Thursday, February 21, 2013


What do you say when you don’t know what to say?  What is left to utter when utterance has become utterly futile?
I am in this season.   I hope it is just a season.  I feel like I have nothing left to say. 
What kind of a pastor ends up here?  Well, one who has experienced the outer limits of what his heart and soul can bear.  I am going to uncover my depths.  I need to.  You don’t have to listen, or care, but I must write it.  In this Lenten season of emptying the cupboards and puking the soul, I must pour it out.  Like the Psalmist I have found my dregs where deep calls unto deep.   Wave after wave of God’s unrelenting faithful and frustrating pounding have besieged the beaches of my life.  It has knocked the legs out from beneath me.  I am scrambling in the foam of his gentle fury.
I father a child deeply troubled.  My being aches.  My intestines twist.  Love aches.  Mental illness has shattered the portrait of the ideal family.  Love overcomes a multitude of sins, but can it overcome this fathomless mystery?  Can we endure this?  Can we survive it?  Can my son make it through this valley blanketed by the shadow of death?   Can God deliver?  I know he can.  Why does he wait?
Advent was about longing and waiting.  We waited and God was revealed.  God with us; the joy we cling to and long for.  We are not abandoned or alone.  We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who testify to the power of the child who became a man; God enfleshed, who is now the risen Lord. 
Lent is about preparation and repentance.  This journey toward Easter flirts dangerously with the human tendency to navel-gaze and work to save oneself.  I must know my depths and face them honestly, but I must equally analyze the tendency toward over-analysis and in humility make straight the way of the Lord.  This is what I need to hear.  Jesus, God with us, God for us, seeks the honest soul, not the perfect one.  Will I be so bold?  Will I be so needy?  I know I am. 
I Am.  That is who he is.  He will be who he will be.  Will he be what I need?  Will he be what my son needs?  He is. 
But, what if we never escape  this season?  What if the King simply prorogues and delays?  What if he is long in coming?  What if I become like Mary and Martha wondering why he didn’t show up in time?  What if I am left at his feet, belly-aching, berating the divine, and wondering why he who loves so widely and completely seemingly refuses to love as I would like? 
I am the resurrection and the life.  This is his speech in the depths of my despair and disillusionment.  This is who he truly is despite this place where dirges drag, silence tortures, words fail and no answers abound.  This muddy season in which my innards are plowed up and rained upon: can this be the season of new life?  I am given to doubt; touching his overcoming wounds is my only hope.  Truly Paul is correct, if there is no resurrection than we are to be greatly pitied.  Sure, there are times of glory.  There are times when it all comes together, the sun shines, and all is right with the world.  Yet we eventually seem to end up back here in this valley and it is here where he proves himself time and time and time again. 
So, I sit.  I wait.  I discover dust and ashes.  I find I am weak.  I find I am not so smart after all and that he who holds his tongue is wise.  My fingers slip, holding the tongue is not so easy, I am prone to speech.  I vomit words.  I drool vocabulary.  And the Lord is a faithful listener.  He does not butt in.  He simply weeps with me and I find there is only one answer: he is the resurrection and the life.  That’s all that can be said in this season where even in my speech I don’t have anything left to say.

Friday, February 15, 2013

New Wine in New Beer Kegs

What would you do if a dead preacher left you $13,000?
In 1752, Arthur Price, Archbishop of Cashel in Ireland, died and left the equivalent of about $13,000 to his godson, who shared his first name. This second Arthur, a 27-year-old entrepreneur who had recently experienced a spiritual awakening, wondered what to do with such an unexpected gift.
Those were tough days for the Irish and Arthur’s heart was broken at the state of his people. The “Gin Craze” raged as people sought escape in cheap booze from their sorry lives and unsafe water conditions. In the mid-1700s, it was said the average person consumed 45 to 65 litres of gin each year. Arthur was infuriated with this drunkenness and its effects, and began to sense God calling him to “make a drink that will be good for them.”
So he combined his broken heart, love for Jesus and entrepreneurial talents to develop a dark stout drink low in alcohol and high in iron, so people felt full before over-consuming, a drink that a 2003 University of Wisconsin study discovered bolsters heart health and is better for a person than coffee or pop. With the archbishop’s inheritance he bought an abandoned brewery in Dublin and went to work producing his creation. Oh, and he famously gave it his last name: Guinness.
That may be surprising enough, but consider further the impact of Arthur Guinness’s Jesus-centred life and work. His grandson, Hendry Gratton Guinness, became the Billy Graham of a spiritual awakening in Great Britain in the late 1800s. Other descendants transformed public housing and influenced the implementation of a system aimed at reconciliation based on Matthew 18 to end duelling as a means of resolving conflict.
By the early 1900s, Guinness became one of the best workplaces around. The influence of Arthur and his conscientious family meant 24-hour medical and dental care and an on-site massage therapy for workers. In addition to this, education and funeral expenses were paid, as well as a full pension. The company had libraries, reading rooms and athletic facilities.
And today the Guinness Brewing Company has the “Arthur Guinness Fund” that blesses social entrepreneurs in the tradition of Arthur to deliver measurable, transformational change to communities around the world. The fund was developed in 2009, the 250th anniversary of Arthur investing the archbishop’s inheritance, and has invested more than $5.5 million in social transformation. Everything from community gardens, mental health assistance and adult math classes to jobs for the disabled, to the mentoring of ex-prisoners, empowering those who work in search and rescue, and a program of men’s sheds where guys gather to fix bikes for local schools or repair furniture for people, have all been supported by the social entrepreneurship inspired by Arthur Guinness, who put the wine of the kingdom of God into beer kegs.
Now this tale is not told to defend the consumption of alcohol, but rather to make us think again about what a Spirit-inspired imagination can do for God’s glory and the good of one’s society. Arthur’s redemptive creativity was one small part of a new social transformation and produced a legacy of goodness. We, too, have a responsibility for the welfare of our locales (Jeremiah 29:7). Should not our love for God and neighbour awaken such inspired genius still? Ought not those who know the hope of the kingdom get creative for the common good? What would you do with $13,000?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Deliberate and Deliberate

I’ve been part of countless conversations where people deliberate over the state of the church. Among church veterans this usually revolves around what the church has lost or is no longer. Among younger types such chatter circles around the church’s failures and supposed irrelevance. Different angles don’t change the fact that, quite often, such deliberations usually end up, to agonize with Shakespeare’s MacBeth, as “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Generally, we talk lots, but nothing really changes either in our perspective or in what we do about it. Recently, again, our small group spent an evening deliberating about what it means to be the church, the ekklesia of God in our small corner of Canada.
The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians referring to those growing followers of Jesus, living in a very challenging place, “…the church/ekklesia of God in Corinth…” (1 Corinthians 1:2). The Greek word ekklesia, carefully chosen by Paul, was in the ancient world a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public space for the purpose of deliberating. It was a word in reference to something akin to the town council.
It’s as if Paul is saying to the fledgling, floundering Corinthians, “You may feel like the odds are stacked against you, but you have the awesome, thrilling task of being intentional and calculating about what it means to be growing followers of right where you are planted.”
One younger member of our group pointed out that “deliberate” and “deliberate” are spelled the same, but with different emphasis. Both are words of action, but one implies heart and mind activity while the other is all about active follow-through. It seemed prudent to put them both together, and so, we took time to deliberate in hopes of becoming more deliberate in the living out of our conviction that Jesus as the resurrected Lord rules everywhere.
We asked for a question to chew over and one adventurous soul came up with this doozy: How do we help people in this multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-faceted city know the love of Jesus? Deliberate over that one for a while. We did. It was stimulating. It was disheartening.
Stimulating in that we live in an incredible area teeming with wonderful people, rich diversity, deep problems, and untapped opportunities. Your own locale will have its own sweet aromas and rotten spots requiring some stimulating intentional thought and calculated action.
But, our deliberating was also disheartening because it all seems so daunting. I don’t know my atheist or Sikh neighbours as well as I should like. The tolerant divides seems so wide. The messiness of life seems beyond the pale.
However, daunting to us in not daunting to God! As we deliberated we caught some of the breath of the Spirit that moves the impossible and moved us too. We felt a call to action.
What might happen if we deliberated in order to be deliberate in the expression of our faith more often? What refreshing wind of the Spirit might fill our sails? What daunting mountain might begin to move? What conversation may become more than sound and fury?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Man in the Yellow Jacket

Lance Armstrong, the man who wore the iconic yellow jacket seven times as winner of cycling’s Tour de France and one of the greatest athletes of the past two decades, has provided the perfect ethical case study for the world as we now live it. The American has achieved rock star status, and only partially because of his cycling exploits. Armstrong really hit it big when he conquered cancer and then amazingly won his seven Tour de France titles after surviving the deadly disease!
Having overcome cancer and the Pyrenees, Armstrong was able to parlay both successes into a foundation and branding that has raised millions for cancer research and other charities. All this is very good and quite remarkable.
But then in August it all got complicated. Turns out persistent rumours of Armstrong’s cheating were well-founded and the United States Anti-Doping Agency not only brought forward charges of doping and trafficking, but summarily stripped him of his victories. Armstrong, who never gave up in his battle for life, threw in the towel in this one essentially caving to the weight of the evidence. The man in the yellow jacket was publicly shamed, but he didn’t even seem to blush, and many have run to his defense. Canadian thespian William Shatner tweeted, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you,” while myriads of others are looking past his unethical approach to sport because he’s doing the highly ethical thing of helping people with cancer. In the weeks following the charges, Armstrong was a keynote speaker at a conference in Montreal and, I suspect, the sales of his merchandise and yellow LIVESTRONG bracelets will not be hurt in the least by these recent revelations.
So, here’s the big question that requires some careful thought and cultural and biblical exegesis: Is it okay to cheat, so long as you do something good with it? It would seem in the case of the man with the yellow jacket this is where we’re at.
Something has shifted in the cultural landscape and while no one could argue that raising money for cancer research is a bad thing, it is rather startling that for the most part we shrug off Armstrong’s unethical treatment of his sport because he’s doing a good thing with the fame the cheating garnered.
As Christians we ought to converse over this one a while. Not only will it keep the conversation heated while the coffee cools, but it provides an interesting window into how our culture thinks about doing good and doing justly. It also stirs big questions about how we perceive human brokenness and sin and what constitutes right and wrong. Furthermore, Armstrong has demonstrated no public remorse or repentance. It would seem the good outweighs the bad and, therefore, all is well. The scales will tip in a cancer fighter’s favour, won’t they? Hasn’t he, of all people, earned a pass on what everyone else was doing?
The nature of salvation suddenly comes into play, for as this cultural case study is beginning to reveal, to be on mission with Jesus who calls people to repent and enter the Kingdom of God will require plenty of explaining in a world where what is unethical in a yellow jacket is ethical if you wear a yellow bracelet.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Where Goes The Neighbourhood?
“Howdy ho, neighbour!” were the famous words of Wilson on that 90’s sitcom, Home Improvement.
“Hi dilly ho neighbourinos!” That’s what Ned Flanders happily blurts to Homer in The Simpsons.
“When I got married, I didn’t just get a husband, I got the whole freak show that set up their tent across the street.” Those are the frustrated words of Debra Barone about her in-law neighbours on Everybody Loves Raymond.
Television loves to portray the highs and lows of the neighbourhood, painting the optimistic picture that, at the end of the day, neighbourliness wins out. Our family has lived in different parts of Canada—in villages, towns and cities—and we’ve always been able to say we have had good neighbours. At the same time, it is also true that we have known surprisingly few of them well. There’s always been that over-the-fence Wilson-esque “howdy ho!” that gives the appearance of neighbourliness while denying its power.
The statistics reveal that being a neighbour is increasingly necessary. The Vancouver Foundation surveyed almost four thousand “Lotuslanders” and discovered that in one of the most densely populated and diverse cities in Canada, one in four people find it difficult to make friends and one in three categorize their lives as lonely.
The stats may be different where you live, but the study should cause us to reconsider our TV-shaped assumptions. Truth is, most of us view neighbourliness on reruns while rarely engaging in neighbourliness in the raw . . . because it’s too uncomfortable.
The survey also found that most respondents knew only two neighbours by name. Most did not do simple favours for their neighbours and few visited their homes or invited them over.
On the disturbing side, roughly 30 percent rated Middle Eastern, South Asian and Asian immigrants as the least desirable neighbours; almost two-thirds did not have close friends from another ethnic group, and 65 percent preferred spending time with people who are like them.
None of this should really shock us. It smells familiar. However, if we’re Christians, it should be different.
Nikolai Berdyaev said, “Bread for myself is a material question. Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one.” The Scriptures repeatedly call the one who knows God to more than “howdy ho” neighbourliness.
Jesus speaks, “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 5:46-48).
The call to love the neighbour, even our enemy, is a call to reflect the perfection of God. The neighbourhood is to be more holy, complete and whole because the disciples of Jesus reside there.
To the lawyer asking, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). The one you wouldn’t want in your neighbourhood becomes the one most neighbourly. “Go and do likewise.”
In the end, Jesus doesn’t really answer the lawyer’s cross-examination. He simply flips the question on its head: “What kind of neighbour are you?” And that remains a very good question.

Monday, June 18, 2012


I love when my two year old sits on my lap with a book. I love seeing his eyes light up when he sees me walk in the door. I love the way he cries. I love the way he laughs. His words are smerkingly mispronounced in a way I never want him to outgrow. Sentences are hilariously hung together like dangling underwear, ripped work clothes and name-brand golf shirts mismatched on a wash-line. He reminds me of how much fun it is to be a father.

Then there’s my pre-teen, almost-teen, whatever-you-want-to-call-him. There are days I’ve thought of other things to describe him. Things that ought-not-be penned. Things my parents probably uttered about me in my most torturing of adolescent moments. And then I look at my two girls and wonder just how it is I will ever figure them out. Young females are their own planet; or at least make me feel like I’m on a different one. Maybe being a father isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all?

Then I call this to mind: my toddler won’t always toddle, my pre-teen won’t always pretend and my girls won’t always speak Klingon. Change is guaranteed. And, I am beginning to see, my role as a father is to be a change agent. I must accept, celebrate change, and foster change.

I must accept that my two year old cannot always speak like a child, but must put childish ways behind him. I must accept that my adolescent’s changes are mostly normal and expected in that season of life when discovering your own identity is the destination. I must accept that my girls will change me. They will change how I perceive my own manhood and awaken a fighter in me for their honour in new ways. I celebrate these morphing realities and in doing so I begin to accept my own changing place and, to a certain degree, my own redundancy.

And, therein, lays a disconcerting thought. Not only must I accept and celebrate change, I must foster it. And, if I’m any good at it, I will actually put myself out of work. My toddler will become responsible for his own messes. My pre-teen will become a man who can correct himself. My girls will walk out of my arms and find their most important strength in the embrace of another, hopefully better, man. If I do all this right I will have become increasingly unnecessary. And, so, fatherhood becomes the acceptance, celebration, and fostering of change to my own demise. Not particularly an encouraging notion, but, if I lose myself in this way I will win.

Fatherhood, in this regard, becomes a journey into understanding the unchanging heart of God. The story of Christmas is of God sending his son into the world announced by angels and declared in the heavens where a star is handed it out to the inhabitants of earth like the glowing end of a proud father’s cigar. The story of Easter is of God turning from his son. The son cries to be saved but it cannot be. Has something changed in the relationship? Has God now become a bully? No, this is the essence of undying, uncompromising, unchanging love. The Father knows what must be done and that the ultimate act of love required his own apparent demise. God accepts change, celebrates change with the power of resurrection, and thereby fosters change in me and, I pray, in my kids. The truth is that God’s unchanging nature challenges everything I want left unchanged, and that is our great hope. “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed,” declares the prophet Malachi. However, those comforting words in Malachi 3 are preceded by an unsettling challenge: He will come as a refiner among his children and as a prosecuting lawyer call out everything in us that needs modification. He will foster change. He will expect it. And, he will accomplish this by being unrelenting, unchanging and pure in his love to the point where he will even appear to lose the battle of Good Friday only to overcome in order that we might be changed and not destroyed. Lose to win. Change by unchanging. Love by long-suffering. This fatherhood thing is a great and glorious mystery.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Church Is...

Every Sunday evening our church hosts a community dinner. The peculiar mix of human diversity and dysfunction is beautiful. They are, in a word, authentic. What you see is what you get. On Mother’s Day I encouraged the group with Psalm 27:10: “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.” It is a relevant passage for those shaped by parental neglect and foster care system failure. In the middle of my talk a man announces that he has no parents. He is unwavering as the people around him guffaw. Later, the truth trickles out. Born prematurely, his parents were killed on the way to visit his struggling little life in the hospital. He never knew them and defends his parentless dogma, while proudly displaying the “mom” and “dad” tattoos that cover his orphaned heart. He yearns for what family is. What does a family do? Through no fault—or great fault—a family can do incredible damage or good. However, you can’t really pin a family down on what it does. Do families do better if their kids are in sports rather than the arts? Do they do better if they are vegetarians instead of meat lovers? Do they do better if they avoid classical music for the sake of rock and roll? Families do a host of different things, but a healthy first start depends not on what a family does, but on an understanding of what a family is. A family is the first place of knowing God; of refuge; of identity and belonging; of living with the diversity of the sexes, ages and personalities in that primary microcosm of a worldwide web of people. When a family knows what it is, then what a family does becomes the organized expression of a unique and healthy identity. Our family dysfunctions are not changed by simply doing a bunch of new things, but by getting to the root of what we believe a family is. That is what my Mother’s Day friend was missing most. That’s a long introduction to this simple question for church families to ask: Is what we do as churches reflective of what the church is? Craig van Gelder helps focus this when he points out: The church is. The church does what it is. The church organizes what it does. The starting point for a healthy missional church is understanding and articulating the nature of the church. What is she exactly? What is the theological and biblical nature and mission of the communion of the saints? From there we can identify what a church is to do. And only at that point can we begin to organize what that looks like for our culture, context and gift mix. Many long for what a family is more than for what a family does. I have also learned that many long for what a church is more than for what a church does. I wonder what orphans might find the home they were looking for if we, who have been enveloped into the family of God, started with “is” and organized ourselves from there?