moves through it now as He moved 2,000 years ago calling all who would listen to Him; beckoning all who had eyes to see to come along side of Him. Meanwhile western Christianity risks standing on the fringes looking on in disdain and arrogance mocking Christ and His new followers. After all we are the ones to whom God has entrusted ageless tradition. We are the ones to whom God has entrusted His Spirit. Despite our elevated condition we would be wise to ask ourselves if we have become the new Pharisees who have built a great hedge of law around our God honoring ourselves for our faithfulness. Are we in danger of pasteurizing and filtering God to a blandness that suits our palate? Matthew 23:13 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Let us not be the ones barring the way. Let us rather stand in the gap and welcome all who Christ calls into His kingdom.

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Faith & Black Holes
My mind has been working overtime these days for some reason (too much caffeine?) What is faith? According to Hebrews 11:1 it is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Seems simple enough. We hope for Christ's return. We are certain that Christ is at the right hand of God, that Christ is God, although we do not see it. The brilliantly frustrating thing about the Bible is that it keeps you coming back; it re-engages you. Here's what I mean - you can take the verses above from the TNIV, an excellent translation and the work of many faithful scholarly Christian men and women. You can analyze it. You can understand it. You can form your life around it and move on. Then - you can go to the web and find another dozen or so translations that render the same verse differently. Instead of faith being "certain of what we do not see" it becomes one of: conviction, convinces, evidence, sign, proof, confidence. In the sense of faith being certainty of what we hope for then it is a quality of thought; a personal attribute that enriches the individual and pleases God. If faith is certainty/confidence/conviction of things unseen than the verse is doubly reinforcing itself. The first part of the verse essentially already says this - "sure/certain/substance of what we hope for..."; like saying "faith is the certainty of what we hope for and the certainty of things unseen." So what do you do? If you look at the text in the original Greek you see that the words are different. The word in the first part of the verse is translated typically as substance/foundation/certainty. The word in the second part of the verse is actually different and should be rendered differently. It can be translated as evidence/proof. Both words are adjectives modifying/describing faith, which is a noun...not a verb. This tells us something of the substance of faith. I prefer the translation of the second adjective as evidence (kudos to the good ol' King James translation). When translated this way than we see faith first as something that benefits the one who has it (certainty) and secondly as something that benefits those around the one with faith (evidence/proof of the unseen God). How is faith evidence of the unseen God? This is where black holes come in. Black Holes are ridiculously dense collapsed stars. They are so dense that their gravity even traps light (hence the name black hole). Nothing escapes a black hole - except x-rays; massive amounts of x-rays. There are two ways to describe x-rays: 1. X-rays are high-energy photons 157 | P a g e

2. X-rays are evidence of things unseen (black holes) Definition one is descriptive of the x-ray itself. Definition two is what the x-rays point to - black holes. In the same way the verse tells us two ways to understand faith - as certainty of/in God and as evidence pointing to God and His existence. To carry the analogy further, when astronomers encounter a great x-ray source they suspect a black hole; where people encounter great faith they suspect God, who is Himself the source of faith (and the spiritual opposite of a black hole - as He is the source of all light). Hebrews tells us that faith is belief that God did, does and will do and God is, was and will be. There is a great deal more to say about faith and these are merely my musings but I am tired now and need to hit the hay. Ciao and blessings.

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Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah
WARNING - BIBLICAL LITERACY ALERT!!! I was reading in Daniel last night and I have some questions/observations. First - why is it that we afford Daniel the privilege of his Hebrew name but when it comes to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, we refer to them primarily with their Babylonian names - Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego? Both sets of names are used in the book. Daniel's Babylonian name was Belteshazzar but in my life I don't think I've ever heard of him referred to that way by anyone (although the title of the book is Daniel which probably contributes to this). Another observation: I love Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah's response to the king when they are commanded to bow down to a golden statue: "King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If the God we serve is able to deliver us, then he will deliver us from the blazing furnace and from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Daniel 3:16-18 Can you imagine if we were to pray this way for someone? Imagine praying "God, if you are able, please heal this person, but even if you do not we pray that you would find them faithful." For those who do not like the TNIV's translation of this section of Daniel a prayer modelled after translations such as NIV, NASB, KJV would still be: "God, you are able (or if you are willing), please heal this person, but even if you do not..." Somehow we often treat our prayers like incantations and are worried that if we don't get the wording exactly correct they will fail in some way; as though God were in our control in some way. The other fear is that people might think we lack faith if we use the world "if". Ultimately Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah's response to the king is not about their hope for God to save them so much as it is about their humble obedience to Him (and perhaps the awareness that He has already saved them).

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Ecce Home, Ecce Deus
There are some good things going on these days around the world in terms of spirituality and a new openness to God's work in the world. By good I mean that the seeds of the Gospel are no longer landing on barren rock. The soil of the human heart may be softening and allowing some of the gospel to take root. It is a confusing time however as some who have chosen to re-embrace Jesus have done so by discarding His divine nature and embracing him solely as a great philosopher and thinker (which He no doubt is). The danger in this is that Jesus as philosopher or great human being can save no one. Only the whole, complete Christ who is both God and Man offers salvation. More on this later. LATER: Well - I'm back. I'm not surprised that the world find Christ so compelling (and not simply the west either). There is no one like Christ in recorded human history. Some things people have elected to keep in "their" Christ: - pacifist, teacher, philosopher Some things people have elected to discard: - acceptance of the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) - resurrection - deity - teachings on morality Christ is patronizingly seen as an intelligent guy worth setting up as an example. People selectively choose what they consider relevant about Him and then shove the rest into the category as historically and culturally irrelevant - essentially when something about Christ is found to be distasteful one simply needs to categorize that as part of ancient Jewish culture and no longer relevant to me in the 21st century. The effect of a selective reading of Christ is to neuter Him turning Him into a eunuch who serves our every emotional need but is essentially incapable of creating in us the new life which He has promised. Our culture is rapidly stripping away the truth from Christ and transforming Him into Man and Myth. When this happens we are left with a toothless, memory hardly worth considering.

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The living Christ is dangerous. A true encounter with Him leads to death. Death to self. Death to the world. But it also leads to new life and rebirth. Christ calls us to radical submission to His will against all our pride. One can serve Christ but one cannot serve a myth. A myth serves the culture that created it. Examine your Christ. Have you stripped away His Godhood and created an idol? Is your Christ the Christ of scripture or of you own making? What difference does it make? All the difference in the world.

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What Must I Do?
I have been dwelling on the doctrine of salvation (soteriology) lately. I think it is important that every pastor (and every believer for that matter) know how to respond to the important biblical question - "What must I do to be saved?" In fact before one answers that question they must not simply compare their answer to that of Christ - they must abdicate their answer in favour of Christ's. By abdication I mean that we must even avoid offering our "interpretation" of Christ's word in favour of His plain, unadorned word trusting that the Spirit of God works the same now as on Pentecost. I think it is also helpful for a believer to write out their answer to this question as though in response to a neighbour who might ask them. Then literally read their answer out loud as though Christ Himself we speaking the same words and ask the question - "are these Christ's words?" Does our understanding and explanation of salvation deviate from the Word? Do our words sound strange on Christ's lips? Here are a few pertinent verses (by no means are these all of them and I urge you to look up the context within which they are written): Luke 8:11-12 - (Jesus said) "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Luke 10:25-28 - On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." Luke 13:4-5 - Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." Luke 18:18-27 - A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.' "All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God." Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus replied, "What is impossible with human beings is possible with God."

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Acts 4:8-12 - Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved." John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 10:7-9 - Therefore Jesus said again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. Mark 16:15-18 - He (Jesus) said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." Acts 11:11-14 - "Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.' Acts 15:6-11 - "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." Romans 10:9-13 - If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, "Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

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Ephesians 2:8 - For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God 1 Timothy 2:3-4 - This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Titus 3:4-6 - But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior

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Engaging Unbelief
So what is up? Mostly random thoughts mainly at my end. A need to write but not a theme really. I grabbed a book off my shelf today called Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine & Aquinas by Curtis Chang. So far it's very good. The topic is a daunting one to take on but one that constantly enters my mind as we move to a post-Christian era. I can appreciate the premise which is to engage to of Christianity's greatest thinkers in times of what Chang calls epochal challenge. The epochal challenge is the rise of a new system of thinking on a massive scale. For Augustine and the Holy Roman Empire it was the the rise of Christianity itself within the old Roman empire that was the new way of thinking that led to the erosion of centuries of Roman thinking that had held the empire together. Augustine lived in a time when the privileged intelligentsia felt that Christianity was incompatible with the "thoughtful citizen". A time when Christianity was being blamed for the woes of the empire. A time not unlike our own. Augustine's response to the intellectual doubt about Christ was his powerful work The City of God. With Thomas Aquinas the epochal challenge was the rapid rise of Islam. Not only did Isalm bring with it a powerful military and religious challenge but it also re-introduced the long lost philosophy of Aristotle. Aquinas and culture were challenged by a complete and utterly different system of thought and with it came the inevitable violence - physical violence and intellectual violence. Aquinas, in an effort to respond to a missionary friend's request for help in meeting the challenge of Islamic philosophy he wrote Summa contra Gentiles. Chang looks to Hebrews 12:1 which calls us to pay attention to "that great cloud of witnesses" as his justification for looking to our own spiritual ancestors as examples in dealing with our own epochal challenge - postmodernity. Chang's perspective of the postmodern is in line with my own - a wholesale challenge to the West's modernist way of thinking which is collapsing under its weight. I also agree with Chang's perspective that while postmodernity is tearing down the modernist framework it has offered little to nothing to replace it - hence the vacuum which has formed is being filled with whatever can rush in. What you get is a pluralistic, chaotic, mess of conflicting ideologies battling for supremacy. Chang is not an ivory tower thinker he's engaging the culture where it is as director for Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship in Boston working on the campuses of MIT, Harvard and Tufts. His experience utilizing apologetics to debate a student on the validity of the Christian perspective while showing the invalidity of the student's own logic taught him that even age-old rules of logic are being discarded. Having effectively shown the student the fallacies in his logic the response Chang was met with was "so what". This is the increasingly loud response of our culture to the claims of Christ and His followers - a resounding "so what?" Our temptation to such a response is to smugly wrap ourselves in our modernist culture and claim the ignorance of this culture is too bad and it will be the culture's own undoing. This, however is not the response of Christ to indifference and nor should it be ours. 165 | P a g e

Chang's experience with the effectiveness of apologetics in our postmodern culture reminds me of Bonhoeffer's own thought that apologetics was most effective as a tool within the church in the lives of lapsed or doubting believers than as a tool for evangelism. So - I'm not done the book yet but I'll keep you posted.

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PART 1: I have written on fear here before (in relation to the creative act) but have been dwelling on it again lately and decided I'd add some thoughts. The great science fiction writer Frank Herbert wrote about fear through his incredible series - Dune. The phrase comes in the series in the form of The Litany Against Fear which is as follows: I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. Faith and fear. How do you hold the two in tension? Is it one or the other? It seems an impossible task. When I speak of fear I do not speak of the word as it exists within Scripture (fear of God) which suggests a recognition of God's omniscience/omnipotence and legitimate claim of authority over His creation. To fear God is to hold Him in reverence/respect and to act accordingly. Although one could legitimately quake in fear at the presence of God this is not the Scriptural linguistic intent. There are aspects of God which terrify but this is another word. Fear, as in terror, in Scripture, typically comes about when people are faced with other human threats or with God's judgment as a result of disobedience/lack of faith. This kind of fear is what I am referring to and it is typically not seen in a good light in Scripture. It is ominous and paralyzing and reflects the state of a person or people at odds with God's will or with their fellow beings (or both). I find fear to be brutally constraining and I fight against it in myself daily (usually I lose). Still, I suppose a little fear is good. PART 2: I realize that last statement is a little lame. It was my way of getting out of this observation quickly. I don't know if even a little fear is good. It may be natural, it may be human, it may be normal (all used as rationalizations for all kinds of failings) but that doesn't make it good. What is good? What complies with and is in harmony with the will of God is good. What is the will of God? Christ is the will of God. In humanity good is a verb. It is unreliable and not constant because we vascilate between good and evil to such a great degree that we can hardly be defined as good. In Christ however good is a noun...Christ is the only perfectly good thing. Christ is the antidote to fear. 167 | P a g e

It is a good thing than that Christ dwells in me and I in Him and He in the Father and the Spirit in both; it brings new meaning and metaphor to the verse found in John 1:5 (my wife's fav) "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it." PART 3: Having been pointed in the direction of the Sermon on the Mount (a fine direction to go, thanks KK) I have been reading it and have found that it moves so smoothly into the narrative beyond it that I continued to read until I came to the crossing over the lake by Jesus and His disciples in the storm. So what does God present us with in these verses but a scene where His followers travel with Him through tempest and darkness and their fearful response was to approach Christ and say: " 'Lord save us! We are perishing!' And He said to them, 'Why are you afraid, you of little faith?' " Afterwards the disciples were amazed wondering aloud about who Jesus really was to exercise such incredible authority. It seems their fear was not abated by the presence of Christ because they did not fully know Him. They had this suspicious half-belief that suspected what He could do but they were not sure. Is it faith to cry out to God in the midst of the storm and ask Him to save us or is faith knowing that in the midst of the storm Christ is with you...and that is enough? Either way Christ's grace and compassion are evident in His response.

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A Loving Response
I have been thinking lately of love and what it is. We know that the Bible says "God is love" and so it would be instructive to look to God and the attributes of God to learn more of what love is. As a Christian I believe Jesus Christ is God...not a metaphor of God - simply God in flesh. Therefore to learn about love it would be instructive to look to Christ, His actions and attributes. Outside of Christ Himself I believe that the Bible is the most complete revelation of God's truth...therefore I would be wise to dig deeply into it to find evidence of what love is. Many people define love by how they feel. If a person's actions toward me are undesirable by myself than they must not be loving actions and that person must not be a loving person. But love is not relative. Love is not something different for different people. Love is absolute. God is love. But who am I to love? Simply put -if my love is to be modeled after God then I am called to love everybody, without exclusion. God hates certain actions (divorce, injustice), certain things (idols) but I find nothing that suggests that God hates people - any people. On the contrary the popular verse John 3:16 describes what God loves - "the world" and to what degree - to give His Son. To sacrifice what is of greatest value to Him. Not only does He love the world He desires that "all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). So - learning who God loves is reasonably easy, God loves everyone, without exception. Still it is challenging to understand what love is in terms of a response. What is a loving response? There are all kinds of opinions here. There is tough love that tells the truth even when it hurts because not knowing the truth has greater pain associated to it - eternal pain. Even if we cannot quite figure out whether a situation calls for "tough love" or some other variant we can know what the qualities of our love should be in every situation. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells us that no matter what kind of love we choose to deliver in a certain situation it must be characterized by patience; kindness; without envy, boast, arrogance or rudeness. It is very important that our love is not characterized by an open or secret joy in the failure of others; our acts of love must not be irritable; our love must endure - it is not temporary. The character of our love is eternal. Most importantly it is not one of those character attributes that can be compensated for in other ways. You cannot make up for a lack of love by increasing your giving. The Bible says that prophecy will disappear; tongues will disappear; knowledge will disappear; but not love - it is, like God, one of three eternal attributes mentioned in scripture - the other two being faith and hope with the qualification that love is the greatest of these three. I think it is easy to forget that love is more than an act. Love is unquestionably characterized by certain attributes and therefore if we need to exercise love, particularly certain "tough" kinds of love these actions must still be characterized by these attributes. I write these things not so much to preach to you but as a way to remind myself of what is most important. 169 | P a g e

Remembrance & Sacrifice
I am preaching this Sunday in our Remembrance Day service (which is an honor) and have been thinking about things such as pacifism and just war theory. A quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's unfinished book Ethics discusses the agony of willfully acting against the known will of God (which could apply to either side of the argument depending upon where you stand): “When a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it... Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace” How much of our lives are made up of decisions and actions that ultimately require the grace of God to survive? How much of our lives can be characterized not as an act of faith but as a lack of faith? The whole of our lives I believe. What would happen if we truly and fully trusted God and had faith in His Word? Transformation. Earth changing transformation. But that's a lot of faith...

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The Future is Now
The promise of the future gets in the way of the reality of today. This sounds a little heretical given the emphasis in Christian circles on the imminent return of our Lord but I think it is true. We see the future as something yet to come and therefore it can become a little like a credit card with an unknown limit in our hands. We charge our sanctification to the future and put off the change and transformation of the Spirit to another time - yet to come. We are banking on having time tomorrow to get to what we know we need to do today in terms of love and the spiritual life. To be sure our future is hopeful but it is as Paul says "a certain hope". A certain hope sounds like an oxymoron because certainty is rooted in the past and present whereas hope is rooted in the future. So what does Paul mean by this except that the future is already here. The Kingdom to come has already come and stands amongst us. While we sit immobilized in place wailing for the return of our Lord like the disciples in the upper room the coming Christ has come and is already here dispensing His Spirit and is watching to see what we do with Him. Has He found us faithful? The coming judgment has already occurred because God is not bound by time. The idea then of a certain hope comes directly from the nature of God. Only God can provide a certain hope. The idea of the future as something other than a motivator to immediate action is not from God. So shouldn't this provide us with motivation to put our faith into action now? You would think so but the lure of the future is very strong. We do not see the future for what it is - the right-hand side of today - we see it as something completely different from the now and so we treat it differently. The devil would have us believe that because Christ and judgment is coming we have time. Time to get around to the timeless. But when God speaks to us of the promise of the future it is to galvanize our faith into action NOW. When God spoke to Abraham about the future it was to move him into action immediately. When Christ spoke of His glorious return it was not to ensure the disciples sat around in a brilliant haze dreaming of what would come but to passionately move them into the world at that moment - to take what would be and recognize that because it was God speaking they needed to treat the future as what WAS right then at that moment. The enemy has taken the rallying cry of God's future and turned it into a sinister lullaby and sings us into a dark sleep with it. "This is why it is said: 'Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.' Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." - Ephesians 5:14-16 Do we desire to live in the bleakness of black unconsciousness dreaming about the future or awaken ourselves to the light of Christ that moves us to see the future now? For fans of The Matrix the question is this - which pill will you take: the red pill or the blue pill? The choice makes all the difference in (and to) the world.

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Sex & Violence
This is one of those ridiculous personal observations based upon nothing except my own highly partial and arbitrary opinion. Ever notice that there is a dichotomy of offence in the Christian world? Let us divide Christian North America into two realms for the sake of this discussion - the conservative and the liberal (I know the lines between the two are often blurred and both groups often don't even know how to or care to define themselves...). The typical conservative tends to get fairly bent out of shape when it comes to sex and sexuality but usually doesn't give violence much of a second thought. On the other hand the typical liberal Christian gets all twisted out of shape when it comes to violence but portrayals of sex and sexuality is usually passed over as relatively harmless (certainly in comparison to violence). What is the root of these differing perspectives? In terms of scripture the Bible is certainly not anti-sex but definitely lays out the ground rules for it there's fornication (BAD) and then there's sex within the bonds of marriage (GOOD). I would like to think that conservative's primary issues with sex have to do with fornication but I suspect that the portrayal of sexuality within and outside of the bonds of marriage would garner a similar reaction. Now the Bible has a great deal to say about violence (and certainly there is a great deal of violence in the Bible), and unlike sex it is difficult to find Biblical evidence that God has ordained a certain scenario within which violence can be celebrated and indulged in. Now if we were to blend the two extremes into one perspective you would get one of three types of Christian: 1. A Christian who avoids both sex and violence in culture 2. A Christian who embraces both sex and violence 3. A Christian who knows God's will in the extremes (pornography (BAD), snuff films (BAD) and seeks God's will in the gray areas. You guess which would be the most likely outcome...

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Missing the Mark
So I am sitting here reading a book by Donald Miller called To Own A Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father and listening to an intentionally selected list of "inspiring" mp3's when for some reason I feel like I need to write about sin. Now this is not a normal urge I have so I thought I shouldn't ignore it. I periodically delve into this thing we call sin (which literally means to miss the mark, as though you were an archer) and wondering about its more than annoying persistence in our lives. I think these thoughts come when I actually get a glimpse of the reality of God in the world. Like reading Miller's book while Bedouin Soundclash plays in the background and it is absolutely, perfectly still (except for the music). In moments like this God becomes unspeakably real to me in a way that shakes me. Now, for me, when this happens something in me begins to instantly feel inadequate and ashamed - something about being aware of the presence of God makes me want to hide...maybe its a son of Adam thing. God's perfect presence makes me think about my imperfect presence. This is probably what steers me towards thoughts of sin and its nature. I have thought about this a lot and really do wonder about what it is in us that causes us to intentionally want to hurt the ones we love. I mean - I can almost understand sin in the life of one who does not love God, or simply does not believe or does not care...but the continued sin in the lives of the faithful (myself included) is a real puzzler for me. In many ways sin takes the love of God for granted. It is the son or daughter who can look their mum or dad directly in the eye and hear the most impassioned, concern-filled plea for them to not get drunk tonight or to not have sex before marriage, and then very casually lie and say they won't. There is this deep-seated awareness within the child that mum and dad will NEVER stop loving them no matter what happens and so why not have fun? This is selfishness. So what is this about? "God looks at us and says - hey - I love you this much...I know what is best for you because I created you. I never do anything that is not motivated by love. So trust me." We say "ok" and then instantly move into open rebellion. One possible reason is that we are simply taking advantage of His grace. Paul recognized this in us and tried to pre-empt the argument by laying out the scenario ahead of time and warning us against taking advantage of God's grace. But we are their to say - "look man, you just said that anyone who says they are without sin is a liar and that we wonder why we want to do the right thing but do the wrong instead" so why even bother. It is a losing battle. We use our nature as an excuse to continue in it - as though we never died to sin in the first place. As though we were never raised to new life with Christ when we rose up out of the water. Another possible, more frightening reason this continues to happen, is a lapse into faithlessness. We act as though God is not there. As though His Spirit is not within us. As though we could get away with it. As though there were no consequences to our actions. 173 | P a g e

Sometimes our love is weak and fails us in the face of temptation. In these moments, trust needs to take over. We need to trust God in the face of the smallest temptations because this impacts us in the face of the biggest temptations. Stepping away from pornography impacts a decision one day to not cheat on your spouse - because God is proven faithful in these moments and we are strengthened through them. I know sin will always be there because it is in our nature. We are broken and will not be fully restored this side of the grave. Still, we are called to respond to the love of God in Christ with love of our own that motivates us to fight every urge to sin...and to recognize that we are forgiven and get back up when we fall - all at the same time. So if our strength to fight temptation in our lives comes from a loving relationship with God then we must continue to cultivate that relationship. God's love for us will always be there, it will never change...what must happen is a continual deepening of our love for Him... I recognize that I am rambling at this point...I will come back to these thoughts and organize them better. I am not content to simply accept sin simply because it is part of my nature...or worse still because of bored, lazy apathy.

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The Gospel of Mark
I am reading the Gospel of Mark right now. Mark is wonderfully succinct and to the point. Not a lot of elaboration - just quick, staccato like statements about Christ. No editorializing. I am at the part where Jesus is teaching in a home in Galilee and his popularity has grown to such a degree that there is no room in and around the home - it is packed with people. I am the kind of person who, when confronted with such a situation, would go home and try to see Him on a less busy day. But then Mark tells us that four men came carrying a paralyzed man on a pallet. Seeing that they could not get in through the front door so they carried him to the roof, dug a hole in it, and lowered the man in his pallet to the floor before Christ. Now - I would think this a bold intrusion but Mark says "...Jesus, seeing their faith said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven." Now when He says this it ticks off the local scribes (religious teachers) who knew that only God could forgive sins. Jesus notices their discontent and says: "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'your sins are forgiven': or to say 'Get up, pick up your pallet and walk'? "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - He said to the paralytic, 'I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home." And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this." The first thing I notice is that Christ honors the faith of these men. The kind of courageous faith that will go through the roof to get to Christ. There is no one saying "let us come back tomorrow when He is available" it is the kind of faith that seeks Christ out at all costs. Nothing will stop them from seeking His healing power. It causes me to pause and ask - do I have that kind of faith? Would I go through the roof to get to Christ? Would I seek His healing forgiveness not even for myself but for my friend? The second thing I notice is that Christ does not challenge the scribes perspective - He affirms it - they say only God has the authority to forgive sins and Christ says "you are correct and this is my authority". Then - since the scribes cannot see the inner healing God's forgiveness wrought Jesus heals the paralytic before them all...an outward sign of an inner grace.

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A Letter to the Church @Internet
Dearest friends, Greetings to you in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord and in the name of believers everywhere. Praise be to God for you and for His ministry through you. It occurs to me that although I have written and spoken to many of you about our Lord and your walk with Him I have never taken the time to visit you in this place, a place where you spend an increasing amount of time. I can see by the way you speak and by your actions that you strive to follow our Lord's example in every way. Still, imagine my surprise when I heard rumour that when you visited Internet you became an entirely different person...completely unrecognizable as a follower of Jesus seeking to glorify Him through your lives. My first response was "this cannot be!" and "surely you are speaking of some other person, one who has not yet come to understand the saving work of Christ?" but with the reports came a desire to see for myself and so without notice I packed what little I needed and journeyed to Internet with the sole desire to prove your naysayers wrong. I am sorry to say I have found little to bring back with me in the way of evidence of a fruitful journey on your part. I saddened to the depths of my heart but this is nothing in comparison to the pain our Father has as He journeys with you through this place. In many ways you are worse than you once were (and you know I can say this because I too have walked a darker path in a sunless land and have come out into the bright saving grace of Jesus). There is a myth of freedom here in Internet that covers a more hideous lie which is bondage to darkness and depravity the likes of which the outer world has yet to see. Where once the sin was in thought it has become action in Internet. Where once lust reigned in the heart it has become the secret ruler in pornography, webcams, illicit and hurtful chat in the small hours of the morning when the world sleeps and you forget who walks with you and what Spirit aches within you. You have created idols in webpages dedicated to celebrating the shadow realm. Your sites play music that seeks to tear down God and unleash chaos. Your pictures speak of a hidden desire. MSN handles that speak of a different person who desires to tempt and be tempted. Where you are clean amongst flesh you are filthy in Internet as though you could create an alternate persona. As though you could separate yourself from your shadow and send it to thrive in cyberspace. I know you and have seen you confess that you would NEVER walk into a store and steal a box of software, a DVD or a CD but in Internet the rules seem to be changed and all is available to the cunning. This is a test by which we are measured - who are we when we think no one is watching? What do we do when we think we are alone? 176 | P a g e

You cannot separate yourself into two. You are one being - body, mind and spirit. God is not absent in Internet but He stands ready to redeem wherever you go. His grace is there as much as here. Do not seek to replace flesh and flesh community and fellowship with the cold touch of electrons - seek only to supplement. Internet is God's realm as much as the town. Your life there and here are the same. God's desire remains the same no matter where you roam. This place can be beautiful and you, first and foremost, should shed God's light in all things. Be bright for Him in this place. See, He sets a standard for you which is beyond the world's but for the sake of the world and you are called to be its bearers. So I close with my hope for you which is God's hope too - that you be Christ in all places, world and net, but know that you cannot serve two masters (as you have heard). I will pray for you always and in all things and pray for me as well in the same way, as I journey to Internet from the world and back. The blessing of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you always and in all ways. His Servant.

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Easter is coming and it seems to me the enemy is pretty aware of this and has increased his oppressive attacks. So many sad, depressed, angry, frustrated, lonely, bitter people these days. I am not being critical, merely observant. I can't be critical because I used to be dark as night till it threatened to drive away everybody I loved. The hard part is that the only way to cheer up the average sad person is to give them what they want (whatever that is) and sometimes that just ain't gonna happen. So Easter is coming and with it the reality of the cross comes too. What is the reality of the cross? That a man was beaten and nailed to a tree for treason? That a man died 2,000 years ago in a savage way not unlike the savage death of so many before and since? Much more The reality of the cross is enigma, juxtaposition and impossibility. The reality of the cross is that there is hope in the dark. The reality of the cross is that two timbers bound together could somehow carry the weight of all humanity past, present and future. The reality of the cross is that every one of us died there. The reality of the cross is not a reality without the craziness of the one pulled off it and three-days dead walking out of His tomb alive by His own Spirit and rejoining His friends for dinner and conversation. The reality of the cross is the frightening invitation to climb on board and get your own set of nails so that you can come back by the power of one Spirit too. The reality of the cross is that all human history is pinched to a quantum singularity at its crux because nothing can escape it's gravity. The reality of the cross is that instead of dragging in light it drags in darkness and blazes an arc brighter than any sun. The reality of the cross is that it says we must die in order to live. Our reality is sad and unfortunate because many of us are still hanging on the cross or rotting in our tombs because we refuse to be brought back to life. Easter is coming and with it the Spirit comes in fire ready to raise us all from the ashes and make us alive. [I realize having reread this that the sad who I am talking about may not coming away from my post all bubbling over in giddy joy...but I know from experience that isn't always what is needed when one is sad...]

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More On Art (Moron Art?)
A thought occurred to me the other day (as happens occasionally) that there are some writers/artists who are deemed to have drained the well of inspiration dry because they have not published anything recently. Some artists will claim that this is true - that they have run out of steam and ideas and need a break or a complete change. Stephen King is an example of a writer who has claimed that he had run out of ideas and that From A Buick 8 would be his last book - the recent publication of Cell would seem to challenge this however. Anyhow - I find it difficult to believe that an artist/writer ever stops being what they are. My position is that a writer always writes - if not on paper - they are constantly creating vignettes in their head as they move through life. The stage is always being set, the characters are always being fleshed out and little plots are always being indulged to one degree or another. It seems to me the idea of an artist drying up is a trap laid by either culture, the artist or both. The trap is that culture and/or the artist begin to define art by how it is consumed. If it is liked by a certain number of people or a certain kind of person than it is art. When people stop enjoying my creations I am no longer successful and have been deemed or deem myself to have "dried up" - the muse has fled. I believe that art, first and foremost is a very personal thing ultimately created by the artist for the artist. That others would connect with it is something of a bonus to the artist. There are certain universal themes that artists tap into but this is not what determines the attractiveness of the art to the outsider. Rather it is how well the artist connects with their culture's understanding of the universal theme at that moment in time. Inevitably then, if the above is true, an artist who desires to make a living from their art must inevitably compromise the art to ensure its "marketability" to someone. Of course the artist does not live in a vacuum but in culture and is informed by culture so their art will be as well - this means that periodically the popularity of the average artist's art will wax and wan as culture's influence on their lives waxes and wanes. It seems to me the most lasting and critically acclaimed (ironically) art has been that art which in some sense eschews the culture it was born in and seeks out and speaks directly of the universal theme. Still I am not aware of any art that has completely shed the cloak of culture - such art would be completely incomprehensible and would be the universal itself. In that sense than God is the only pure art. Everything else is a good or bad attempt to explain God. This might explain the attractiveness of Christ over the past 2,000 years. He being the only perfect (God) representation of God in a culturally relevant form (human). Christ is God, the perfect poem dedicated to Humanity. P.S. Now I understand why I like the first line of The Gospel According to John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 179 | P a g e

Wag the Dog
Wow...I have not posted in a while. This past weekend I took 39 youth to Youth Quake 2006 at Briercrest and it was a blast <wheww!>. It was also tiring. What an event. It appears to be chaotic and yet there is definitely a great deal of order - how else can you house, feed, and generally move around more than 3,000 senior high youth around a campus? It was a great mix of worship, prayer, preaching, teaching, music and fellowship (and almost no sleep). The bus ride (8 hours there, 8 hours back) was also very rewarding in terms of relationship development. Now - on to the topic of this post. As someone who was called to ministry out of a career in software marketing I know what it feels like to be constantly chasing after "the next big thing" in terms of message. Now I have noticed that when it comes to church and ministry pastors are constantly falling into either one extreme or another - very few seem to be able to find a balance. Here's what I mean: There is a temptation for some to get so worried that people will be bored that they are constantly chasing after the next big fad for their service. At the other end of the spectrum are people who couldn't give a rip if people are bored. The service, as wonderful as it is, was designed 400 years ago somewhere in Saxony and if it was good enough for our forefathers then by golly its good enough for us. Somewhere in there is a balance. Of course, in all things, if we look to Christ I think we find our answer. In this case I think it is important to recognize that God has given us a certain amount of latitude because scripture is relatively vague in terms of an order of service. One can also see that God was sensitive to cultural relevance in terms of His own actions. Take for example the incarnation, quite frankly this is the ultimate expression of cultural relevance God says "As part of my eternally known plan to save my people I am going to communicate my truth to them. Now I can appear to them but my holy presence would overwhelm them so I must veil my glory. I can speak to them in dreams, in the law, through prophets and prophetess's, through burning vegetation, pillars of fire and cloud, angels, etc. Nevertheless they never seem to get it." God's children that is. How does God choose to communicate with broken humanity? He says the best way for me to do this is to become one of them, to put on flesh, walk with them, eat with them, sleep with them, cry with them, feel pain like them, and die like them. So God condescends to become human (still maintaining His complete "Godness") and live in the stinking, broken filth of a world whose rule has been temporarily given over to His adversary. I don't know if we can really understand how culturally relevant that act is. That an eternal God took on human flesh...He loved us that much. This act of God should inform our own ministry and service to His people. God could have said -

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"I am far too holy to suffer the indignity of living amongst them. I am far too holy to suffer the indignity of breathing in their filth, of coming so close to them and their sin, to go to their weddings and eat their food. If they cannot understand me as I am in my utter transcendence too bad for them." This is often what we as members of the body of Christ say in regards to our culture and those whom God would save. Those whom He loves. We say "God is too holy for us to act this way, sing this kind of music, pray this way, change our building, move the organ, adapt the sermon, etc." We believe somehow we must maintain God's transcendence as though He never chose to dwell amongst us in the first place. As Andy Stanley (pastor and writer) has said - we must learn to separate our methodology from our theology - because although they inform one another - they are distinctly different. God's truth NEVER changes. His Word remains exactly the same today as it was 2,000 years ago. BUT we change. His Word exists to communicate to us and we change. The way we understand things changes, culture changes, and so the way we present the eternal unchanging truth in Christ MUST change as well. We must be Christ who is the God that did not speak Aramaic in Heaven but did so 2,000 years ago because of the culture He wished to communicate to. He is the God who likely does not drink wine in Heaven but creates it at the wedding because He has a message to communicate. We are the body of Christ continuing His mission of unfolding the Kingdom of God and destroying the Kingdom of Satan. We must continue in the act of being relevant because of our love of humanity which is God's love. Iin the process we must never compromise the truth in Christ - this is the balance that must be struck, grace without compromise - to be able to say to the person: "Is there no one here who condemns you? No. Than neither do I? Now go and sin no more."

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I Am Yours…Save Me
I watched Luther tonight (the movie that came out last year) and I think I liked it more this time around. Very good and very well written (a little compressed in terms of the history but hey - you can only do so much in two hours). I have a few quotes which I like quite a bit from the movie: "We preach well that which we need to learn the most" (there are two edges to this quote). Luther struggles early on in his ministerial vocation with the concept of a loving God. He sees only a God a judgment and wrath. An unapproachable and angry God. Luther's mentor offers some advice He says "It is not God who is angry with you but rather you who are angry with God" He then advises Luther that if he wishes to experience the grace and compassion of God he must look to the cross and to Christ. He gives Luther a crucifix on a chain and says to him to pray to Christ and say "I am yours. Save me." This becomes Luther's refrain throughout the film. We hear it again and again - "I am yours. Save me." At one point Luther is enraged after a young boy commits suicide and tradition forbids his buriel in the churchyard. Luther takes a shovel and angrily digs the grave himself as the sextant stands by and warns him against it. Luther places the body of the boy in the grave as the parents stand by crying and watching. He then takes the crucifix from around his neck places it on the boy's chest and says in a short determined prayer to God - "He is yours. Save him". The next Sunday in church as he is preaching he relates the story of a person who succumbs and is killed by the evil of a thief who waylays him on the road. Luther asks the congregation how much different is the young boy who is seduced by Satan to the point that he succumbs to despair and is robbed of his life by suicide. Is he not deserving of the same grace? I like the words "I am yours. Save me." It is a breath prayer that can be said throughout the day: I am yours. Save me; I am yours. Save me; I am yours. Save me...

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Spiritual Warfare
What happens if, in warfare, the battle itself distracts you from the goal? What do you do? What if the enemy knows that simply maintaining skirmishes keeps you from succeeding, focusing on the goal simply embroiling you in a never-ending firefight until you accept it as the norm? It seems the worst wars (and yes, some are worse than others) have fallen into this category. Those wars where the enemy suddenly realizes that the best reality for them is to simply maintain the war. That the only other option is to cease to exist. So - when this realization occurs it is as though the enemy has been backed up against the proverbial river that Sun Tzu speaks of - with no place to go but forward. The battle rages then with such a fierce desperation because the battle itself keeps one alive. It seems to me that Satan must be in this situation. The end is clear. God has declared it to us and therefore Satan must be aware as well. This battle continues to rage with the end clearly known and declared - God has already won. In this situation Satan is backed against a lake of fire and the only thought must be to keep the fighting going - as though that buys time - and the fighting occurs with the ferocity of an army with no hope. We, on the other hand are the troops assured of victory. This can lead to complacency. Not on the part of God, to be sure, but on the part of His troops. God is the good general seeking to motivate His troops and make sure they know that they have a role to play - no matter how certain the victory and that complacency can lead to casualties. Our desire is to be with the general, celebrating success. But every time we focus in that direction we get nailed because the enemy is desperate. The enemy wants to keep us engaged in the battle because when our eyes are on the enemy they are off the royal standard of our Lord that gives us hope. When we have hope, we fight with focus. We must not take our eyes off the Lord's standard and His standard bearer - Christ, not for a second. When we get complacent we play into the enemy's hands and fall for the illusion that the battle will never end...that the battle is the norm. If it seems too normal we get so complacent we are taken hostage...this is truly frightening...and avoidable.

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I went to a funeral today. It was a sober event but like some that I have been to it was celebratory because of the belief that we (the collective congregation present) have. In the New Testament Paul sums it up best when he says "we do not grieve like those who have no hope..." Never-the-less there's nothing like a funeral to get you thinking about somber and somewhat depressing things. I began thinking about God and His plan for salvation and the whole challenge it is to overcome obstacles to faith. I remember my faithless years and the roadblocks to God. There were moments when I basically would scream into what I thought was nothing. Still. I think God appreciates the honesty (when I read the Psalms I know God appreciates honesty). It seems to me that the act of screaming at God is better than nothing - at least something in us acknowledges Him. I like this prayer I stumbled across on the net today: Lord, right now I don’t have the energy even to try to believe you can transform the blackened, charred ruins of my life into anything new or beautiful. But I want to want to believe it! I don't think God needs much in terms of our desire to know Him - even the "want, to want" is enough. Then there is hope. For me it came when I finally got over my stubborn refusal to even look into it beyond a vague "something is out there" (Luke - use the force). I'm convinced the work began when I commited to reading the whole Bible, cover to cover, just to figure out what the big deal was. I think I believed I would finally be able to put to rest that whole Christian argument that there was something transforming about God's Word - I wanted to prove once and for all it wasn't His Word but a word of humanity. You know the rest of the story - here I am - a preacher leading others and I truly believe it began with an openness to believe that I could be wrong and those crazy folks out there might just have a point. Hmmm - interesting thoughts a funeral will produce.

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Value of Life…
I was in a cold medication-induced haze last night and thinking about the value of human life and life in general. The overall consensus is that the value of life is intrinsic to the creature - human or otherwise. Humanists, existentialists etc. would likely agree with this statement and claim that the human creates his or her own value in the way they live their lives and how they impact the world etc. Unfortunately this offers no real benchmark for value aside from the individual - which means this approach boils down to a sort of Darwinian - strongest group or individual determines the value of a particular life or lives at the moment. If this is the case value loses its value (so-to-speak) and depends solely on brute force. The implications of this are interesting but I will not try to delve into them now. Suffice to say I think this is likely the position the western world holds right now. As I continued to think about this I began to formulate something of a position for myself on this area. It shouldn't surprise anyone that very few people actually have anything like a defined position on anything (myself included), happy to go through life in a sort of vague "let's see how things work out mode" working with a kind of cobbled together conglomerate of ideas built off of life experience. So here's what I think: The value of a life (any life) is directly related to how much that life is loved. Of course those of you who know me well know where this is leading (where all my thoughts lead frankly). My first thought was that this idea unravels rather quickly when you notice that various people are loved to various degrees - i.e. the person who has no family or friends has no value because no one loves them. On the surface it seems like a very elitist idea that should be tossed. But this idea depends upon the existence of a loving God - and that it does not matter if you have hundreds of people who love you deeply (Mother Theresa) or nobody at all - because a loving God loves all equally and God's love trumps all others. Of course the challenge of this idea is that not all people realize that God loves them or their awareness of God is bent or cracked by history, culture and the development of Gods made in their own image. Their lives and value are dependant upon the love of people around them. This is good but human love will fail and if your life's value is built upon how much your peers love you than your sense of self-worth will fluctuate with the whims of the people around you. God's love is dependable and it is there even when everyone else has walked away. Now this isn't some elitist Christian perspective (it isn't - really) that claims God only loves Christians and therefore only Christians have value - that's not where this is going. As a follower of Christ I rely on my Bible as one of God's primary revelations of His will to humanity, I say one of because I believe that God's primary revelation is in Christ. 185 | P a g e

Now - this is the point where many have likely given up and filed my post in their "raving Christian" file. For the rest of you I need to say that the only way I can wrap up this perspective - that a life's value is based upon how much it is loved - is to turn to Christ. Christ is the expression of God's love for humanity. Christ's sacrifice is the expression of how much God loves humanity. God's will is that "all would be saved" and receive the gift of eternal life in God's presence. This is not a conditional love - God never said I love Christians more than Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, atheists and the blended crowd of humanity. His love is equal for all. The struggle that people have is in accepting the way in which God has expressed love - through Jesus. When a person rejects Christ they reject the offer of unconditional love that God has made and God loves us enough to allow that rejection to happen. The offer remains despite the rejection. God loves the person the same, despite the rejection. It is our acceptance of God's love in Christ that allows us to realize our true value, allows us to transcend the value we have tried unsuccessfully to give ourselves through money, relationships, etc. We need to be clear on this point - our acceptance of Christ does not give us value, it is a recognition of the value we already had and continue to have in God's love for us. So there it is. For those followers of Christ out there you should ask yourselves what this means when we have been called "the body of Christ" - what responsibility do we have in expressing the love of God? The ramifications are powerful.

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For some reason I was thinking about Hell the other night and about the general lack of fear it seems to instill into people. There are many obvious reasons for this, the most likely being that people simply don't believe in Hell. I must admit that the idea of Hell rarely crosses my mind (thankfully) and so it maintains a simple abstract place deep in the undredged places. Still - there are many who seek to evangelize through instilling the fear of Hell into people. Believe it or not there are only 13 usages of the word 'Hell' in my New American Standard (Updated) Bible. This seemed a little low given the historical preoccupation so I turned to the trusty King James version (KJV), because - if you are going to find references to Hell you'll likely find it there. Sure enough the KJV has 54 mentions of the word. Now I know it is too much to ask that people not get bent out of shape over this and immediately blame the translators of the NASB for translating the 'Hell' out of the Bible but the reason for the difference is that there are many different words used in Scripture that the KJV translators translated into 'Hell'. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word Sheol was translated as Hell but it literally means 'the world of the dead'. It isn't until the New Testament that we find the word 'Gehenna' which is of Hebrew origin and references a place of everlasting punishment. Gehenna referenced a valley not far from Jerusalem where the cities refuse was dumped and burned. It stank of the garbage of the day and fires burned there constantly. The other reference in the New Testament translated as Hell was the Greek word for Hades - place of the dead. Peter references Tartarus - being the deepest pit of Hades designed solely for incarceration. Finally in Revelation we hear of the future when both death and Hell are cast into the lake of fire - the second death. Wheww!! All this to say the original languages lend a nuance to Hell that english doesn't do well to capture. Based on my reading the entirety of scripture points to a place where the dead go, an undesirable place away from God, a place of holding and punishment - a place, as bad as it is, that will ultimatly be cast into a worse place... Words connected with Hell include mourning, death, sorrow, a place of punishment, a definite place, a place from which there is no return, place of darkness. In Job 38:18 it specifically references God's ability to prevent people's lives from passing into Hell (Sheol).

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Psalm 6:5 hints that God's presence is not felt in Hell (Psalm 139:8 does say that even in Hell/Sheol one cannot escape God's presence). Psalm 9 is more specific in it's mention of Hell as a place of punishment where God sends the wicked. Psalm 16 specifically mentions God's ability to prevent the soul from going to Hell. Psalm 49 spends time expanding on the fact that God punishes with Hell/Sheol and redeems others to Himself. Proverbs 15:24 specifically states that the path of life leads upward for the wise, for the rest - Sheol. Song of Songs 8:6 references Sheol as severe. It should also be noted that of all the people in the Bible, Christ speaks more of Hell than anyone else and in His references we find the most specific details. Matt. 25:41 is the most clear when Christ says "Depart from me you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels." Anyhow - you get the idea. So with all that people generally still do not fear Hell, likely out of unbelief or 'selective' belief. To me the issue of fear is irrelevant. The desire to know God should outweigh the fear of not knowing God. That is to say that one should not primarily come into relationship with God merely out of fear but rather out of desire. That is not to deny the many who do enter into relationship through fear - but I often wonder at the quality of their lives if it is motivated primarily out of fear and not love. Many people believe the undesirable nature of Hell comes from its contrast to the present world. I think this is a fairly western idea. The idea that Hell sucks because I won't have my house, car, TV, family etc. This is hardly a motivator for someone living in the Sudan whose current life must feel very much like Hell. I suspect the real horror of Hell comes from the fact that ALL will stand in the presence of God one day. Those who are condemned and those who are not. That to stand in the presence of God is a bliss that overshadows all things - for those condemned to Hell, they will have eternity to contemplate that time in God's presence and live in the torment of their eternal removal from it. To come into the presence of God is the motivator. To come into the presence of God is to want nothing else. Our primary goal should be to lead people into the presence of God, rather than away from Hell - in so doing we will impact the quality of this life and not just the next. They will live lives motivated to draw nearer to God out of love and not simply running away from Hell out of fear. So we lead people to Christ, God and mediator in one. The question we as followers of Christ must ask ourselves is - do we embody fear or love in our relations with others? P.S. Having said all of that I must still concede that when all else fails God will still point to the consequences of not knowing Him - Hell - as a motivator.

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Flesh & Soul
I sometimes wonder if the mind is closer to the flesh than the soul. It was something of a sad moment for me when I realized that apologetics will never save anyone. It was a happier time when I realized that it was still critical to bringing many to the threshold of belief. Nevertheless - faith was required to walk through the door. It seems to me that some of us who were brought to the door by apologetics often linger a bit by the doorstop. We were so rigorous in our logic exercises when we were on the other side of the door that we forgot that faith is exercised on an ongoing basis & when we came into the room we got fat. I think our lives must become a continual exercise in faith...a constant re-belieiving and a continual remembrance of that step into the arms of Christ - otherwise we despair and all seems lost. We were saved, we are being saved, we will be saved.

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Clean Your Room
Genesis 4:10 - The LORD said (to Cain), "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.” The story of Cain’s actions stand in line with the story of Adam & Eve’s and forms a link in a long chain of human brokenness that connects to each of us. From the beginning we have not walked according to God’s will but rather our own (this is obvious simply by taking a look at the world around us). In response to our own disobedience and as a reflection of His mercy, rather than blot out the world and start again God seeks to draw us into His plan to re-create the world. The story of the Bible is the story of God as He seeks to change Creation. It is the story of God as He seeks agents of change in His followers. It is the story of God as He continually invites us to be His heart on the earth, to be His hands and feet in the lives of our neighbors. This is the heart of God – that He might involve His creation in the healing of itself. There is deep wisdom in this desire of God. Talk to any counselor and ask them how successful therapy will be if they have a client unwilling to take part in their own healing process. What do you think they will say? It will fail – utterly. Some counselors have even been known to send clients away who profess a lack of willingness to be healed. The problem is one of two possibilities: 1. People do not see the need for change. 2. People see the need but would rather someone else make the change. Join me, if you will, on a journey through time…we will travel back 30-years to 1978 – the year Pete Rose hit his 3,000th major league baseball; Muhammad Ali beats Leon Spinks to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World; Pierre Elliott Trudeau was Prime Minister in Canada and 10year-old Peter future pastor Cantelon is arguing with his mum. “Clean your room” “Sure, I’ll do that right after this cartoon” “Now” “Mum, have I ever told you how much I love you” “That’s great Peter now go clean your room” “Mum – is there anything I can get for you at the store?” “Peter – go clean your room” “It’s not messy” “It’s a pig-sty, now go clean your room” “Why do I always have to do everything…” You get the idea. All I will say is the conversation did not end well. In this experience not only did I not see the need to do the task at hand I eventually yielded and did the bare minimum out of fear. I did not in the least share my mum’s desire for order and cleanliness although as a parent now I understand it. Is

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this not familiar to us? Do we not do this? Is this not a pattern repeated by Israel (and perhaps us) in her relationship with God. God says “Israel clean up your room” and Israel says “Hey God, have we ever told you how much we love you?” and God says “clean it up now or else” and Israel throws a tantrum and moans about the injustice of God and tries to create peace through offerings rather than action. Micah 6:6-8 says - With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Israel asks the question “what do I need to do to make God happy?” Sometimes the Bible says a lot in the spaces between the lines. When you look at these verses carefully and study the answer that God gives to the question you realize that Israel wants to know how it can avoid doing what God wants by buying Him off with “mountains of rams and rivers of oil” and God says – “no, no, no – I know why you’re offering that stuff and I don’t want a bribe. I want your genuine desire and I want your heart to beat justice and mercy in time with my own.” Husbands – it’s a little like your wife saying “you know, instead of bringing me flowers every week I’d be a whole lot happier if you’d just fix the toilet.” This point is illustrated fairly well in the recent movie The Break Up in which Jennifer Aniston’s character explains to a thoroughly puzzled Vince Vaughn – “I don’t want you to do the dishes, I want you to WANT to do the dishes.” Folks – God doesn’t want us to love our enemy because we have to – He wants us to love our enemy because we love our enemy. He wants us to love Him so much that can’t help but act like Him. That we can’t help but have the same desires and wants that He has. And what does He want? God wants to change the world. He wants to re-create it…and He wants us to help. There is an interesting recently released movie about 11th century Asian conqueror Genghis Khan called Mongol. The movie’s subtitle says – Greatness comes to those who take it. Now – I am not advocating that you model your lives on Genghis Khan – by all means please avoid this. No – I want you to understand that if greatness comes to those who take it, change comes to those who make it. Let me say that again keeping in mind what we’ve talked about so far in terms of God’s desire to change the world – change comes to those who make it. Many of you are aware that before I was a pastor I worked in the IT industry for the world’s leading technology research firm. As an ambitious person I made myself aware of every single promotion that came up; every major client relationship that arose I knew about it. Why? Because I wanted every promotion and I wanted every major client. I thought I deserved them. I thought I was the most qualified person for the positions as they came available. There was one problem. I never told anyone I wanted those roles. I lived under the misguided idea that it was my superior’s job to know that I was the best person for the job. I shouldn’t have to tell them…they should simply know. When I didn’t get the 192 | P a g e

promotion or the client I would steam for weeks. I would rant and rave about how my superiors should have chosen me. It took me years to realize that if I wanted change for myself I would have to make it myself. Those who want change make it. In Mark chapter 5 we’re told about a sick woman who had been suffering from a bleeding illness for 12 years. Jesus is walking with a large crowd and this woman forces her way through the crowd and reaches out and touches Christ’s clothes and is immediately healed. She desperately wanted change and didn’t wait for Jesus to bring it to her – she went and boldly claimed it from Him. In Luke chapter 19 we’re told of Zachaeus, a vertically challenged (short), tax collector who upon hearing that Jesus was coming through actually climbed a tree in order to see him. He could’ve just stayed on the fringes and grumbled about tall people while Jesus walked by…instead he climbs a tree and Jesus sees him and invites himself over to dinner where Zachaeus is transformed and becomes like Jesus – giving half of all his wealth to the poor – and Jesus says “salvation has come to this house today”. I want change. You want change. We want to join God and change the world into the Kingdom of Heaven. Change comes to those who make it. Canadians have been accused of being apathetic. I don’t believe we’re apathetic. I have seen huge amounts of passion in people across every generation. Apathy is not the problem – the problem is we are waiting to be asked to do the things we think need to be done. Folks – we cannot wait to be asked. We cannot hope that someone else will do it. We cannot hope that if we’re not asked someone else will be and we cannot sit and stew in anger if we’re not asked. If we listen carefully to God we must realize that we have been asked. If we want change we have to make change. You know what happens to people who want change but don’t do anything about it? N O T H I N G. Nothing happens to them and eventually they stop caring and things don’t seem so bad anymore. Or worse, we fall prey to the sin of cynicism and we sit around complaining about how bad things are and how God or the government or somebody should do something about it and how we would if we weren’t so busy…etc. You get the idea. Let me give you an example of what can happen when we stop making change and let others do it: Catherine Gidney writes about the lack of faith at Canadian universities in her recent book – U - A Long Eclipse: The Liberal Protestant Establishment and the Canadian University 1920-1970 (I can hardly wait for the movie) – Gidney writes “Canada’s mainline Protestant churches…had by their own embrace of a liberalized Protestantism grown ambivalent in upholding Christianity’s uniqueness. The spiritual malaise of Canada’s universities was thus rooted in the failure of Canada’s mainline denominations to evangelize a secularizing culture.” A.k.a. – Christians stopped making change in universities. When Christians stopped making change Christians stopped caring, became inwardly focused and relied too much on the word to carry itself about on its own. Luke 10:1-9 says …the Lord appointed seventy-two…and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves… Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'

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Imagine now if the disciples responded to Christ’s request to carry the gospel to the countryside by suggesting that Jesus, being God and thus far more effective, would be better off to go it alone while they stayed, prayed, studied scripture, worshiped and waited for the second coming. Does this not sound absurd? Does this not sound unthinkable? How different are we? Thankfully this was not their response. Jesus says there’s work to do and we should ask God to appoint us. Jesus says he wants to change Israel and because the disciples are deeply in love with Him they too want to change Israel. What change do they want to see? They want to see Israel become like Jesus and so in order to make this change the disciples go out and become Jesus to Israel and they heal and perform miracles. In this they teach us a lesson – in order to make change we have to be the change we want to see. When we become the change we want to see then we can approach God in prayer and echo the words of the 72 to Jesus when they returned to Him and said in Luke 10:17 "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." What are they saying? Nothing stands in our way when we become Christ and bring the Kingdom of God to this world; when we become the change we want to see. When this happens Jesus response to the 72 is His response to us: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” How powerful is that? When we become the change we want to see evil itself collapses and is defeated. This is the only kind of church that Jesus says in Matthew 16:18 “the gates of Hell will not prevail against.” SIDEBAR – (I’ve said it before) Gates don’t move…we move. Military analogy. So let’s re-cap: God made the world; we broke the world; God wants us to join Him in re-creating the world; when we have the heart of God we join Him in making this change by joining Him in becoming the change we want to see. Notice I said we join God in becoming the change we want to see. God didn’t simply say I want you humans to be more like me. He said – “I want humans to become more like me so I will become a human more like me…I will be the change I want to see.” John 1:14 says “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” That’s Jesus. God says – I will be what I want to see and Jesus comes and makes His dwelling with us. It is long past the time when the word became flesh. 2,000 years ago the end-times began and the Kingdom of Heaven came to Earth. We need to be reminded that the Word not only became flesh, the Word became flesh in us. We cannot simply dictate the law to the world – now we must be what we want to see. We cannot simply offer up mountains of ram and rivers of oil to God in worship. The word made flesh is the word alive within us. The restless word that cannot and should not sit still. It is the word that we reach out and take hold of like the bleeding woman…boldly claiming the power of God by faith. The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…it is time that our flesh became word and dwelt amongst our neighbors – we must become compellingly different than the world. We do not do this by our own strength but by humble submission to God trusting that He has enabled us to do what he asks us to do by giving us His Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness and self-control. The letter of First John tells us that believers can be identified by the fact that they both know and live their faith. They do not simply know. They do not simply live. They become what they know and live it out publically. 194 | P a g e

So when you look at the world and you want to be rid of war – become peace; when you want to be rid of anger - become gentleness; you want to be rid of lust – become self-control; you want to be rid of sickness – become healing; you want to be rid of hate – become love; you want to be rid of sin and death – become Christ. Be the change you want to see because God in His infinite wisdom knew what He wanted to see of His human creation and so He became what He wanted to see. And now, as I invite Pastor Paul to come forward to lead us in the Lord’s Supper let the Bread and the Juice we consume remind us that Christ is within us and He desires that we bring Him into this dark world so that He can bring it light and eternal life.

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Remember the Future
This may be the hardest sermon I’ve ever had to write. It was an emotional roller-coaster (and I’m sure the two dozen cups of coffee I drank while writing it didn’t help either). C.S. Lewis once said that writing The Screwtape Letters was one of the hardest things he’d ever done in his life. He said having to try to think like a demon was horrific for him and he would never recommend it to anyone. I never understood that; I mean it’s a work of fiction, it’s not real. I think after writing this sermon I have a better understanding. You see today I want to talk to you about hope. Now you would think that wouldn’t be so hard and I didn’t think so either until I realized that to understand hope best you need to understand despair…that’s where it get’s hard. To get to hope this morning I need to paint for you an incredibly bleak picture. At times it will be hard to hear some of what I am going to say and I beg your forgiveness in advance, but I ask you to bear with me because I believe that God will guide us through this despair to a much greater hope at the end. We are on the eve of another Remembrance Day and our thoughts are mindful of the past and with good reason. Many of you are aware of the significance of Remembrance Day to me – my grandfather was a tailgunner during the second world war as a member of the Pathfinder and Dambuster squadrons; I am a member of the Royal Canadian Legion and I served in the reserves as a weapons technician in the 11th Field Mobile Artillery Regiment – the same regiment Lt. Col. John McCrae, the author of the famous poem In Flander’s Fields was a part of. Remembrance Day is part of who I am. On 11th hour of November 11, 1918 a ceasefire was announced ending the First World War…the so called war to end all wars as it was known. The war that claimed more than 20 million lives and caused an additional 20 million casualties. 619,000 Canadians out of a population of 8 million served in World War I, almost 8 percent of the country. 60,000 of them would never return home. In today’s numbers that would equal 2,640,000 brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands & wives of whom 260,000 would be killed, never to return home to Canada again. The average age of a soldier in the first world war was between 19-21. Because this was the average that means we had younger and older people involved. Let’s try something. I would like everybody in here between the ages of 18-24 to please stand. Go ahead, don’t be shy. Now I want everybody to look around. Look at the young men and women standing here. This is what the average person who served in the first world war looked like…this is how old the average first world war soldier was when they died. Please remain standing if you would for a minute…just look at them and try to understand what that would mean to the one’s who love these people. What would it have meant to their communities to lose them, to their churches, to their families. I know that everyone standing in this place is deeply loved by someone. (PAUSE HERE FOR A MOMENT) (Go ahead and sit down) What must it have been like for the families and friends of the 97 young Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since we deployed there. Psalm 137:1 begins with the poetic and moving words - By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. How many young soldiers, in rare moments between battles, sat by European rivers and wept as they remembered the Canadian prairies and their loved ones back at home. Listen to this poem that James Francis is going to read to us now. It is entitled Anthem for a Doomed Youth and it was written by a British soldier during the first world war: 196 | P a g e

Anthem for a Doomed Youth What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires. What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes. The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

The author of the poem, soldier/poet Wilfred Owen, wrote it while in hospital recovering from shellshock in 1917. Owen went on to become one of the most well known of the war poets. According to Wikipedia he was killed in action at the Battle of the Sambre just a week before the war ended, causing news of his death to reach home as the town's church bells declared peace – at his death he was 25 years old. This is despair where hope is an unrealized dream hardly worth holding on to. This was the real cost of war. This was the cost the first world war in human terms; the war to end all wars. 21 years after the war to end all wars it would happen all over again on a scale nobody could ever have imagined when in 1939 the Second World War began. Mothers and fathers who saw the horror of trench warfare and mustard gas had to watch as their own sons and daughters left them for another war. As a result of that conflict more than 70 million people were killed…40 million were civilians. The war would end 6 years later in 1945 when Germany was over-run and the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima Japan generating heat over 3,900 degrees celcius and winds of over 1000 km per hour and killing between 40,000 to 75,000 people instantly and a total over time of 220,000 as a result of radiation poisoning. The first and second world wars were the two 197 | P a g e

final nails in the coffin of the enlightenment, that time in the west when hope was huge and everybody thought the world was a better place and solidly cemented the bleak and cynical period of modernism which we are still emerging from. So the past hundred years of human history have brought their share of bleak despair into people’s lives. Many have lost their faith as they have wandered through this wilderness wondering how God could allow these horrors to occur, let alone the pain of their own lives. But others somehow gained in hope and found faith in similar moments. How is this possible? The movie, The Lord of the Rings, is about a journey of friends. I’m sure many of you have probably read the books or seen the movies. Sam and Frodo are on a journey to destroy an evil ring. This is their burden. They are the only ones who can accomplish this task and if they don’t all that they love will be corrupted and destroyed. At a certain point Gandalf, the leader of their party, the one who is strongest, wisest and loved most deeply, the one in whom all their hope is placed, falls to a creature of shadow and flame. This may be considered one of the lowest points in the narrative – the fellowship are in despair of ever reaching the end of their journey. It is as if they can go no further. I want you to imagine with me the following scenario. What if the creator of the movie, Peter Jackson, was able to enter into the film itself, into this scene, and show Sam and Frodo and the others how the journey was going to end? What if he could show them the end of the movie? What if he could say to them – “you will prevail” and leave no doubt in their minds that good will overcome evil? Not – “it’s highly likely things will work out” not “it’s fairly certain things will work out” – but offer them absolute certainty that they would succeed in their quest? That good will overcome evil. Would this not offer them hope? Would this not offer them a strength they didn’t know they had to persevere to the end? I want to give you a couple of definitions from the trusty Oxford – first Hope: • noun 1 a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen. 2 a person or thing that gives cause for hope. • verb 1 expect and want something to happen. 2 intend if possible to do something. Once again as helpful as dictionaries can be they are often somewhat frustrating. Look at the second definition – hope is a person or thing that gives cause for….hope…hmmm…when you run into something like that in the dictionary what you often have to do is figure out the word’s antonym, it’s opposite, and see that definition…only then will you gain a better understanding of the word. Here’s another definition – the word despair: • noun the complete loss or absence of hope. • verb lose or be without hope. A little more helpful. Despair is the absence of hope. Only together and in contrast of one-another do they make sense. If despair is the absence of hope then hope is the absence of despair. In the midst of Frodo and Sam’s despair the hope the movie’s creator can bring them becomes intensely powerful. In many ways I believe we are similar to Sam and Frodo. We are all on a journey through life and we all carry burdens of one sort or another. Each of us bear our crosses like the ring and as we journey we can often despair of reaching our destination. Those who fight in war understand despair 198 | P a g e

and wish for hope. In the case of Sam and Frodo the director never steps in and offers them the hope I described. It does not happen. They do not get to see the end of the movie. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the books, never enters the narrative to explain the end and give his characters hope. I believe that this has been done for us however. If, as Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” then I believe the author of this play has entered into it to offer us, his actors, a glimpse of the end. I believe God looks at his suffering children and in his mercy has shown us the end of the movie. Listen to these words: "These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?"

I answered, "Sir, you know."

And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.

'Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,' [a] nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center before the throne will be their shepherd; 'he will lead them to springs of living water.' [b] 'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'


These are the words of John from Revelation 1:13-17, as he describes a vision given to him by Christ somewhere in the late 1st century of the church. Revelation is many things but first and foremost it is a message of hope to the suffering children of God in the midst of despair. Who are the ones in white? They are the children of God who have suffered. They have hungered; they have thirsted; they have burned in the sun and cried. Most importantly they are the ones to whom God has directed John to write. They are the Sam’s and Frodo’s of the early church who are enduring such grief that God shows them the end of their journey, why they are on it and how the movie is going to end. They may be crying and dying now but Christ will lead them to springs of living water and wipe away every tear. They may be hungry but it will end…forever. The church towards the end of the first century suffered in ways that we can hardly imagine primarily under the persecution of two Roman emperors – Domitian and Nero. It was the efforts of these emperors that drove the church into hiding throughout the Roman empire. It was under these emperors that Christian’s first began being fed alive to wild animals in the coliseum for their entertainment and the entertainment of senators and citizens of Rome. 199 | P a g e

The following account was written by the Roman historian Tacitus in his book Annals. "Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were [generally] hated for their character. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, - where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of "hating the human race." In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and torn to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights (of Nero’s garden parties). BIBLE TRIVIA TIME: By-the-way – can anyone here guess what the Hebrew numeric value is for Nero? 666. There are many others that add up to this value as well. Imagine the following scenario. You are a first century Christian discovered by a Roman soldier who comes up to you and says – “Renounce Christ and declare the Emperor Lord and God or die at the teeth and claws of wild animals in the coliseum as entertainment for the senators and citizens of Rome – you and all your children. Renounce Him now and ask your God for forgiveness later. He will forgive you, you know he will. I cannot. But your children…think of your children. Are you will to watch them torn to pieces for the sake of your faith? Renounce your God. I cannot. Then you are under arrest. Into the midst of this time and place; into the midst of this suffering and despair God comes to John, the last living disciple, and says – “John, I need you to deliver a message to the suffering I need to show you the end of this movie and I need you to show this to them.” ASIDE – I was having coffee with my friend Wayne (who I promised not to mention in my sermon) and telling him, Wayne, about what I was going to be preaching on this Sunday. I got all excited about the possibilities of Revelation and hope and the church. He, my friend Wayne, said that he (Wayne) thought it was a good idea but struggled with understanding the letter. This is our greatest struggle with Revelation, understanding it. Sure we can find many excellent English translations but that still leaves us with all the imagery and symbolism. One of the main features of Revelation is that it speaks of the future, this is not the only feature but it is a main one. When you are a first century Christian with a Hebrew background and you want to deliver a message from God to other first century Christians there’s a certain way you go about doing it. Look – here’s an example – how do we predict the future now. Do we predict the future now? Do you realize that I knew days before it happened that we were going to get a snowstorm. It’s true – I had this secret knowledge long before it happened. No I’m not psychic and no I didn’t consult any mediums. How is it possible that I could know the future before it happened? You all know the obvious answer – the 200 | P a g e

weather forecast right? I read the forecast from environment Canada and watched the weather forecast on the news. Now when environment Canada wants to inform us about the future it can do so in many different ways. For instance it could hire a poet to write an epic poem about the oncoming storm and then deliver it to all Canadians via the internet and evening newscasts…the problem with that is that we wouldn’t really get it. Why? That’s not the way we deliver news about the weather future in Canada. We have a certain way of talking about the weather future and it involves certain aspects, symbols and images that you can only find in weather forecasting. You have maps, town names, red lines, blue lines, arrows, numbers, a jet stream, images of clouds and lightening and the sun and the moon etc and most importantly you have a meteorologist who delivers to you this vision of the future. It all makes perfect sense to us because it is what we’re used to…we expect information about future weather to be delivered like this. Imagine taking someone who has never seen a weather map before, never heard a weather forecast and sitting him or her down in front of it and saying – this is about the future…tell me what it means. What you are going to get may be partially correct but likely the person is simply going to be confused. They might even ask “what’s the point of all the charts and maps, the symbols and numbers, why can’t you just tell me what’s going to happen and when?” Our response – this is the way we do it. This is the way we’ve always done it. We understand it and can get loads of info from all the maps, charts, lines, symbols and numbers. Look, you know all that snow and ice we have outside? I’m sorry to say it’s going to get worse before it gets better – but I can also promise you this – it will all go away and Spring will come and with it newness and life and warmth. We hold onto this knowledge as our hope through the darker days of Winter. Revelation is like that. In some ways Revelation is God’s weather forecast predicting the future and it is 100 % accurate. In answer to the question if you’re a first century Christian how do you deliver God’s news about the future to other first century Christians? You write like Daniel wrote. You write an apocalyptic letter with the appropriate symbols and imagery to represent what God has told you to tell His children. You don’t worry they won’t understand it because this is the way it’s done. They understand this. John, God’s meteorologist, delivers the forecast to a group of people who are already suffering through some pretty nasty weather – his message – it’ll get worse before it gets better and you had better prepare (especially you Laodicea). There will be intermittent periods of suffering followed by a downpour of Biblical proportions but the Son is coming and with the Son a 100 percent chance of eternal peace. The evil will be dealt with and those who put their hope in this Son will be guaranteed to forever enjoy the warmth that is brought. Revelation is about many things. Revelation is about the early church, it is about their suffering, it is about the past and how God has worked and, yes it is also about the future…in all these things the primary message of Revelation is HOPE. The symbols on a weather map are important but they are not the primary message – rather they point to it. So to, the symbols in Revelation help point to the primary message of hope. That is its message to the early church and thanks to God’s brilliance that is its message to the church today who needs to take that hope, transform her despair and bring the message into a hurting despairing world. With Revelation God says to the despairing ones – “I want to show you the future and I want you to remember it.” We are the only ones in human history that holds a memory of the future and it is our task to take that remembrance and use it to turn our pain and other’s to joy. 201 | P a g e

Revelation 21:1-5; 22:1-6 1 Then I saw "a new heaven and a new earth," [a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' [b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. 6 The angel said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place." No matter what pain we suffer now; no matter what horrors we will go through in our life we will rise at the resurrection on the last day, all of us together and face Christ. Is this your eternal hope? Do you believe that you will bask in that glow? For the church at the end of the first century – this was their certain future hope. This was a future they would remember until the day they died. A future whose memory gave them the courage to walk to their deaths in the coliseum rather than deny Christ was their savior. We are the ones of whom it is said “we do not mourn as ones who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13) And here is hope – that God is coming and he will bring us with him. That God is coming, He is bringing Heaven with Him and He will defeat all evil. That we will ride at as his vanguard and bow down before him on the new earth. That he will wipe away all tears and there will be no more crying, no more pain and he will dwell in the midst of his perfect creation. That Heaven and Earth will join together and become one Kingdom of God forever and there will be no more death and no more war. This is the future and I challenge you to remember it. When you are in despair – remember the future; when you feel lost and alone – remember the future; when you feel as though you cannot go on remember the future; in good times and bad remember the future; make it your hope and bring that hope from this place when you leave here and put it into the lives of everyone you meet by letting it transform you. If you don’t think your future contains this hope come talk to me, Paul, Darren or Corinna afterward and we’ll tell you how it can. Would you bow with me in prayer?

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Folks, I pray God’s blessing on you this week and want to encourage you to go to the community Remembrance Day service on Tuesday morning. There’s Coffee & cookies in gym; and we would invite newcomers to visit the info booth in the lobby for more info about Morden Alliance Church and a gift to welcome you.

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Tapestry of Faith & Works
Ephesians 2:8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” If the verses ended there it would be so much simpler – faith saves, works do not. In the working out of our salvation faith is important, works are not. The verses however do not end there – they continue: “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” On the surface these are confusing verses. They start out sounding like faith is the critical ingredient to our eternity and not works but then it ends by telling us that we are created to do good works. So which is most important – faith or works? If grace saves us through faith why even bother with works? Or are these even the right questions to be asking? When we look at the community of Christians around the world we can often divide it into two groups – those who are faith-oriented and those who are worksoriented. Both groups have their extremes –I remember a friend of mine from when I was about 15 years old who might be described as extremely-faith oriented. (TELL STORY OF FRIEND). Maybe the reality is a little more complex than that. Maybe faith and works are equally important in the life of the believer and come together like the weaving of a tapestry to form a picture, a beautiful story of a person’s walk with Christ. I have titled today’s discussion The Tapestry of Faith and Works for reasons, I hope, will become obvious. By the end of our time together you will know far more about the tapestry, tapestry history and tapestry making then you’ll probably every need (or perhaps want) to know but it is all toward an end that I think is worth achieving so I hope you enjoy this morning’s journey and that you are all still with me at the end. For as long as humans have cultivated the land weaving and fabric has been a part of our lives. In our culture the idea of weaving has taken on a multitude of deeper meanings beyond simply referring to the creation of a piece of cloth which suggest that the simple concept of interlocking overlapping threads can represent a number of universal truths and ideas. We hear profound phrases in science documentaries like “the fabric of space and time” or read the phrase in the writings of physicists like Stephen Hawking. At the other end of the spectrum of the profound we are presented with television commercials that appear to be offering us a deep and evocative picture of what it means to be alive by repeatedly using the phrase “the fabric of our lives” only to conclude by revealing that the whole time they were talking about this deeply moving “fabric of our lives” they were really trying to encourage us to stock up on jeans, socks, underwear and other products containing – what? Does anybody know what the fabric of our lives is? Cotton. All this time I thought the fabric of our lives was something deeply spiritual and profound and it turns out to be cotton – who knew? Well I do think that there is a more profound fabric that our lives reflect and I want to talk about that today. Today I want to tell you about the beautiful picture that a life of following Christ is meant to be. 204 | P a g e

This life can be described many ways but I think it is best described not as a painting or a sculpture but rather as a tapestry - a tapestry woven together with the threads of faith and works. To better understand this analogy we need to have an idea of just what a tapestry is. Tapestry is a form of textile art. It is woven by hand on a vertical loom. Tapestries have a fairly long history going back thousands of years to early Greek civilization. In Europe they evolved out of not only an artistic desire but a very practical one as well. Medieval castles and monasteries were everywhere and were made primarily from stone. Let me ask you a question - how cold is a stone house in the middle of winter? Pretty cold. Tapestries were hung all over castles, monasteries and cathedrals as not only as art but as insulation against the cold. Here are a few examples of ancient tapestries. This one depicts the crucifixion of Christ. This one shows the child Christ removing a bunch of grapes from a chalice of wine – the woman receiving the grapes and holding the chalice is meant to represent the Church. This next tapestry is called the King Arthur tapestry. This next image is of a massive series of tapestries entitled The Lady and the Unicorn (not the most imaginative name but certainly descriptive). This last image is my personal favorite and is of a section of probably the most famous tapestry in the western world – the Bayeux Tapestry. The Bayeux Tapestry was probably commissioned in the 1070s by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, halfbrother of William the Conqueror making it over 1,000 years old. It is over 70 metres or 230 feet long and presents the story of the Battle of Hastings in which William the Conquerer of Normandy, France defeated King Harold of England in battle in 1066. We are not able to show you the whole thing because of its length so the portion I have selected depicts King Harold dying as a result of an arrow to the eye. Fortunately graphical abilities were pretty basic at the time. The words woven into the fabric are Latin – “Harold rex interfect” which loosely translates to “the killing of King Harold”. Now there are all sorts of things in our lives that are like tapestries – stories and histories woven into a meaningful fabric that we hold onto. In our church we hang banners that reflect who we are as a faith community…they hold deep meaning for us and were lovingly sewn. Recently Evelyn Elias was presented with a quilt made by her students as a good-bye gift before her move to Alberta. I also have two examples I brought from home with me today. <DESCRIBE THE TWO THROWS> As wonderful as these things are (the blankets, the banners and things like them) they are not tapestries in the true sense of the word. One of the primary ways to identify a tapestry is in how it is made. Tapestries like all fabrics are made up of a weave of vertical and horizontal threads. What I didn’t know is that these two different types of threads have different names – the threads that run vertical are called warp threads and the threads that run horizontal are called weft threads. (REFER TO THE SLIDE) A true tapestry is called a “weft-faced weaving” which means that when you are looking at it the only threads you can see are the ones that run horizontal…the weft threads (incidentally the word weft is where the word weaving comes from). It is the weft threads that create the image or the story that the tapestry tells. One would think that these are the most important threads then because they are the ones that tell the story but it is the warp threads, the ones that run vertically, that act as the foundation 205 | P a g e

or structure into which the image is woven. Without these vertical threads no intelligible story can be told. Like the journey of faith and works in the life of the Christ follower the reality of the tapestry is that both types of threads are required for it to exist in a format that communicates a story to the world… the vertical threads, like faith, act as a foundation hidden beneath the horizontal threads which, like works, tell the story, or paint the picture. So what are these two threads of faith and works? How do they interact with each other in our lives? Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Another way to say this is that faith is a constant exercise of the will; a continual exercise of belief and trust in God. In fact the Greek word for faith is the same word for belief. It is a common misconception that in order to have faith a person must park their brains at the door and live by some vague emotionally driven fantasy life. The reality however is that faith is intellectually reasonable. Our faith is based upon actual events testified to us in reliable eyewitness accounts that have been written down and passed on through time of God’s acts in history culminating in Christ’s death and resurrection. We believe these things because of reason – not in spite of it. God’s Spirit continues to hold us accountable to these truths and by doing so seeks to strengthen our faith. So faith is there, a part of the tapestry of our journey with Christ…and yet because faith is an act of the intellect it is invisible to all but God. As we have seen - faith is the vertical threads in our tapestry. It is foundational but it cannot be seen…this is where and why works enter the picture. This is why works are so important in the life of the believer. Hebrews 11 is often called the “biblical Hall of Faith” If you read the whole of Hebrews 11 you would find a long list of individuals and the faith they had – people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the parents of Moses, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. All are listed in Hebrews 11 and without exception; the evidence of their faith was the works that they accomplished. If faith is the vertical threads then, as we have said, works are the horizontal threads dependent upon faith as their foundation in order to weave the story they were meant to weave. The very picture woven out of the horizontal threads of good works are the evidence of the hidden vertical threads of faith in our lives. Without works our faith cannot be seen. Without the threads of works no tapestry exists and no story can be told or to put it another way we can turn to James 2:14-22 which says:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."

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Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” Our works are the life breath of our faith. If we suffocate our faith through inaction it will die and we will forget why we believe what we do. Brothers and sisters works are not optional, we cannot do them by proxy through others. The reverse is also true…if we only have good works and no faith we present the world with a senseless picture motivated by nothing, with no eternal value. Isaiah 64:5-7 says – “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to [c] our sins.


The picture Isaiah paints for us here is of an Israel that has turned from God, lost its faith. Works done without faith are like “filthy rags” to God. The make no sense - like a tapestry woven only with horizontal threads they present no picture and are meaningless. Faith is important but works are equally important. Let me tell you two short stories that illustrate this: 1. South African/ Ron Sider’s book Good News and Good Works 2. Recent survey of Muslim converts. We opened our discussion this morning with Ephesians 8. Let’s come full circle and look at it again: Ephesians 2:8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” 207 | P a g e

There is one other characteristic of a tapestry that I think illustrates the interaction and necessity of both faith and works in our lives. Before a tapestry was woven it’s design or “blueprints” were created by well known artists. Once the blueprints were done (aside: in animated cartoons/movies these blueprints are called story boards) the weaving of the tapestry was handed over to craftsmen. Ephesians 2 tells us that God created the blueprints for the tapestry of our lives well in advance. God is the artist and He has called us to the honour of being the craftsmen and women of our tapestries. Each of which is like a panel in a grand tapestry that centres on Christ Himself – the perfect blueprint for our own. When you leave here today I encourage you to look closely at the tapestry of your own faith journey and ask yourself some questions: Have I begun it yet? Have I deviated from the blueprint? Are all my threads faith? Are all my threads works? Is my tapestry torn and in need of repair?

Last year we spoke about how God’s mission for us was where ever we were. Take these questions with you into your homes, workplaces, and schools – let them motivate you to weave the tapestry God has planned for your life. As you leave from here today I leave you with this benediction, good words from God from Hebrews 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Go in peace.

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Unlocking the DaVinci Code
FACT: Before we begin to unlock the Da Vinci code I have, in the process of researching, uncovered another code that needs to be unlocked. Here are the facts to Da Cantelon Code: Fact: On May 4 1968 Peter Cantelon was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Fact: There is a world famous horse racing event held in early May every year (often on May 4th) called the Kentucky Derby. Fact: Only a few years before my birth – another Peter Cantelon was working at a race track in the United States similar to the one where the Kentucky Derby is held. Fact: On that same day of my birth my father, the other Peter Cantelon, the one who worked at the Kentucky Derby-like race track years earlier, was watching that same Kentucky Derby on television. Hmmmm. Fact: On the day of my birth Forward Pass wins the Kentucky Derby after Dancer’s Image became the first horse EVER to be disqualified in the famous race’s history because of an illegal substance. As a result of the disqualification Calumet Farm had its 8th Derby winning horse. My birth and the Kentucky Derby are fused forever in memory. Fact: The words Calumet Farm, Forward Pass, Dancer’s Image and Kentucky Derby are in truth an anagram for “Cantelon a race cad – WAR TO BE!” Fact: Fast forward to Morden 2006 - A third generation of Cantelon men has become connected with horses. One Matthew Cantelon has been seen on the outskirts of Morden working with horses. What tale could we weave from this history that spans nearly half-a-century, three generations, and two nations? We enjoy a good mystery. Some mysteries are obviously simplistic and false like The Cantelon Code, some are more intriguing and thought-provoking, like Dan Brown’s bestselling novel – The Da Vinci Code. This is one of the main reasons that we are talking about it today. How popular is The Da Vinci Code anyhow? I mean, if nobody is reading it or seeing the movie why talk about it in the first place? Here are a few stats that speak to the popularity of the book: The movie based on the book has earned more than half a billion dollars worldwide so far since it was released less than one month ago. The book is still number 12 on the New York Times best seller list and it has been on the list now for 166 weeks. More than 40 million copies of the book have been sold worldwide



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Secrets and Codes are interesting to people. Since the modern mystery was developed the tales of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and others have riveted millions of people. Currently one of the top evening television series is CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) which focuses on unlocking murder mysteries through the use of modern forensics techniques. We live in a unique time. A time where a passion for mystery, has combined with a passion for “reality” (notice that all of the top television programs today have been classified as reality television) and a culture that is increasingly open to spirituality…but not necessarily Christianity. This is where The Da Vinci Code comes in. Today is the first of a three part series and we will look into three questions – 1. What is The Da Vinci Code? 2. Why makes it unique? 3. How can people respond? 1. What is The Da Vinci Code? In a nutshell the The Da Vinci Code is a novel written by American novelist Dan Brown which espouses the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that he had children who were shepherded off to the south of France, and that the church (sidebar – Catholic Church: imagery, etc) suppressed this information by hiding secret recently discovered gospels because they would undercut claims of Jesus' deity, the power and authority of the church and raise women to a position of authority unacceptable to this same church. Throughout history a secret organization called the Priory of Sion has been protecting the “suppressed truth” until the right time for it to be revealed. Simply put the novel’s main premise is that Christianity is built on the biggest lie in human history and this has been hinted at in the legend of the Holy Grail – except that the Grail was not a cup that held the wine which represented Christ’s blood but rather it was Mary Magdelene, a human cup holding the blood of Christ in child format. We have titled our series Unlocking the Da Vinci Code and that begs the question – what is there that needs to be unlocked in the first place? What is the big deal? Why are we, in the church, even bothering to give this book any attention at all? This is a good question. It’s not like the ideas in the book are new ones. In fact when I first read the Da Vinci Code last year I knew that I had read these very same ideas before in another book – Holy Blood, Holy Grail (a book mentioned and honored in Dan Brown’s novel – Leigh Teabing) published more than twenty years ago. The difference between the two books is fairly obvious – Holy Blood, Holy Grail is a non-fiction book which means it claims to be presenting truth. Despite presenting as truth, the exact same theory as The Da Vinci Code it didn’t make a very big splash and was relatively quickly forgotten. One of the reasons it was quickly forgotten was that not too long after it was released the document that their theory was based upon (Les Dossiers Secrets, which is mentioned in The Da Vinci Code) was shown to have been a forgery written by a French con artist. Now The Da Vinci Code is, and the author and the publisher, as well as the director of the film version – Ron Howard have all gone out of his way to point out that this is a work of fiction. In fact one of the main 210 | P a g e

reasons people offer for ignoring the book is that it is a work of fiction. It cannot possibly have a great impact on people. So once again we are left with the question – why is this work of fiction so upsetting to some people? There have been other books of fiction written right here in Canada that offer ideas easily as insulting to Christian belief as The Da Vinci Code – Canadian author Morley Callahan wrote a book called A Time For Judas which offers the idea that Judas was asked by Jesus to become the betrayer in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecies. Timothy Findley wrote a book about Noah’s Ark called Not Wanted On The Voyage. Neither of these books created much of a ripple when they were published. Even as recently as 2004 Toronto author Tom Harpur wrote a non-fiction book called The Pagan Christ which essentially denies that Jesus ever existed. The response was small, quick and is pretty much over with now. Why does it need to be unlocked? So what is unique about The Da Vinci Code? What makes it so intriguing and causes millions of people around the world to talk about it around the water cooler at work? There are a few factors which have led to the response we have seen: 1. Timing: Whether by coincidence or insight (or a little of both) Dan Brown published his novel at a time when culture has become VERY spiritually inquisitive. Combine that inquisitive nature with a passion for reality (which is not simply a North American phenomenon) and the increasing lack of influence of Christianity over culture and you have a time which is ripe for a book which combines all these things. I have encountered many people who are puzzled at the popularity of a book that is so strongly questioning the basics of Christianity. What some people have failed to recognize is that we are not part of a culture that sees itself as Christian anymore…we are in fact part of a culture that, in terms of religious beliefs, very similar to the first century when Christianity first appeared. A culture which was very open to multiple faiths and whose only religious rule was that you could not lay claim to truth to the exclusion of other faiths. A culture hostile to Christianity because to follow Christ meant Christ alone. 2. Relevance: These factors which have made the time right have increased the relevance of such a book. We live in an age and culture which does not accept reality in the form of TV news and documentary but needs a narrative woven into it, a story of some sort (just spend some time watching The Amazing Race or Survivor to get an idea of what I’m talking about). We do not want to receive knowledge simply by being lectured we want to receive it through personal stories and experiences. Works of fiction like The Da Vinci Code will increasingly be seen not simply as vehicles for story telling but as the book form of reality television…truth delivered through story. Remember the first word I said when I started speaking this morning? What was it? FACT. This is the first word in The Da Vinci Code. The author cleverly makes his novel more relevant than the average novel by claiming it is based upon facts. That it is delivering hidden truth through narrative. A story. BTW - A new term has been coined for this form of literature – Faction (explain).

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3. Popularity: When you combine timing and relevance you get popularity and there is no doubt The Da Vinci Code is popular. The Barna Group, a US research company, has a couple of statistics that speak to the popularity of The Da Vinci Code: A. The Da Vinci Code has sold more than any other fictional work in history.


It is the most widely read book with a spiritual theme next to the Bible.

How Can People Respond? As a work of fiction many people simply want to ignore the possibility that the book can have life impacting ramifications or suggest that the ideas it proposes are harmless and eventually it will go away. Barna Group has found that approximately five percent of people who read the book have changed their religious beliefs because of it. They don’t say how the beliefs changed – just that they changed. This does not seems like a lot but consider that since more than 40 million people have read the book this means that more than 2 million people have changed their religious beliefs as a result. That about twice the population of Manitoba. It is significant. Consider the following letter sent to RBC Ministries (READ). None of us are in a position to judge the state of this person’s faith. What we do know is that the book caused him to reach out. The question remains – how do respond? There are two possible responses to The Da Vinci Code (and in many ways these are our possible responses to culture as well): 1. Ignore it 2. Engage it Ignore: To ignore it also means to ignore the people who want to talk about it. It means to make a conscious decision to avoid the book, the movie and circumstances where you might end up in engaging it in some way. To ignore it offers the potential for hostility if it continues to knock at our door after we asked it to leave. We may see this as an insult to Christ and respond much the way Peter did in the garden after Jesus was arrested…by drawing our swords in anger and attacking until we hear the voice of Jesus telling us to lay down our weapons. Engage: The other possibility is to engage it is to know what it is about and to form an opinion one way or the other. To engage the book is to be able to be able to respond to challenges to our faith. To engage the book is to have a genuine desire to understand what the book is talking about and come to conclusions. Possibly, for the follower of Christ, engaging the book will involve gaining a deeper understanding of their faith and who God is. Know matter who we are engaging the book will involve dialogue. It will require love, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

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Many people may find engaging this book and unpleasant experience just as engaging with culture can be an unpleasant experience – let me leave you with a verse which I have taken from Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase which speaks of God’s response to a hostile, filthy culture that wanted nothing to do with Him – The Gospel of John 1:10-14 says this: He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn't even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn't want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten. The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

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A Personal Pentecost
Today is Pentecost. For many the day is meaningless but for believers it marks the anniversary of the first time that the Spirit of God came and wove itself into the fibre of the believer for good (and every believer since). I titled today’s sermon Personal Pentecost because I want to talk about our need to prepare ourselves better for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Although our focus for Pentecost is on the coming of the Holy Spirit, for the disciples 2,000 years ago (and to this day) Pentecost was a Jewish celebration. It was related to the celebration of the harvest called Shavuot, more significantly, Pentecost was a celebration of the day that God gave Moses and Israel the law at Mount Sinai…traditionally 50 days after the exodus (or departure) of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Pentecost literally means 50th day. Pentecost was 50 days after the Passover celebration which happens to be around the time when Christ was crucified. The gospels report that after the resurrection Jesus stayed among the disciples for 40 days before he returned (ascended) to heaven. This means that it had been about 10 days since Jesus left them before He fulfills His promise to them from John 14:15 where Jesus says "If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be [c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” So the Spirit first came at Pentecost and it did not come quietly. Have you noticed lately that anytime the weather changes it is preceded by hurricane force winds? I mean the kind of winds that knock your hanging baskets to the ground and send your lawn chairs into the pool where you have to attempt to fish them out with a hook of some sort because they are just out of reach of your outstretched arm and you don’t want to get wet – that kind of wind. I was sitting at the kitchen table the other day watching Itsy make bracelets when a huge gust of wind blew the entire screen (frame and all) right into the house. For a few minutes until I could re-secure the screen the scene was one of chaos amidst the howling of the wind. I imagine the Pentecost after Christ’s ascension to have been something like this. The disciples, both women and men, were gathered in an upper room when the Spirit of God burst in and into their hearts for the first time. I imagine if they had window coverings they would have been blown inwards. Imagine the chaos. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the Acts of the Apostles all report that a few days after Jesus returned to Heaven something strange happened to the believers (who we are told by Acts numbered about 120 women and men). The book of Acts chapter 1:12-14 reports that after Jesus’ ascension “the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” 214 | P a g e

Further on in Acts 2:1-38 reports what happened next:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [a] as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 (which is a little like saying – aren’t these all who are speaking from Brunkild), Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, [b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
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Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: " 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' "People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, [d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him: " 'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' 215 | P a g e
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"Brothers and sisters, we all know that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, " 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah." When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. “ The Spirit of God came on Pentecost to a small group of believers and the world has not been the same since. That same man, a fisherman, who only two months earlier had three times denied he even knew Jesus was speaking in a way that compelled 3,000 people to become followers of the one he denied. These same apostles (save for Mathias who replaced Judas) who months earlier were arguing with one another over things like who would get to sit at the right hand of Jesus when his kingdom was established were now “united and of one mind” with Peter in this message. Only the Spirit can work such transformation. We in the western world have a bit of a problem when it comes to the Spirit however. We are not sure if the Spirit is even at work anymore. Many of us, myself included, are deeply uneasy at the mediocre nature of the body of Christ which is the church of believers. We know in our hearts that there is nothing compelling about this body to the world. We know that we have the same divorce rates compared with culture (in fact evangelicals have a slightly higher divorce rate then non-Christians). We know that 64% of American evangelicals support the use of torture in certain circumstances while only 40 percent of non-Christian Americans support it. We in the western church are increasingly known not by what we love but by what and who we hate. I need to say it again – the Canadian church is not compelling to the culture, it is repelling and this is not the vision presented to us of the church when the Spirit first came in Acts. Something is wrong. It has been said that we live in a time where there are no longer any miracles. Some have said that miracles were part of an earlier, apostolic dispensation and that they are no longer required by God. Of course there is nothing Biblical about this perspective. It sounds a lot like rationalizing by western people trying to understand why they have never experienced the miraculous in their own lives. I say 216 | P a g e
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western people because anyone who has spoken with a missionary or a Christian from the parts of the world that do not include Europe and North America (the area often called the Global South) they would scoff at the idea that miracles are no longer a part of God’s activity in the world because stories of healing and resurrection, are routine. This brings us to a place where some Biblical truths need to be reinforced: Every believer has been given the Spirit of God. In Acts 2:38-39 – the apostle Peter says, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off— for all whom the Lord our God will call." This verse brings us to another point. I need to confess I get personally annoyed when people pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It makes me ask – what happened to the old outpouring of the Spirit? Did it get stale? Not enough MSG? And how did they know - because last time I checked believers do not have an expiration date tattooed onto them at baptism. When we pray for more of the Spirit it is as though we are saying to God that His Spirit is like horsepower and that the 100 horsepower motor is helpful but if He really wants the world transformed he’ll give us 500 horsepower. Sisters and Brothers we need to know that there is no such thing as having a piece of God. God is not divisible. To have the Spirit of God in us is to have all of God in us. This is why the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 3:14-20 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family [a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Do you hear Paul’s words? That we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Imagine that. You can contain the fullness of God. Look at the person next to you – they have the capacity for the fullness of God; in fact His Spirit resides in every believer here right now – His whole Spirit…not a portion of it. So if we contain the Spirit of God and can be filled to Gods own fullness why do we not feel as though this is the case. Why do we not look like people filled with God’s Spirit? We are left with one of two possibilities - either something is wrong with God or something is wrong with us. Assuming things are well with God we need to look closer at ourselves and the best way to do this is to look in comparison to those God left for us as examples – the disciples. In his commentary on Acts Tom Wright suggests that we recognize it for what it is – a sequel to the Gospel according to Luke. In fact he suggests that Luke could also be called the Acts of Jesus the Messiah 217 | P a g e

and that Acts could be called the Acts of Jesus the Messiah II because Acts is all about how Jesus continues to work through his willing disciples, his church by his Spirit’s power. Like a movie sequel – you can watch part two by itself but the experience is significantly enriched by watching part one first. So if Acts is about the coming of the Holy Spirit and what results what was going on in Luke? What were Jesus and the apostles up to? Luke and the other gospels are very similar to each other but each stresses a different aspect of Jesus and his ministry. The primary theme in Luke, stronger than in any other gospel , was the theme of prayer, but not solely prayer. Luke characterizes Jesus ministry as prayer leading to action and action leading to prayer. Before every major event in Luke we find Jesus in prayer. After every major event in Luke, once again we find Jesus in prayer…and when he isn’t praying he is doing – healing, resurrecting, exorcising, or teaching the disciples to do the same. Prayer bookends action; it is its beginning and it is its end. So if we were to look at Luke and its continuation Acts as an example for our own lives we would ask ourselves if prayer is the bookend to action in our lives? When we look at ourselves do we find only the bookends but no books? Lots of prayer but no action. Do we find loads of books but no bookends? Lots of action but little to no prayer. In the Alliance we say that we do nothing without praying first. This is why. Prayer connects us to God. Grounds us in the reality that He is already in us and centers us on the need to move into the world knowing that we are yoked with Christ working together but ultimately by his power alone. When we do go out and God does act through us our temptation will be to believe it is through our power we are acting. And if this is not our temptation it will be the temptation of the ones who witness God at work in us. Listen to how Peter seeks to dispel this in Acts 3:12-16 "People of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” Pentecost is about faith in action. Pentecost is about praying and doing and praying and doing. Pentecost is about confidence in the Spirit within. Pentecost is about believing that you and I can do greater things then Jesus did. In John 14:10-14 Jesus said “Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

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Jesus says in these verses that all he does is done through the Father within him – he then says those we have faith in him will do the same and greater – finally he says how that will happen (remember the verses from John we read earlier) : "If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be [c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Another thing we need to ask ourselves is why God gave us the Spirit. Our understanding of this can impact how we allow God’s Spirit to work through us. It is important to understand that the primary purpose of the Spirit is not for us – it is for the world. The Spirit is a gift, there is no doubt, but it is first and foremost a gift to non-believers through believers. In virtually every instance of the gifts of the Spirit being worked in the New Testament we find the following response: Acts 9:42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Belief. When Jesus heals people believe. When Jesus speaks people believe. When the disciples speak, people believe, when the disciples heal people believe. When the Spirit works the church grows. When Stephen is executed in Acts 7 after preaching a sermon convicting the Jewish unbelievers around him for their lack of faith sever persecution of the church begins and the Spirit then scatters the Jerusalem believers abroad. Not to save their lives as many think but to save the unbeliever…what happens after the Jerusalem church is scattered? New churches develop where ever the believers go. The Spirit of God is not meant for our comfort, our healing, our blessing – that will come one day and the Spirit serves to remind us of what we will receive in eternity. The founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance A.B. Simpson said that believers should seriously pray before seeking healing in their own lives. Healing in the believer serves one primary purpose – to remove obstacles in the believer’s life to continuing Christ’s ministry. Let me ask you a question? If there is no ministry in the believer’s life to begin with what point is there for the Spirit to remove the obstacle of ill health? We have relegated God’s Spirit in our lives to the role of spiritual custodian…allowing Him to clean us up a little, manage our hearts a little, maybe inspire us to sing a little louder or push us into a good work or a short-term mission field but this is not why we have the Spirit. Jesus called the Spirit our helper…not our self-helper but one that would help us to do the work that He has asked us to do. If we do not see the miraculous in our lives perhaps it is time to ask ourselves if we have given the Spirit any work to help with. Generally speaking miracles are not about us as we so often assume with so many things to do with faith. Miracles are meant for those that stand outside of the body that they might come to know the power of Christ through us. Simpson also said “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” which was another way of saying this Christ who healed and performed miracles 2,000 years ago still does…He is alive and His body

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is the church, the globally connected spiritually empowered people who believe in Him. This people simply needs to be on fire. It is no coincidence that the Spirit descended like fire upon the first believers because it is a powerful symbol that represents what the Spirit does.Although I have never set anyone on fire --- intentionally, I have noticed something about people when flames take hold of them. What is the instinct in a person who catches fire? They start to run around screaming…the instinct is not stop drop and roll because if it was we would not have to teach that as endlessly as we do. What happens when a person on fire starts running around? They fan the flames and the fire grows and the fire spreads. It is the same with God’s Spirit. Our instinct should be to run and allow the fire to grow but I think our fear over rides our instinct and we stop-drop-and-roll trying to snuff out the Spirit. So what are we afraid of? We are afraid of death just as if we were really on fire. We know deep down that when Christ bids us to come he bids us to come and die. Die to ourselves and allow him to live through us by the Spirit he sent on Pentecost. But this requires us to move, to discern where God’s Spirit is leading and go and sometimes that is hard work. I cannot tell you the number of times I have prayed that God would simply take me over and make me do what I need to do. Think for me, act for me, speak for me, live for me God because I cannot do this anymore. But every time He whispers in my ear and says – I enable you, I empower you, I inhabit you but I will not possess you. We are not the puppets of God and He would not have us as such even if we would. The Spirit is our helper. The racecar is the drivers helper. The CF18 Hornet is the pilot’s helper. The USS Enterprise is Captain Kirk’s helper. The Nike driver is Tiger Wood’s helper. The one thing wrong with these analogies is that they are backwards. For in each instance the helper is controlled by the driver, pilot, Captain or golfer. In reality the Spirit of God will not be led…the Spirit of God leads. Let me say that again – the Spirit of God will not be led…the Spirit of God leads. The question is are we willing to be led? We are the vehicle and the Spirit is the driver. The difference is we have a God-given will and this is respected by that very same God’s Spirit. That Spirit waits for us to move before guiding. Why? You can’t steer motionless ship. If we move, the Spirit will direct us but we need to ask ourselves – are we moving? God dares us to move. To move into the world, into your neighbor’s lives, into the lives of the sick, the homeless, the prisoner, the prostitute, the non-believer. The band Switchfoot captures this need perfectly in their song Dare You To Move when they sing: I dare you to move, I dare you to move, I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor, I dare you to move. This is the Spirit of God’s challenge to us – get up and move. Get off the floor or couch of your life and move. Catch fire, die to yourselves and watch the things that God will do with you. Reborn from the ashes of your old life like a phoenix you will rise. You will be like a flame caught in the wind sweeping through the forest of this world and setting everything aflame…all the old growth will be burned away and everything and everyone will be reborn in new growth…if you move. If we act and let God’s Spirit blaze within us. Will we spend our lives as smoldering and annoying piles of leaves or will we become something greater? This is the challenge we’re left with by Pentecost. This is what God has called us for…nothing less than to make Pentecost personal.

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Invoking the Presence of God
This sermon spring boards from the invocation I did last week at the Morden Collegiate graduation ceremony. Before I prayed the prayer of invocation I first told the audience and grads what an invocation was…I said: An invocation is a time honored tradition that is a calling upon God for assistance. It is a recognition of God’s presence in this place and a public witness of God’s role in the lives of these graduating students. Most importantly it is a welcoming of God’s presence into this moment and a seeking of God’s blessing upon these proceedings and all who are involved. An invocation calls upon God and actively seeks His presence but it is not so much a going to God as it is an attempt to bring God to us. The challenge I left the graduates with was to enter into the daily exercise of invoking the presence of God and it is that challenge I want to expand upon here today. What do we do when we seek God’s presence? Many of us have conscious and unconscious behaviours designed to bring us into the presence of God. As a child I had a place I would go to when I sought God’s presence. In my hometown of Guelph there is a large stone church at the top of the highest hill in the region. It can be seen for miles and it always seemed out of place to me in what I thought of as a small town (Guelph was about 80,000 people when I was growing up and in my mind barely qualified to be called a city…I have since learned a lot about the size of communities). The Church of our Lady was built 121 years ago, modeled after the medieval French gothic style and its doors were always unlocked to me. It seemed to me as a child that if I was going to seek and invoke God’s presence the Church of our Lady was the obvious place to start…after all my mother and grandmother and numerous great aunts and uncles were all baptized there, confirmed there and celebrated their first communion there. So naturally that is where I went to seek out God. You can tell from these pictures that the architecture, size and décor were what created a sense of the presence of God. Whenever I would walk in it was filled with silence and I would sit in the back pew and seek to invoke God’s presence. Aside from the Duomo in Milan it is the single most beautiful and magnificent structure I have ever been in. Still, in the end, when I would leave, the question in the back of my mind was always whether God was really there. Did I connect with God in some meaningful way or had I fooled myself by seeking to create conditions where it “felt” as though God were present? I mean it certainly reminded me of God. It had been there long before I was born and it will be there long after I die – that’s a lot like God. Certainly the majestic surroundings gave one a feeling of what God must be like - but is that the same as standing in his presence? What do you do when you feel the need to be in God’s presence? Do you create an environment that helps you feel connected? Do you choose a certain time of day like the quiet dawn in the sunroom with coffee and your Bible? Or maybe you go hiking in the Pembina Valley. Do you put on an inspirational worship CD? Maybe, when you want to gain a sense for God’s power you play Becoming the Archetype’s 221 | P a g e

version of How Great Thou Art. Do you take a walk through the park? What are the things you do to draw God into your space and are these things really invoking God’s presence or merely giving you a feeling for what you think it must be like when God is present? There is a significant difference between being in the presence of God and creating an environment that reflects what YOU think God’s presence is like – one is based on who God is and the other is based on your assumptions of who God is or should be. Given the choice between the two I know which I would rather have. The idea of invoking God’s presence comes with expectations though doesn’t it? If we are the one’s invoking then we have an idea of what we are looking for? We expect certain feelings or manifestations of God before we will be satisfied that God has been properly invoked. Are you beginning to sense that there is a problem inherent to the invocation of God? The problem is that if we are seeking to call His presence into our lives then we must have measurable expectations of God and if we have measurable expectations of God then the God we are seeking is too small because we know in reality that God is too great for measurable expectations. So the question is when you call on God what are your expectations? Do you have any? Our expectations are usually fairly emotional – when God is here I will “feel” it. I will be at peace. I will be happier. I will be calm. These are often our measures of successfully invoking God’s presence but are these Biblical? Is this really what happens when God is present? Consider these verses: Genesis 3:8-10 says Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

Adam and Eve’s response to the presence of God was to hide in fear. Do you know what the four most common words spoken are when the Bible relates incidents where God is present before others? DO NOT BE AFRAID. What does this suggest to you about people’s response to the presence of God? THEY WERE AFRAID! God’s presence often struck fear into the hearts of people. When I was in seminary one of the things one of my profs would often say is that when you are preaching there should always be fear…remember that you are allowing God to speak truth through you and this is a frightening honor he would say. If you stand before the pulpit and do not feel a little fear, he said, you should be concerned. So the question we should ask ourselves when seeking to invoke the presence of God is does peace, quiet, an overflowing sense of joy and comfort always mean that God is present or have we manufactured it? Is this what it means to experience the presence of God or are there other signs? We should also consider the reverse – if, when I am seeking God, I become more and more unsettled – is this a sign that He is not there or is it just that He is not meeting my expectations.

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One of the things we need to remember is that God is not visible. 1 John 4:12 says “No one has ever seen God”. When it speaks in the Old Testament of Moses, Elijah, Daniel and others having seen God it is never referring to having seen God directly but rather indirectly – they have seen God’s glory, or the effect of God on the world around them, they have heard God’s voice or seen God’s messengers…but it is clear that none have seen God. God is Spirit. God is invisible. So how do we see the invisible? In astronomy the planet Neptune and the dwarf planet Pluto were discovered not through direct observation but rather because astronomers noticed their gravitational impact on nearby Neptune. Black Holes are discovered in the same way. You see a black hole is an intense gravitational field caused by the collapse of a super massive star into a nearly infinitely dense object. The gravity of this object is so strong that not even light can escape, hence the name Black Hole. Since Black Holes do not reflect light they are not visible and so can only be discovered by their effects on nearby stars. This is an example of how we discover the invisible – by its effects on the visible. Let me give you another example. We often play hide and seek in the dark here in the church as one of the games in youth. The goal is to discover the presence of the invisible. Invisible youth because all of the lights are off. Since we can no longer rely on our sight to discover their whereabouts one would think it would be a fairly difficult task to find hiding youth in a large dark building at night and one would be correct except for the nature of youth. While we no longer have us of our sight to discover our scattered youth we can employ other senses like hearing. Why? Primarily due to the nature of youth. No matter how hard they try they simply cannot be quiet. All the seeker has to do is to stand in the middle of a dark room for a few minutes before they begin to hear evidence of a youthful presence. There’s usually a lot of loud whispering or outright talking accompanied by loads of giggling and sometimes loud laughter. Almost certainly there will also be screaming and the pounding of running feet as they move from room to room because despite my advice on how not to get caught they cannot be still in one spot for more than 2 to 3 minutes. In all this I can roam the entire building never seeing a single youth but reassured by other means that they clearly exist. In his book The Alphabet of Grace the author, poet and pastor Frederick Buechner writes: “the wind blows over the lake and stirs the surface of the water. Thus visible effects of the invisible manifest themselves.” We cannot see the wind but we can see its effect on things like lakes and trees. Yesterday I was in the sun room watching as the wind attempted to tear out everything that was rooted in the ground. If I didn’t know any better my first thought would have been that the trees were attempting to shake themselves free of their moorings in the earth. I mean you cannot see the wind. Of course experience has taught me that there is wind (having not only seen its effects but felt it as well) and so I knew the trees were not moving on their own, they were being moved. God is similar. God is this massive, infinite, personal all powerful invisible force of love that can only be discovered by His impact on creation. Romans 1:20 says – “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” God can be known indirectly through His creation.

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So then one method of trying to seek and then experience the presence of God is to search for the invisible God’s impact on the visible world around you. When you stand outside on a moonless clear night and look up and see the infinite stars and the Milky Way streaming across the sky this is a sign that God exists and is present. When you watch the sun rise in the morning and feel its warmth on your face this is a sign that God exists. When you breathe in and breathe out again or feel your heart beat – these are all visible signs of God’s invisible existence. But these in and of themselves are rarely satisfying to us. We seek a grander presence reminiscent of pillars of fire and cloud, burning bushes and glowing shekinah glory hovering over the mercy seat in the wilderness tabernacle for all to see. I think this is one of the reason that many people are so preoccupied with a tiny portion of scripture called the end times (often to the sad exclusion of all else). We are often not satisfied with the mundane presence of God in the creation around us but would prefer something a little more dramatic like the second coming of Christ and the resulting radical (sometimes frightening) transformation of creation that is attested to in Daniel, Matthew, Revelation and elsewhere. We rarely see God manifest in such ways today. Frankly it seems very Old Testament of God which has often led people to mistakenly suggest that the Bible presents us with two Gods…a dramatic power displaying God in the Old and a subtle somewhat hidden God in the New. Of course this is a wrong interpretation of things. The reality is that the New Testament is founded upon and presents us with the final and most dramatic of all of God’s manifestations throughout history – his personal manifestation as a human being in Jesus. The gospel of John 9:1-14 says – “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only *Son+, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This is a manifestation of God far greater than any that had ever come before. Greater then a burning bush, a pillar of fire or cloud, greater then a parted sea or a flood covering the whole earth. This is the very real physical presence of God erupting into time and space and dwelling with His own creation. This is the presence of God in a way that had never been manifested or invoked before. This is the presence of God we need to be seeking…we should not be seeking peace, calmness and joy but rather we should be seeking the God whose presence may bring those things, or He may bring other things. We should not be seeking pillars of fire and cloud but rather the very physical presence of the one who caused such things. Which brings us to a critical point – to invoke the presence of God requires one know God enough to recognize his presence when it is there and be able to enjoy it. How is this done? Well – I enjoy being here on a Sunday morning in the presence of three hundred plus people. Why? Because I feel as though 224 | P a g e

I know you, and that through you I can experience something of God. I do not know all of you personally but I have come to know you all corporately. When we all gather together this way we display a personality unique to this body we call Morden Alliance Church. I do not however enjoy being in the midst of an anonymous crowd of three hundred plus people. I find it annoying and sometimes stressful. So what’s the difference then? Relationship. We have a relationship. We have a bond cemented by our common belief in Christ. This bond draws us together and allows me to recognize and enjoy your presence and the brilliant thing is I know where and when to most often get the satisfaction of our relationship – every Sunday morning I know I can come here and you will be here satisfying my need for you and your presence. If that’s not enough I can always connect with some of you throughout the week at my house or over a meal and gain an even more intimate experience of your presence because even in part we reflect the character of the whole. So what about God then? Where and when is He? How can I invoke His presence in my life in the way we invoke each other’s here each week? If you were to ask Israel how to go about invoking God’s presence in the Old Testament era they would say that to really experience the presence of God you had to be High Priest and even then only once a year. Sure there was evidence of God in the manna and quail he sent for food or the pillars of fire and cloud that led them through the desert but God’s presence dwelt most fully on the mercy seat over the ark that held the covenant carved in stone and given to Moses. The ark itself was deep inside the wilderness tabernacle away from human eyes and the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies only on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement when he would offer the blood of a sacrifice on behalf of Israel for the forgiveness of the past year’s sins. The average Jew never really understood what it was like to be in the presence of God. Romans 5:1-5 says: 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we [a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we [b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we [c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Acts 10:44 & 45 says: While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. Matthew 28:18-20 says: Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in [a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." All of these verses testify to one thing – that Jesus, God in human flesh has come, dwelled in our midst and fulfilled the promise of staying with us always by sending his Spirit to dwell within each person who would become a believer. 225 | P a g e

Ask any Old Testament Jew what they would trade to have God’s very spirit dwell within them all the days of their life and they would say everything. They would trade the ark, they would trade the tabernacle, they would trade quail and manna and water from rock, they would trade the pillars and the parted seas…they would trade it all to gain such an intimate closeness to God. Ironically we who have such closeness often envy them and these outward manifestations of God’s presence and wish when invoking His presence that perhaps it would manifest that way…maybe if we could simply hear his voice like they used to. The reality is that God is present in each one of us and as wonderful as creating an environment that mimics His character can be sometimes nothing evokes the presence of God better then the gathering of those who contain His Spirit. Matthew 18:20 says “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them”. Jesus says these words to remind his followers that his presence and authority exists in the unity of the fellowship of believers. When we seek to invoke God’s presence we often view it as a solitary and silent communing with God but more often than not a deeper sense of God’s presence is found in fellowship with other believers. To better experience God’s presence we need to shed some preconceptions about what that presence brings because it isn’t always the peace we seek. Mother Teresa once wrote to her friend Rev. Michael Van Der Peet – "Jesus has a very special love for you, [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand." Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt as though when you pray your are speaking into an empty void. It seems about as far from God’s presence as you can get. Sometimes living in God’s presence involves such an increasingly painful awareness of our own inadequacies that it is as though we are moving backward rather than forward, as though we are moving away from Him rather then closer. In times such as this we seek His presence that much more. Then, as we draw even nearer to who God is and come to feel as He feels we come to share some of the pain the He feels for the world. Many will go through their whole lives trying to understand what is wrong with them and their faith constantly asking themselves why they feel so empty even though the try to spend every moment in God’s presence. A few will come to understand what Mother Teresa did as she wrote to her confident Fr. Jacob Neuner: I can't express in words — the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me — for the first time in ... years — I have come to love the darkness — for I believe now that it is part of a very, very small part of Jesus' darkness & pain on earth. You have taught me to accept it [as] a 'spiritual side of your work' as you wrote — Today really I felt a deep joy — that Jesus can't go anymore through the agony — but that He wants to go through it in me. Even in the midst of all the darkness and pain that Mother Teresa went through she continued to serve non-stop, always actively serving others. God’s spirit is restless and always in motion, always active, 226 | P a g e

never at ease…this is why it is compared to wind or movement of air because the wind is by definition only wind as long as it is in motion (the Greek word for Spirit is pneuma – which means air. It is where we get other words like pneumatic from and anyone here who owns a nice set of pneumatic tools can tell you that they get their power from – air). When God is present things happen. New things get created. People move. Disciples are driven into the world and the gospel is spread. When God is present the desire to serve others is overwhelming. The presence of God makes one want to heal another. This is not surprising and it hints at one more critical way we can invoke the presence of God in our lives. Matthew 25:34-40 says: "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' When we feed the hungry we come into the presence of God. When we give water to the thirsty (both real water and the water of life which is the gospel of Jesus) we come into the presence of God. When we befriend the stranger we come into the presence of God. When we clothe the naked we come into the presence of God. When we care for the sick we come into the presence of God. When we visit the prisoner we come into the presence of God. When we serve one-another we invoke God’s presence in ways that dwarf all others. This past week a terrible tragedy occurred in our community when 18-year-old Clark Elder was killed in an accident one day after his graduation from Morden Collegiate. If anyone needs to feel the presence of God more right now it is his family. Within hours of his death our young graduates organized themselves and went to see Clark’s mom. They spent time with her. They grieved with her. In her grief they intentionally moved into her life offering healing and in doing so she got to spend a few minutes in God’s presence and something amazing happened in the process - so did they. They sought to bring God and in the process I hope they realized that God was seeking to bring them at the same time. When we serve one-another we come to realize that the entire time we have spent attempting to invoke God’s presence He was actually seeking to invoke our presence as well. 1 Timothy 2:4 says God our Savior…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. This is an expression of God’s seeking after us, just as the cross and the resurrection are as well all expressions of God’s desire for us to enter into His presence. 227 | P a g e
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Invoking God’s presence is about far more than creating an environment that reminds us of who He is (although this is important). History has taught us that environments disappear. Churches can be closed. Music can be outlawed. Bibles can be burned. Continue to invoke God in these ways but come to learn of how powerfully present God becomes when we gather together and most especially when we serve others. Come also to learn that the prodigal child who sought his father and ran toward him with all his strength was not the only one running but that the father lifted his robes and shamelessly ran after his son as well. Learn that God is seeking your presence as much as you seek His. Learn that God loves your presence as much as you love His and don’t be surprised if his presence does things in your life you never expected or even wanted but trust that by allowing such things you will come to know God so deeply that neither you nor he will have to invoke the other’s presence anymore because you will be aware of each other constantly in all things.

Let’s pray.

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Marks of Discipleship: A Life of Abundance
My name is Peter and I am a scarce person. I have a scarce mindset. I always have. It is as though it is wired into me. How do we know that I am scarce (aside from being a Leafs fan) and what do I mean by scarce anyhow and what could I otherwise be if I were not scarce? What are the options? As usual I like to turn to my Oxford dictionary for helpful definitions to ground us as we move forward and so I looked up some words…first let’s take a look at scarce and see what it means: Scarce: an adjective meaning “insufficient for the demand; hard to find or rare. The noun form is scarcity which means “a lack or inadequacy of…” If you were to look the word up in the thesaurus you would find that its antonym, its opposite, is abundance. – which is what we really want to talk about but – not yet. It is appropriate that I am preaching on the themes of scarcity and abundance on Thanksgiving because these are the two themes at war with each other over this weekend. As we (or those around us) fret and stress over the preparation of a surely abundant meal thanks to the sacrifice of millions of turkeys throughout North America there is always a part of us that wonders at those who will not be celebrating abundantly…those who perhaps will be having a scarce weekend. In true human fashion our wondering starts with ourselves and works outward in ever widening concentric circles. We think about sons and daughters who might be away for school or some other reason and we hope that they find abundance this weekend. Then we think of extended family and wonder about their state and if the meal will be a good one or if perhaps the loss of a job or otherwise is going to have an impact. Beyond this point we may dwell briefly on friends and then those further afield…the less fortunate fellow humans in other countries (or even those nearby) who do not institute or participate in holidays with the name of THANKS-Giving because they feel they have yet to have anything to be thankful for and if they did they would perhaps not be inclined to give it away. But once the turkey arrives at the table and plates are set such thoughts are usually driven away and we set down to the business of being thankful. Scarce thinking, as it were is gone for the time being. Essentially the word, scarce or scarcity is descriptive of a condition or situation; it does not work well by itself but requires an object to help define it – in this case that object is me, or, perhaps, us. We shall see. As I said before I am a scarce person and by that I clearly am referring to something other than my physical presence (in fact in this sense I will be far less scarce after tomorrow). Rather I am speaking of my internal self; my heart; my mindset; how I think and feel and then respond out of this to the people and world around me (and maybe even God). It means that my natural inclination is to think in this direction. The question is – if a person is scarce what are they scarce of? What is lacking in the scarce person that is somehow desired by God? Since we are all called to be disciples how is it that I am missing something; something critical to my role as a disciple? What is a disciple anyhow? I like the Oxford dictionary above all others for various reasons and I was given a new reason the other day when I searched for the word Disciple and found the following definition: • noun 1 a personal follower of Christ during his life, especially one of the twelve Apostles. 2 a follower or pupil of a teacher, leader, or philosophy. 229 | P a g e

I love that they have yet to scrub the Christian references out of the Oxford dictionary as so many other parts of western society have done or are in the midst of doing. At any rate back to the scarce mindset. The scarce mindset is the dark mindset; to be scarce is to be empty of hope and devoid of joy (or at least your inclination is in this direction) and if you have any hope or joy it is merely human and we all know how long that can last. How do we know if we are scarce? What are the signs? I have compiled a top ten list that might be helpful with this, we shall see: Top 10 Signs You Might be a Scarce Thinker 10. You might be a scarce thinker if every time you leave the house you put on a pair of clean underwear just in case you get hit by a car 9. Every time the doorbell or the phone rings you hide under your bed fearing that it is another person wanting something from you 8. You might be a scarce thinker if every loss in a sport you have ever suffered was someone or something else’s fault and all the wins were solely your responsibility 7. You might be a scarce thinker if you have a poster on your wall with the worlds Trust No One written on it in big bold letters. 6. You might be a scarce thinker if you start every sentence with the phrase “don’t get me wrong but” or “don’t take this the wrong way” 5. You might be a scarce thinker if you celebrated when you learned the average lifespan of a Canadian and found out that you were past the halfway point 4. You might be a scarce thinker if your happiness levels and your paycheck schedule overlap 3. You might be a scarce thinker if you think yours is the best generation and every other generation has gotten progressively worse. 2. You might be a scarce thinker if the title of your autobiography would be – Why me? 1. You might be a scarce thinker if you have stopped praying and reading your Bible because it doesn’t seem to do anything anyhow so why bother… After that list I hope you have a sense for how easy it is to be scarce. For most of us there is absolutely no work involved whatsoever in developing our scarce mindsets – it is a one-step process that involves simply waking up in the morning. To be scarce is a very human thing. Scarcity has much to do with where our thoughts linger and the nature of our hope (or lack of hope). The scarce thinker or mindset is not always as easy to spot as one would think. Scarce thinkers are not always wandering the world covered in sackcloth and ashes and bemoaning the state of everything in their life and the lives of everyone else (although many do). Sometimes the scarce thinker is a 230 | P a g e

celebratory person…someone who appears to be filled with joy and abundance but in reality they are the person who is spoken of in The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21 which reads as follows:

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" 15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." 16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' 18 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' 20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' 21 "This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God." This parable is Christ at his most wonderfully puzzling when we are thinking of scarcity and abundance. This Christ takes the way of the world and turns it on its head which is kingdom thinking by the way…the kingdom comes in and in one parable takes something the world has always taken for granted – what does it mean to be abundant – and turns it all upside down. Jesus says you think that to be abundant is to place your trust and hope and life in these things that you have stored up. You think that to be abundant and full of joy is to receive your heart’s desire - but I tell you that to be abundant would have been to have taken all your trust and placed it in God instead. To empty your heart of your own desires and fill it with God’s. ASIDE: For those of you who are interested in a little homework these words “eat and drink” or “eat drink and be merry” are also found in Ecclesiastes 5:18 and Isaiah 22:13. Take those verses when you have some time and read them through the lens of the Parable of the Rich Fool from Luke. You see one of the reasons the scarce mindset comes so easy to myself and others is that it is a selfish mindset in the truest understanding of the word. It is a mindset that has grown out of a life focused on the self – self protection, self-worth, self concern, etc. Can you see how easy it is to become scarce? Which of us have not lived such lives? The world drives us to such a mindset. I was raised by a single mother on welfare living in subsidized government housing having experienced life in several foster homes along the way. Mum did her best to shelter us from a world of drunkenness and abuse but her best was not always enough. This experience taught me that I had to look out for myself because no one else was going to. It taught me that the world was a harsh place and that selfishness was the way to survive. Of course the world was lying to me but I was naïve and had no idea. All of us come by our selfish natures in part because of the experiences we have had that have shaped and moulded us into who we are. There are many case studies in scarcity in scarcity throughout the Bible but perhaps the best (or worst) is that of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet. There were a lot of prophets in the Old Testament and I’m sure there were many more who are not even recorded. A prophet had a simple job (not necessarily easy but simple) and that was to deliver God’s message to people. These messages usually ended up being 231 | P a g e

warnings but this had more to do with the nature of people then the nature of God. All of the books of the prophets in the Bible have a phrase something like – “the word of the Lord came to ___________” followed by that word (whatever it was) delivered to its intended audience. Prophets were supposed to submit to the will of God, set aside their own agendas and do what was asked of them when it was asked. Jonah however is different. Jonah receives a word from God and what does he do? Jonah 1:3 says “Jonah ran away from the Lord”. Of course this was a foolish move, the Lord being who the Lord is, and it speaks to how little Jonah really understood of God and His character. During his escape attempt Jonah secures passage on a ship to the port of Tarshish. While at sea God sends a storm that threatens to destroy the boat and everyone on board. When it becomes clear that Jonah is the source of the trouble he tells the crew to throw him overboard in order to calm the seas. Now we get to an interesting occurrence. The crew row desperately attempting to outrun the storm because they don’t want to kill Jonah. On the surface this appears to be an incredibly abundant act filled with selflessness and good will but in reality it is very scarce because the sailors we simply afraid that killing Jonah would bring his God’s wrath down upon them. They were acting out of selfishness. Abundance comes to them when they become convinced throwing Jonah overboard is what this God wants. When people see and act on the heart of God they are demonstrating abundance. Jonah 1:15-16 says “Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.” The sailors did what many of us would call a fairly scarce act – throwing a man into the sea to die – but because it was a faith response to God it actually transformed them into something they were not before this voyage – followers. Disciples. Meanwhile Jonah is sinking and likely hoping for a quick death which, while not his first preference, at least helps him avoid delivering the message God had for Nineveh and so that last laugh is at God’s expense. Of course God being God is not about to let his plans be thwarted by mere death and so he sends his great fish to swallow up Jonah and manages to keep Jonah alive in this fish for as long as it takes…as it turns out it being trapped inside a giant fish is highly motivating and if Jonah was not claustrophobic before the event he most certainly was afterwards. Although the fact that Jonah stayed in the fish three days and nights before he prayed is a testimony to his own selfish stubbornness no doubt. So Jonah acknowledges God and God in his kindness causes the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. ASIDE: Have you ever stopped to think that God being God could have simply transported Jonah clean and fresh from the fish to land (after all if He can transport Philip to Macedonia in an instant he could certainly do this for Jonah) but instead he has the fish barf him up onto the beach? Jonah – a sticky, disgusting mess tossed into the sand from the sea. I wonder if there was some heavenly giggling going on at that point. It may be that God is simply aware of how transient this change of heart in Jonah is going to be. Jonah 3:1-2 says Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." And miracle of miracles verse three tells us 3

Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh.

We know that the reason Jonah resists is due to his own selfish heart – a heart scarce of God’s desires. Jonah hated the Ninevites because they were bullies and they deserved destruction as far as he was concerned and frankly as far as the law of God was concerned too. Jonah did not want to bring God’s message to them because he feared they would have a change of heart and God would not destroy 232 | P a g e

them. Jonah had some selfish desires and ambitions as regards Nineveh and God was getting in the way. Now here’s the irony – the scarce heart is not always empty (despite the definition) it is often filled with malice, anger, envy, greed, selfishness, gossip etc…it is scarce not because it contains nothing but because it contains nothing of worth. There is nothing life giving and eternal in the scarce heart. That is what it means to be scarce. To be empty (or near empty) of that which gives life. One more Biblical case study that will help us transition from scarcity to abundance. In this case study we look to the New Testament to the Gospel of Luke. We have two birth narratives to dig into – the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Luke 1:11-20 tells us about when the angel Gabriel foretold the birth of John to his father Zechariah: 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.[b] 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, (ASIDE: Deep booming voice) and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time." Zechariah is doubtful of this message and in response to this doubt the angel strikes him mute. Zechariah’s doubt comes from a very natural place – he and his wife are old. It seems reasonable to doubt. However the doubt comes from a focus on himself and his wife and not on God. He doubts this will happen because HE is old and Elizabeth is old. He is not thinking about what God CAN do but what they CAN and CANNOT do. This is the essence of scarcity. But there is another birth announcement to look at: Luke 1:26-38 says In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son
29 19 18

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of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[c] the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God." "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. In Mary we have magnificent abundance. Both Mary and Zechariah ask how but there is a difference between the two – Zechariah’s “how can I be sure of this?” is a challenge to PROVE IT. How can I (emphasis on I) be sure to which the answer is – it does not matter if you are sure it matters that God is sure. Mary’s “How will this be?” is mere curiosity. Here you have a young teenage girl (by all accounts likely somewhere between 14-16 years old) being told by an Angel that she will bear God’s son. Naturally she wants to know how? How will this happen? A teenage girl who is a virgin in 1st century Israel REALLY wants to know how this is going to happen. But make no mistake there is never any doubt in Mary and this is seen most brilliantly in her words “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Can we all say those words together – “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said”. Do you sense the power and beauty of those words. Do you feel the abundance of them? There is no thought for herself. No thought for what others will say at this unmarried teenage girl’s sudden pregnancy at a time that could see her punished through stoning. No concern for how this will impact her family. No concern for how this will impact Joseph. Brilliant abundance that is empty of any thought for herself. So abundant that Mary will be filled with the very Son of God, God in human flesh who has come to reconcile the world to himself through the cross…this is abundance…there is nothing more abundant than this – to be filled with Christ himself until there is nothing left of ourselves and Mary responds accordingly – “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said”. The calling of the disciples is similar and this is how we know that abundance is a mark of discipleship. Mark 1:16-20 says “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people." 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” The disciples left careers, they left parents, they left possessions, they left wives and children and they immediately followed Christ. Why? Many have gone through great pains to explain this. Some have said that the immediate following of the disciples betrays a longer story not recorded. That the disciples were already well aware of who Jesus was and what his claims were and were honored to follow him. I think the reality is much simpler however…I think the disciples didn’t really know Jesus well – but they 234 | P a g e


knew God. They knew him well enough to know His call when it came through Christ. They knew Him abundantly and left everything because none of it had any hold on them compared to Christ. We would like to think we would do the same if Christ were to call us but if I am honest I must admit that deep down that call is from a Christ that I recognize. It is a call from a Christ who has proven himself to me. I pray that one day I would be abundant enough to follow God’s call even when it comes from a person I have never known in a way that scares me. To be scarce is to reflect the world and that is easy because we are broken parts of the world. To be abundant is to deny the world and all of its various holds on us. To empty ourselves of money, lust, family, belongings, jobs, achievements, ambitions, ego, and stand before Christ ready to be filled because he has told us in John 10:10 that “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” To stand before Christ because his servant Paul has said in Ephesians 3:14-19 “For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family [a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. How does a finite vessel like you and I contain the infinite God? Ask yourself – how can I be so abundantly filled because I am limited and God is limitless. How is it possible? One cup at a time – that’s how. Every time you are filled with the Spirit of God that shows itself in the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, you then go and empty it into the world and people around you that you might be filled again and again and again. Here comes the great mind-twisting truths of Christ - To be full we must be empty…to be effective we must be ineffective; to be all that we can be we must be nothing; to be first we must be last; to save our lives we must first lose them; AND hardest of all we must do these things with the knowledge that we will never fully succeed and that this is where faith and the grace of God lift us and carry us across the finish line. We must do these things with the humility that does them, not to save the world (not even to help save the world) but simply because God wants to save the world – and our desires are God’s. Karl Barth said in his commentary on The Epistle to the Romans- “God alone can save the world” and so we must learn to wait upon God and not attempt to wrestle Him into our own preconceived ideas of what this salvation will look like. If this is the case then it is also true that God alone can save us and we must learn again to wait upon Him. If we live in light of the resurrected Christ then we live with the knowledge that God can and will change the world and we must get our hope and abundance in this and let it transform us. If Christ remains in the tomb then we have lost all hope and will go about trying to do what we think Christ would do if He had only lived and we will fail miserably. To be abundant then is to seek and know God. You have heard it said before and I will say it again mostly as a reminder to myself – soak yourselves in the Word of God to such a degree that you can claim to have been baptized by it. Don’t simply memorize it but let it challenge every aspect of your life and the world you live in. Soak yourselves in prayer so that God is the one who you talk with more than any other by a massive margin. I have complained when pastors boil it down to these two things but the 235 | P a g e

reality is I also know in the midst of my complaining that I am NOT doing this. We must let go of our fear that if we do not act/plan/strategize things will not happen…this is scarce and says that you and not God maintain things. Don’t get me wrong - you may be called to t/plan/strategize in an overflow of God through you but if you find you are acting out of fear then you should probably stop because you will find all your accomplishments to be empty. There is no room for fear in an abundant mind; there is only room for God. The abundant ones tended to be fools by worldly standards – they were the one’s rushing into the plague cities in the Middle Ages to care for the sick while the wealthy left. They were the ones that would face death rather than deny the truth. God has changed the world through those who have soaked in the Word and Prayer – Jesus, the apostles, Augustine, Patrick of Ireland, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Mother Theresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and many, many others who are not known and could not care to be known because God was at work and not them - and they rejoice because of it. - Let us pray – Father I am scarce we are all scarce I would have pulled the sword and struck off that ear then I would have run and hid I know I know My water walk would have ended waist deep in desperation while my denial would not have stopped with three but three times three times three ad nauseum ad infinito if you are my heart then beat if you are my light then shine if you are my life then breathe if you are my song then sing father i am scarce father I am too full of myself empty me that you may fill me be my abundance be all of our abundance I pray this prayer in Jesus name - Amen

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Parable of the Vine: Abide
Late last week after days of struggling to work through this sermon and many false starts I awoke one morning with a clear vision of what needed to be said and how to begin. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really do anything to make this happen, it’s not like I practiced any sort of secret pastoral ritual to draw down the inspiration of God (I only get three of those and I’m saving them)…frankly I had spent most of the week doing dry Greek word studies. I think what likely happened was God finally got tired of watching my pathetic struggle to put this together and said “o k a y, I can’t stand watching you suffer like this – fiiiine I’ll write it…you sit back, rest and let me do the work…which to be honest pretty much happens every time I attempt to put a sermon together. Anyhow – this is what I was given. In our continuing series focusing on the parables of Jesus we look today at the parable of the vine from John 15:1-8 which reads as follows:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes [a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. Picture this: Single mom gets up early in the morning, starts breakfast, wakes up the kids, makes lunches for school, goes and wakes up the kids again, showers and gets ready for work, goes and wakes up kids AGAIN, gets everyone in the car, starts to drive away, drives back into the driveway and lets son out to go and get his forgotten backpack…and the whole time Christ is whispering in her ear – remain in me, remain, abide, just abide. Dad get’s up at 5 am and gets ready for another 12 hour day dealing with jerks, angry co-workers and clients never really sure where the line is between the three; He hits the road and ends up behind the world’s slowest driver (who also by coincidence happens to be the world’s oldest driver); finally makes it to Tim’s for a coffee only to find two dozen cars ahead of him in the drive through all of whom seem to be ordering seven course meals…man finally makes it to the window only to realize he’s forgotten his wallet…and the whole time Christ is whispering in his ear – remain in me, abide in me, remain, abide, just abide. Grandmother greets the day with prayer and tea in the sunroom. This is the way it’s been everyday since her love passed away years ago and if she could just stay here and pray all day she would but she can’t. Today is another day with the prospect of wandering lonely through the house cleaning and 237 | P a g e

adjusting, maybe a nap, maybe some work in the garden…another day with no visitors, no phone calls, thoughts of maybe calling her son but she doesn’t want to bother him…and the whole time Jesus speaks softly in her ear – remain in me, abide in me as I do in you, just remain, just abide…abide. Young teen boy drags himself out of bed reluctantly. A pointless day of school ahead, too tired to pick fresh clothes, stumbles to the bathroom for a shower that never really wakes him up because he made it too hot…at least its Friday but that means the weekend is there and he’s got to spend it listening to parents fighting and avoiding younger siblings – boy makes mental note to make weekend plans that involve a lot of sleeping over at friend’s houses…and the whole time Jesus is leaning in close to him and whispering – remain in me, abide in me, just remain, just abide in me as I do in you, abide… These images are true ones. We have all in some way been connected to the ever increasing chaos that is life. There is something restful and appealing about the idea of remaining or abiding in the midst of the storm…something the strikes a chord deep within us…a yearning for this kind of rest, this kind of escape. Even the words typically used in various translations are like breath words – remain, abide, remain, abide – they are peaceful pastoral words that sound like the Spirit when we whisper them. Beautiful and poetic is the image of how we typically interpret this admonition of Christ’s – to abide in him. Still – if we are honest with ourselves and we dig even deeper beneath our dreams there is something frustrating about these words of Christ…something rather annoying at being told to abide while the storm approaches ready to ravish everything you hold dear. You know what I mean. You know what it feels like when you’ve just stumbled into church on a Sunday morning maybe dragging screaming kids, maybe an angry spouse or maybe just plain ol’ lonely and you just realized you locked your keys in the car or ladies you just noticed that you tucked your skirt into you pantyhose (which really frustrates you because you knew you should’ve stuck to your first choice and just worn jeans) and in the midst of all your explosive frustration some well intentioned disciple of Christ wanders up to you smiling and gently says – just abide in Christ. That’s usually when you want to turn around and say “Let me give you something to abide in…” but of course you don’t, you smile and say thank you and you move on because you know they meant well. Many times when we chafe at gentle words in the midst of struggle it is wise to recollect the many instances in scripture where God promises to be our shelter and our comforter. This parable however is not one of those instances. We would like to read these verses in a way that suggests that we remain in Christ like frightened people remain in a bomb shelter during an air raid or like Dorothy’s family remaining in the storm cellar during a tornado lest it whisk us away to the dangerous and unpredictable land of Oz. Frankly many of our Bible translations encourage us to read this way. The question we need to ask ourselves then is what does it mean to remain or abide in Christ then? How would it have been understood by those to whom it was first written? These are important questions to ask and sometimes we are not fond of asking them. Too often I have heard people complain about the suggestion that a certain effort must go into reading and understanding our Bibles. It is said that God’s

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Spirit helps us to understand His word which is true in the sense that the Spirit convicts of us the truth but not in the sense of doing all our thinking for us. Imagine the following scenario – you’ve just returned from a shopping marathon in Grand Forks and you’ve got your new clothes on and you’re walking down the street. Someone you know stops you and says – yo, (because that’s the way your friends talk) you look phat, you look bad man. Now depending upon who says that to you and how you hear it you either just heard that these clothes make you look fat and bad or they make you look PHAT and Baaaad. There is a critical difference between these two interpretations – one is likely going to make you angry and possibly drive you to doing something you are going to regret; the other is going to make you smile and feel good about your phat bad self. Reading our Bibles can be a similar exercise in Spirit-led discernment. There is a natural way we will understand things and then there’s a way they are intended to be understood and that is what we’re seeking when we seek after God’s truth. Thankfully we don’t all have to be Greek scholars and Hebrew historians – God in his wisdom created a church with a variety of gifted folks among whom happily we have Greek scholars and Hebrew historians…for my part I spent a good part of last week digging into some Greek texts prepared by just such folks and trying to better understand a critical word in this passage – the word translated as remain or abide in most translations. The word is repeated eight times across the eight verses of the parable and one of the rules we should all remember when reading our Bibles is that when God is repetitive with a word, phrase or idea it is because this is a VERY important point and we are supposed to pay close attention to it. The only other word repeated nearly as often in the text is fruit/fruitful and we’ll get to that a little later but for the time being let’s talk about the word remain. The actual Greek word we find in the text is meno and its variations like menein (and no Menno, I’m sorry this does not have anything to do with your name – your name is from the German meaning strength). While it is correct to translate meno as remain or abide this does not capture the depth of the meaning present in the text. Just like translating the Hebrew word shalom as peace is technically correct but misses a great deal of depth. The author of the gospel has many other options open to him to express the idea of remaining that Jesus was presenting in the parable…he chose this word for a reason. What we know about the word is that in all the classical literature at the time John was being written and before, as well as throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament the word is never used in the sense of to remain hidden, to remain safe, to remain sheltered or the like. In the Greek version of the Old Testament that was widely read in Jesus’ time (called the Septuagint) the most common use of this word was in describing the enduring, unchanging, never leaving presence and character of God. This God is the God who abides. This God is the God who will never be driven away. This God is the God who stands fast and endures forever and ever and ever; the eternally present never abandoning God of all gods. This is the primary sense that John wants us to hear in Jesus parable. John uses this particular word more than any other in the New Testament and so we ask ourselves why? One of the things John is concerned with throughout his gospel and letters in the New Testament is that the reader understand that Jesus is God’s son, that Jesus is God come in human flesh. This is probably why only John recollects and reports the parable of the vine…because the vine was a symbol of Israel (Israel brought a vine with them from Egypt and planted it in the Promised Land on their arrival). In Jesus all 239 | P a g e

the promises of Israel are fulfilled. NT Wright says in his excellent commentary John for Everyone “Jesus is saying that he is the true vine. This can only mean that he is, in himself, the true Israel. He is the one on whom God’s purposes are now resting.” ASIDE: BTW if you are looking for an excellent, inexpensive, readable commentary without a lot of technical jargon then I highly recommend NT Wright’s for everyone series on the New Testament. But back to John…in John’s gospel Christ abides. He abides in God and God and God’s promises abide in him. In our Bibles God is the one who abides forever…in John Jesus is the one who abides with God forever and Jesus would have us abide as well – forever. That is the sense underneath the text. When the readers hear Jesus telling us that we must abide in him as a branch abides in the vine they instantly say to themselves – wait a minute, only God abides eternally, only Christ abides eternally – now it seems through Christ I too can abide eternally. Wrapped up in this one word as it is used in the parable is Jesus promise of salvation for all who know him. Not to hide in him. Jesus does not hide in God. Not seek shelter in him. Jesus does not seek shelter in God. Abide in him. Stand fast, stand firm and endure in him as Christ stands firm forever in God. This is the way the word is meant to be read and understood. Frankly the way the word meno is used in the parable anticipates struggle and adversity just as it always has throughout scripture. In the Old Testament our God is the God who abides, against the challenge of false foreign Gods and beliefs. God stands fast eternally - long after other gods have been proven as nothing more than wood & stone, myth and memory. In the New Testament Jesus, God in human flesh stands firm in God even in the face of death to such a degree that death cannot conquer him and now we are being told to stand fast and firm in Jesus as the branches abide in the vine. Why? What adversity can we expect? To what end must we abide in Christ? Salvation? Eternal life? Our personal salvation is of critical importance to us and to God and understandably so, but our salvation is not of primary importance in this parable. The parable says that the reason the branch abides in the vine is to bear fruit for the one who tends the vine (this is God). So what is this fruit? What is so important about this fruit that we must stand fast in Christ against all adversity to ensure this fruit comes about? Is the fruit good works? By keeping the law are we producing fruit? No. It is not what we do by our own strength that brings forth fruit but our standing fast in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ that leads to the fruit God wants to see. The fruit God desires from us is quite simply the grafting of others into the vine. It is each person lost in darkness gaining the hope of God because they see you standing firm in Christ against all that the world can throw at you. The fruit that we bear if we abide in Christ, if we stand fast with Him, is nothing less than the salvation of the world. And do you know what the purpose of fruit is? Do you know why fruit exists? It does not exist to sit and contemplate its own delicious and fortunate fruitiness…Oooohhh thank God that I’m a banana and not some miserable radish…doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Fruit does not exist to bask in the glow of its own fortune at being fruit and not something else. It exists for one reason and one reason alone – to make more fruit. Fruit falls to the ground, dies and bears an even greater number of fruit which fall to the ground and bear an even greater number of fruit – you get the point. Our salvation is a good thing, it is delicious and wondrous to behold but our main task is not to sit back, bask in the glow of, and contemplate our own salvation but to make more like us…that is the sole reason we exist as children of God and in doing so we bring God glory. That is why Christ tells us to remain in 240 | P a g e

him as the branch remains in the vine – because He is about God’s business of saving the entirety of creation and has graciously given us a role. But along with this life-giving role comes a warning to those who would not abide, not stand fast…the branch that tries to go it alone soon withers and becomes useless. Useless because a withered branch bears no fruit and is either cut away by the vinedresser or torn away by ravaging storms. I love the image of the vine and branches that Christ has chosen in this parable because in so many ways it illustrates the nature of the church, the body of Christ. When I say church I do not mean the bricks and mortar of this building and the countless others around the world – this is a simplistic way of defining church which needs to be discarded…when I say church I mean the universal collection of Christ followers that Jesus himself defines as his body, some of whom happen to meet in this place each week on the Sabbath to celebrate God, and expose themselves to fellowship, teaching and preaching so that they might go out into the world again and abide in him in order to bear fruit – that is what I mean when I say church. Anyhow this parable illustrates the church incredibly well and I think it is appropriate that it is only John, the most poetic of the Gospel writers, who includes this parable. The vine is an amazing plant. We have a vine growing on a trellis in front of our home and there are a few things I have learned about vines since moving here. First, the branches of a vine are unruly and difficult to tame. If the branches had their way they would be haphazardly growing all over the house and every tree and bush in the yard as well taking wasteful advantage of the endless nourishment the vine offers them. Essentially it would smother everything and in the process kill other plants. If the church is like the branches of a vine drawing its life from Christ our vine then God is the vinedresser as the parable says, who must come along and prune, cutting away unnecessary growth and provide direction and purpose in the process. Pruning is painful. There is no other way to describe it. It is the taking of shears and cutting unnecessary branches off of the vine. When we first began caring for our vine we sort of let it do its own thing and in the fall I would simply hack the whole thing down to a nub and it would start up again in the spring. After a few years of this we began to notice something – the vine was not producing much fruit. Finally Carla stepped in (she is the one with the green thumb in our house) and she said “look; don’t simply cut everything away to nothing - be a little more selective and strategic about it. Leave the primary parts of the vine and cut away select branches that don’t have any fruit because all they do is take away from the other branches.” So I did this and this year’s vine is filled with more grapes then we’ve had since we moved here. The point? The pain of pruning works and is necessary. Jesus says to the disciples at the beginning of the parable that they are already clean (which is the same word used for prune in the Greek) because they have been with him and heard His word. Much has been pruned from their lives – they have left jobs, birthplaces, families and friends for the sake of Christ…for the sake of His message and to bear fruit for the kingdom of God and Jesus commends them for it here. The reality though is the pruning is not done. The pruning is never done. In the fall I will have to prune my vine again if I want an abundant harvest next year. The disciples endure pruning again and again and the parable tells us that we will be pruned as well as long as we abide and stand fast in Christ our vine. What has God desired to prune from your life so that you might be more fruitful and focused on him? It is a good question to ask ourselves on occasion. 241 | P a g e

Another neat thing about the vine which brings us back to the image of the vine and branches as an image of the church is the way it grows and supports itself. A vine takes advantage of its environment…it grows on a wall but it is not a wall; up a tree but it is not a tree; on a trellis but it is not the trellis; a vine infiltrates its environment for growth. In a wind storm I would trust my vine to remain standing long after other, stronger looking things like trees, had fallen down. This is because of the tendrils that the vine has the wrap around things for support. Near hurricane force winds can blow and the vine will not budge from its spot because it sends out tendrils that grab onto whatever they can and hold on for all they are worth. Do you know what a vine grabs onto more than anything else in its environment? It grabs onto itself. I would guess that 90 percent of the tendrils on my vine are holding onto other parts of the vine…this kind of interweaving of itself gives the vine incredible strength. I think this is one of the reasons Jesus chose the image of the vine and branches for the church. Any branch of a vine off doing its own thing is going to get removed or torn away by the storms that come along because it lacks the full strength of the vine. It grows in isolation, certainly gaining nourishment from the vine but not much more. The branches that rely on each other stand fast against the storms. They continue to remain in the vine and bear fruit. As beautiful and pastoral an image as the parable of the vine and branches offers us it is clear at this point that its main purpose was not to comfort and sedate us but to prime and prepare us for an emerging war which we were signed up for when we became believers.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The apostle Paul wrote that in Ephesians 6:12 and when Jesus speaks to us in his parable of the vine and branches he is speaking with this idea solidly before him. This war is not fought with human weapons but with truth which is God’s word. It is fought by standing firm with Christ; abiding in him; How do we do this? How do we abide? Jesus tells us further along in John that we abide in him when we obey his commands but what does he command of us? Almost immediately following the parable in John 15:1217 Jesus says: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other. Each day we awaken with a critical question before us – will we lay down our lives for the sake of Christ? Will we sacrifice our lives that others may live? Will we stand fast with Jesus as the darkness of the world threatens to sweep us away and with it any hope for creation’s salvation? Britain at the beginning of World War II in 1940 and her Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill are struggling with similar questions albeit with more earthly consequences. Shall they remain battling against all the adversity that is the growing dark might of Hitler’s third Reich and the conquest of Europe 242 | P a g e

or should they hide on their island. Should they ignore the plight of Europe and take comfort in the false security of the English Channel between them and tyranny? Should they abandon the world to darkness when they could do something about it despite how hopeless things seemed? Essentially the question was whether they should cave before the onslaught of the storm of war and hope that it would pass them by or should they stand fast and firm as the first of many waves of terror struck them threatening to tear them down? Listen to what Churchill had to say: <Play audio from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0JsPXg-e1s&feature=related here> “we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old." This is the sense that the parable of the vine is attempting to get across to us…to stand fast with Christ and one-another against the onslaught, to not back down in its face but to move forward for one purpose and one purpose only – to save creation. More than 2000 years ago God established a beachhead on a world overwhelmed by evil – that beachhead was Christ. His task was this – spread the kingdom of God and save this world whatever the cost. This was the new world coming to the rescue of the old only the new world was God’s kingdom remaking the old into what God had always intended. That is our task given to us by Christ, to stand fast with him, abide in him by obeying his commands, by being united, by loving one-another and in the midst of a world overwhelmed by evil to be visible as we do it. Let the world see us face it; Let the world see us fall and rise again so that it asks - “where does their strength come from?” and when they ask that question we tell them simply – Christ in us and us in Christ…we can do nothing without him… Let’s pray.

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Pearl of Great Price
Today we will talk about treasure and sacrifice as we examine the parable of the treasure and the parable of the pearl. We will look at things of value and ask the question what are we willing to do in order to gain things of great worth and what is our measure of value anyhow? In 1624 the Dutch purchased what we know as the island of Manhattan for 60 guilders worth of beads from the local native peoples (about $1,000 in today’s currency). This is often told as a tale describing the ignorance of the locals in comparison to the enlightened European settlers but that really depends upon one’s perspective. From the Dutch perspective purchasing such prime ocean-side real estate for a mere 60 guilders worth of beads was the definition of a good deal. From the native perspective however the joke was on the Dutch because no one could own the earth. From the native perspective the Dutch were foolish to give them something of value for land which did not belong to them and in fact could not belong to anyone. We all have stories in our lives about the exchange. For example in 1984 16-year-old Pete Cantelon traded $500 of his hard earned dollars for a 5 inch Newtonian reflector telescope. Some people’s concept of value had determined that this was a serious waste of money(and they had no problem making this known)…but for young (and much thinner) me it was a bargain and I received years of astronomical joy from it. In another exchange two years earlier one of my friends needed $2 to buy cigarettes. I had $2 and I didn’t smoke…he had the Beatles Blue album and Red album in mint condition…a trade ensued leaving him with my two dollars and me with his two albums. I still have the albums and I am certain his cigarettes have long since disappeared. Personally I believe I got the better end of the deal but he was as happy as I with the trade. We have all traded one thing for another. We have all purchased or sacrificed in a way that others consider foolish but we do not because of some relative and inherent understanding of value that others do not understand. So – measure of value depends upon context. Measure of value depends upon on one’s economy. A long time ago people groups would trade in various items that were considered valuable – some people traded shells, others traded rocks, the larger the more valuable. Some people traded livestock and others traded in crops and sadly others traded in human beings. When trade happened between people groups negotiations had to happen because there was no universal standard of value…one person’s cow was another’s five bushels of grain. This form of economy becomes rather cumbersome after a while and so the search began for more universal measures of value which led to the establishment of precious metal currency – copper, silver and gold to be precise. Each metal was seen as increasingly valuable across multiple people groups and each was sufficiently rare to avoid too much of an abundance which would lead to reduced value and hyper-inflation. To this day gold is the primary standard by which currencies and economies are measured. Gold is as close as we get to a universal standard of value. Still – it is not really a universal absolute standard because its status depends upon the majority of global economies agreeing to its use. What am I saying? Gold (and every other human

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form of measuring worth) has no inherent value – its value comes from outside of itself – it comes from how much humans value it and as such its value is unreliable. Its value is a myth. Today as we continue our series on parables we will look at value from a different perspective. We will look at the parables of the Treasure and the Pearl found in Matthew chapter 13 and we will attempt to trade our earthly economies for a kingdom economy and to do that we will need to radically transform our understanding of what is valuable and what is the measure of value. What is a Parable? Wikipedia, drawing upon a number of reliable resources describes a parable this way - The word "parable" comes from the Greek "παραβολή" (parabolē), the name given by Greek rhetoricians to any fictive illustration in the form of a brief narrative. Later it came to mean a fictitious narrative, generally referring to something that might naturally occur, by which spiritual and moral matters might be conveyed.[2] A parable is a short tale that illustrates universal truth, one of the simplest of narratives. It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results. It often involves a character facing a moral dilemma, or making a questionable decision and then suffering the consequences. So we know what a parable is but before we dig into the treasure and the pearl we need to understand not only what a parable is but what it is in the context of the Bible…in this case in the context of Matthew’s gospel. We do this because the best way to understand scripture is within its context. Too often we have a greeting card approach to the Bible. What I mean is that we first decide what we think, feel, believe or are experiencing and then we rip verses from the Bible without regard for their context and cram them into our own. Sadly the most common occurrence of this throughout history is when people tear out verses in an effort to defend their hatred of those children of God who are different or perceived to be weaker. Not only is this a fairly selfish, self-centered approach it is not the way God intended His truth to be understood. When God reveals truth it is always within the context of those He has chosen to reveal it to. “The word became flesh and dwelled among us”. What does this verse from John mean? God could deliver his truth any way he wanted and at any time he wanted but he in his wisdom chose to become a first century Jew from Nazareth and deliver that way. So if we want to best understand God’s word we need to understand who it was revealed to first, how it was understood and how it relates to the word around it. In the case of the parables we already know that this was a common teaching style at the time designed to present universal values and moral dilemmas. Within the gospel of Matthew we find that chapter 13 is the parable chapter and to get a sense for the context we should understand the place of this chapter within Matthew as a whole. A strong theme running through Matthew is that of the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Matthew presents Jesus to us as the stunning, remarkable fulfillment of that which God has already revealed in Israel through the Old Testament…He is both new and challenging in his newness but also affirming of the Old that went before. In Matthew the new (Jesus ushering in the kingdom of Heaven) is always rooted in the old (Israel). Matthew stresses that although the new is rooted and founded upon the old it is received with surprise and in some cases anger and fear…the new is different and it challenges perspectives but it does not undo the old – it fulfills it, it completes it. To this very day Jesus is a 245 | P a g e

challenge for people. Jesus frightens and angers people because he seems to demand that we sacrifice old perspectives in favor of new ones. This is the context of Matthew as a whole. If we look at the immediate context of the parables we notice that chapter 12 of Matthew helps set the stage for chapter 13. Chapter 12 ends with the following verses: “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." In the culture of Israel in Jesus day massive value was placed upon family relationships. Kinship was held in incredibly high esteem and Jesus seems to turn that whole concept on its head. Kinship is important but not in the way you measure it. A family is not determined by blood and ancestry but rather by who does the will of God. This is a new kingdom way of expressing an old value that had been corrupted over time in human hands. Jesus is not demolishing the concept of family but redeeming it and refining it in a kingdom way. “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” he says – which begs the question– what is the will of the Father? This is where chapter 12 ends and if we want to know the will of the father we must go through the parables of chapter 13. When you have read the parables you quickly realize that the primary purpose of them is to introduce people to the kingdom of heaven – what is the kingdom of heaven like, who belongs to the kingdom of heaven, what does the kingdom of heaven do, where and when is the kingdom of heaven? However before we get to the parables’ main theme of the kingdom of heaven we must travel through the first parable that we arrive at in Matthew 13 - the parable of the sower. The parable of the sower is what I would call a meta-parable; it’s like a gate keeper - that is it is a parable that serves to explain the purpose of all the other parables to passers. The basic structure of the parable is to tell the story of four different kinds of soil that the seed of a farmer can often land on. In this sense it would not be inappropriate to call it the parable of the soil. Understanding the parable of the sower helps us better understand all of the parables which is likely why we find it first before the other parables in Matthew…it sets the stage. It helps us to understand the context for the Treasure and the Pearl but before we read those let’s first read Christ’s explanation of the sower from Matthew 13:18-23: "Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When people hear the message about the kingdom and do not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their hearts. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to people who hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to people who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to people who hear the word and understand it. They produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." 246 | P a g e

The first three categories generally refer to those of us who often blame the seed for our lack of fruitfulness. For various reasons we either do not understand the gospel’s kingdom message or, we understand it but we do not allow it to transform us, or we are not convinced of the value of what is said compared to what we already have. We say things like “well if the seed was more interesting, if the seed was more compelling, if the seed was more relevant to my day-to-day life…” etc…you fill in the rest. The fourth category (the one God would see us strive to fit into) is the person who hears the message about the kingdom of God, understands it and bears fruit as a result. In this person faith and action are married, one resulting in the other. According to Jesus explanation of the parable of the sower our goal as we listen to and read the parables is to find our place in them. Who am I in the parable is the question the listener needs to ask and answer honestly? Now, as we near the end of the sermon, we are finally ready to listen to the parables of the treasure and the pearl (both of which are found only in Matthew). Please notice how long it has taken us to get to this point. We didn’t simply dive into our target verses right away. As we strive to read our Bibles properly we see that there is much around our intended verses that needs to be read and understood if we want to get the most out of our study. Listen to the parables of the treasure and the pearl from Matthew 13:44:46 and then we’ll watch a brief video clip illustrating the parables further– "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. PLAY VIDEO CLIP – THE TREASURE 45

Now having heard the parables we have come full circle and need to understand what it is we value and why. The video clip shows what happens when two conflicting ideas of value come together. It gives a good sense for what most people think when someone decides to make a decision based upon God’s kingdom economy that does not mesh with their personal economies. Why is it so important that we discover the universal measure of value? Why is a kingdom economy so important? The parables teach us that the kingdom of heaven is sometimes stumbled upon like a man finding a hidden treasure in a field. At other times the kingdom of heaven is found by someone who is very intentionally seeking truth – like the man seeking fine pearls. In both instances the kingdom of heaven is found as a result of personal action. These people are moving, seeking and finding. There is an effort on the part of the people – not an effort to save themselves but an effort nonetheless. There is also something else very critical – both parables tell us that the people who find the kingdom are wise enough to recognize it for what it is – a priceless treasure. You have to be able to recognize the kingdom of heaven for what it is just as the pearl dealer can tell the difference between the very valuable pearl and the not so valuable pearls. Many people are confronted with the kingdom of God everyday but do not recognize its value. Instead of a pearl of great price they see a nice shiny round rock and leave it where it is…or worse yet they take it and put it into their collection of other valuable items only to be lost and forgotten about. Do you know what happens when a person encounters a truly priceless object 247 | P a g e

and recognizes its value? I mean something that is valuable beyond measure? When a person encounters such a treasure and comprehends the value it renders everything else in their life worthless in comparison. It’s like the person who just bought a brand new Volkswagon Beetle and when they get home they notice their neighbor just bought a brand new Ferrari…suddenly the Volkswagon doesn’t seem all that cool anymore. A person who discovers something of infinite value would trade everything they have to obtain such a treasure because the accumulated value of everything they have in comparison to the new found treasure is zero. The kingdom of heaven is the only absolute measure of value because it is priceless. It is the only absolute measure of value because it is God’s justice, grace, mercy, forgiveness and love breaking into the world with Christ and it is available to any who simply recognize it for what it is. When we truly see the value of the kingdom of God and that Christ asks us to participate in its emergence into the world right now, everything else in our lives is as dust and rust. We would give it all away for the sake of the kingdom and a new sense of value bursts forth within us. We learn a new economy – a kingdom economy where there is no disagreement about the value of things because all things are measured against the priceless value of the kingdom. History has taught us what happens when multiple people group’s have differing ideas of value…conflict. War happens. It happens on a global scale and it happens on a personal scale. When we do not agree on value we fight…and the strongest argument, arm or army wins the right to establish the measure of value (until a stronger opponent comes along). When we come to recognize that the kingdom of God is priceless we come to recognize that everything else is worthless in comparison. When we come to recognize that everything outside of the kingdom of God is worthless in comparison– well – we will discover how easy it is to get rid of it all away because that’s what we do with things that lose their value – we pack them away; we forget about them…they no longer have any hold over us. When we discover the priceless value of the kingdom of God all of the formerly valuable things in our lives that kept us prisoner to their economy and kept us at war with our neighbor who never understood our measures disappear…and with them go their shackles that held us in bondage. The classic novel Silas Marner was written by Georg Eliot in 1861. BTW George Eliot was really Mary Ann Evans’ pen name. Evans wrote under a man’s name because in 1861 women were not taken seriously, unlike today. The novel she wrote illustrates what happens when we place all of our value in earthly things as Silas is captivated by his hoard of gold buried under the floor boards of his house. He spends all of his time counting it and running it through his fingers learning the shape of every groove eventually losing touch with everything and everyone around him. Then one day the gold is stolen and something remarkable happens in Silas’ life – he begins to see the world around him, he begins to see others, and eventually falls in love with a woman named Eppie and his perspective changes: “Unlike the gold which needed nothing, and must be worshipped in close-locked solitude—which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones—Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her.” 248 | P a g e

Marner’s economy changed. It changed from an unreliable enslaving worldly economy to something beyond the world and as a result he gained freedom. We need to ask ourselves what our economy is? Too often we find ourselves struggling with what we should sacrifice for the sake of God (as if everything we have and are is not already His). We agonize over giving 10 percent of our income to the community of faith, we are in pain over the thought of how much time we should give in kingdom service to our fellow human beings, we spend sleepless nights wondering how much of our children do we let God have (which is part of the point of our dedication ceremony earlier this morning)…or worse yet our economies have become so self-focused we do not worry about any of this at all. I have fantastic news for those of us who struggle with this. I have good news for those of us that have a hard time not resenting all that we have given and are asked to give. The parables we have read today have a spectacular solution to our problem. The reality is we no longer have to agonize over how much we give and sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom. We no longer have to develop a complex economy of personal value juggling between our desires and the kingdom because God through Christ and the parables of the treasure and pearl tells us what to do - simply give it all. Everything. This is the call of the kingdom of heaven – it is a call to become a disciple of Christ and not simply a ticket holder for eternal life. It is a call to recognize that salvation was, is and will be and to live that out before and in the world recognizing that our salvation (as important as that is) is part of a significantly larger plan of God to redeem all of creation. ASIDE: Pastor Corinna and I were in Winnipeg on Thursday with our mission team prepping for our mission trip this summer to the First Nations Community Church and Siloam Mission. While we were there Pastor Howard of the First Nations church wanted to make sure that when we talked to the children we didn’t simply focus on salvation as getting into heaven. He wanted us to make sure they understood that they were part of God’s unfolding kingdom now and that God desired to use them as he seeks to redeem all of creation. He wants the children in his church to understand that they are not simply lottery winners but called to be sacrificial disciples by Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said and I have quoted numerous times in the past and will continue to quote in the future – “when Christ bids a person to come he bids them to come and die”. When we can come to a place where we can and are willing to sacrifice everything (even our attitudes and emotions and not simply our material and physical desires) that is when we will come to experience the freedom of the kingdom of heaven. Do we feel free or are we still enslaved to things we consider valuable? Have we sacrificed everything for the sake of the kingdom of heaven or deep down do we wonder if such a sacrifice is worth it? When we struggle with these things (and we will) it is because we have allowed ourselves to measure the value of the kingdom of heaven in human earthly terms as though it was somehow comparable to mere gold. In those moments we need to deeply reflect on the priceless character of the kingdom of heaven – when we do we will find that the yoke of sacrificing becomes easy to bear because what we are giving up for the sake of the kingdom and its message is of no value in comparison.

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Christ wants us to find our place in his parables. Have the parables of the treasure and pearl found good soil in our hearts this morning? Do we hear what is being said? Are we willing to sacrifice our worldly and personal economies for something infinitely more valuable? Jesus disciples see, hear and sacrifice and Christ blesses them for it. Let’s pray.

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