Monday, December 04, 2017

John 16:1-4

I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith.
For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.
3 This is because they have never known the Father or me. 
Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.

We are reading through the Gospels this fall. Today's reading is John 16. Here Jesus warns of the mistreatment His followers can expect. He disarms our fears by noting the most important things. 
If the Spirit is within, there is no reason to fear. In fact, the church will thrive under persecution. Yet as human beings we are obsessed with power and political prominence as a means to influence the culture. 
As dual citizens of both God's Kingdom and this kingdom, we have an obligation to strive for justice and freedom through the transforming power of the Spirit in people’s lives. Rather than exerting temporal power, the real work of the Kingdom often thrives under fierce attack and opposition. 
Jesus warns his followers that sometimes persecution will arise, not just from those who are clearly against the gospel, but from those within the sphere of religion, who think they are doing the godly thing, but who clearly "have never known the Father or [Jesus]" 16:3.
In this day and age of confusion, selfishness, empty rhetoric, persecution in many places, and rejection of God, Jesus calls us to know him, to walk with him, to remain rooted and grounded in him, to trust him.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Gospel of Mark and Advent

We are slowly backing our way toward Christmas. This gradual backing up toward the nativity story will reach its completion on Christmas Eve when we finally tell the story of the birth of Jesus

Mark’s gospel is notoriously clipped, almost to the point of being terse. No long introductory lead-in here, nothing resembling a back-story; just “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” or as Eugene Peterson puts it, “The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here.”

And so it begins. There are two verses setting the story in the context of the writings of the prophets: One from Malachi: See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; One from Isaiah: the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’’; and then all of 4 verses into the gospel we are introduced the wild character of John the baptiser.

Mark’s original audience, would have heard those references to the prophets as being even more significant than we might think. They looked back with yearning to the days of the prophets, for in their own day God seemed in some ways very remote. The Holy Spirit had not been sent since the days of the prophets and the voice of God which had spoken directly to the prophets was no longer heard direct. In the old days, it was believed, God had been in the habit of piercing through the heavens to come to men’s assistance, but now, despite all their prayers, that seemed a thing of the past. There was still, however, a deep hope that in time God would again open the heavens and intervene directly to save his people.

By citing those prophets of old, Mark is pointing toward that very hope: “See, I am sending my messenger,” it is in motion right now.

But it isn’t just Mark who makes that connection, it is John the Baptist himself. All of those little details about where he lived, how he dressed and what he ate are actually a kind of citation of the prophets.

Mark quotes these figures from the past, but John embodies them.

I’ve made this observation before, but it bears repeating. John is engaged in a kind of performance art or street theatre. Everything about how he presents himself and what he says intentionally invokes the prophets of old, and both his original audience and Mark’s earliest readership would not have missed that fact.

It would be as if someone in our own day put on the 18th century garb of John Wesley, rode up to the church on a horse, and started to preach spiritual revival. Many of us might imagine the poor guy was crazy, and some would assume he was simply grandstanding, but it would be hard to miss the idea that he was calling people back to something; perhaps to something we’d all but forgotten we’d been dreaming of.

That is precisely what the Baptist is doing here. He comes “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” Mark tells us, which is a message that had deep resonance with that of the ancient prophets. “Turn things around in your life,” John says, which is urgent business. “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me,” and for John this means that the coming one will lay you flat on your back if you keep living the way you’ve been living.

“I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” warns John. And being plunged into the Holy Spirit will hurt like hell if you keep on going the way you’re going.

John is fiery, make no mistake about that. Yet his fiery speech is ultimately hopeful, both because he is convinced that God is about to rip open the dividing line between the heavens and earth, and because he really does believe that repentance—literally “turning around”—will make his hearers ready for the coming day of judgment. He thinks, in other words, that people can actually hear his call, change their ways, and prepare the way.

And in this sense, Mark is absolutely right on when he connects John the Baptist to the prophet Isaiah, who similarly embedded his strong speech with deep hope.

Now it’s also important to read the fire of his speech against the background of what we hear from the prophet Isaiah. “Comfort, O comfort my people,” the prophet begins, and he is speaking to a people who had all but forgotten what it might mean to be comforted.

Writing after the destruction of Jerusalem to a people trapped in the prison ghettoes of Babylon, Isaiah knows something of humanity’s failing and sin, and of human fragility. "All people are grass,” he writes, with no more permanence than a flower of the field. And though “The grass withers,” “the word of our God will stand for ever.”

And yet this word is finally one of comfort. Yes, Isaiah is clear that “the Lord God comes with might”—something which fits very clearly with the message of John the Baptist—and that valleys shall be lifted and the mountains and hills be laid low.

These are big images, you see, and yet ultimately he casts it all in almost startlingly pastoral and gentle terms. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah points us right through the wildness and through the fieriness of John toward the reality of Jesus, which is why Mark made the connection in the first place.

“[P]art of the point of Mark’s picture of John,” claims N.T. Wright “is precisely that when he spoke of the Mightier One we look around and see Jesus. It is like that moment in Revelation 5 when looking for a lion, we discover a lamb.”

And so with us, in this present season of Advent. Surely we are to be awake and prepared for what God is always threatening to do in our lives and in our world, and that does mean being aware of the messiness and fragmentation of our own selves.

But you know, when we speak with expectation of the return of Christ, it isn’t something that should fill us with fear, for this Jesus is the one who has promised to “feed his flock like a shepherd (and) gather the lambs in his arms.”

Monday, November 20, 2017


I read an excerpt from Jonathan Merritt's, upcoming book: Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Have Vanished—And How We Can Revive Them. He wrote:
“Family can describe a group of humans who claim each other and are committed to each other and, if Christian, are jointly intent on witnessing to the glory of Christ.”
I got thinking, in our increasingly isolated culture, we (maybe even especially Christians) have created an unbiblical, narrow definition of family:

  • Families sometimes share DNA but sometimes not.
  • Families may include biological children, foster children, adopted children, or those who are childless.
  • Families may include neighbor’s kids, friend’s kids, or your kid’s friends’ friends.
  • Families may include orphans or single-parents.
  • Families aren’t determined by socio-economic status, ethnicity, or nationality.
  • Families are defined by those who fling open the doors of their hearts, the doors of their lives.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Creation to New Creation John 1-4

Genesis 1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
John 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John 1 takes us back to Genesis 1. To the beginning. Word and Spirit together in creation. John does not mention the fall but assumes it. Because John is clearly leaning forward from Creation toward the coming of the Kingdom and restoration – all things will be summed up in Christ and God’s original purpose for creation restored. The light will shine on all people. And all who receive him will be welcomed into and renewed in God’s original design and purpose – that we should rule (Genesis 1:26).

In John 2, we join a wedding feast. The broad movement of history is toward another banquet in Revelation 19 – the marriage supper of the lamb. John’s vision is very broad – from creation to new creation, Genesis to Revelation. Here in John 2, water is turned into wine. This is what new creation looks like: God’s power comes on ordinary things and they are made new! A new heaven and a new earth are coming and we will all be dancing!

In John 3 the feast comes to Israel. But what is flesh is flesh and what is spirit is spirit. Israel’s teachers have been immersed in a textbook (just the facts), but divorced from the Spirit. Suddenly renewal is coming to God’s people, who failed to recognize the Messiah when he arrived (John 1:11). Now the light dawns on God’s people Israel. John places the story of John the Baptist in this chapter allows John to cue us again to where this story is going – “bride and bridegroom” v. 29.

Then we come to John 4. In ancient Israel the well was the place where weddings were celebrated. This time the marriage feast is not just for Israel but the universal banquet table opens up to include foreigners and outcasts. Isaiah’s vision of a gospel for all peoples is fulfilled. (Isaiah 56). And then in Revelation 21-22 we see the vision that all peoples and tribes and tongues will come to the new city, and all the nations will be healed.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

violence - anger - mental health

Some have tried to blame the mass shootings and a lot of other violence in recent years on mental health issues in our society. But, according to Laura L. Hayes at Slate, mental health is not the problem.
Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly “break” and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger. Most homicides are committed by people with a history of violence. Murderers are rarely ordinary, law-abiding citizens, and they are also rarely mentally ill. Violence is a product of compromised anger management skills.
In a summary of studies on murder and prior record of violence, Don Kates and Gary Mauser found that 80 to 90 percent of murderers had prior police records, in contrast to 15 percent of American adults overall. In a study of domestic murderers, 46 percent of the perpetrators had had a restraining order against them at some time. Family murders are preceded by prior domestic violence more than 90 percent of the time. Violent crimes are committed by people who lack the skills to modulate anger, express it constructively, and move beyond it.
Hayes quotes Paolo del Vecchio of the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration who has said, “Violence by those with mental illness is so small that even if you could somehow cure it all, 95 percent of violent crime would still exist.”
She also notes studies that show hat 80 to 90 percent of murderers had prior police records, in contrast to 15 percent of American adults overall, and that family murders are preceded by prior domestic violence more than 90 percent of the time. Nearly half of domestic murderers have had a restraining order against them at some point in time.
Laura L. Hayes puts her finger on how we are blaming the mentally ill and other factors while ignoring real causes of violence. Her final paragraph (emphasized in bold below) is wisdom worth its weight in gold:
The attribution of violent crime to people diagnosed with mental illness is increasing stigmatization of the mentally ill while virtually no effort is being made to address the much broader cultural problem of anger management. This broader problem encompasses not just mass murders but violence toward children and spouses, rape, road rage, assault, and violent robberies. We are a culture awash in anger.
Uncontrolled anger has become our No. 1 mental health issue. Though we have the understanding and the skills to treat the anger epidemic in this country, as a culture, we have been unwilling to accept the violence problem as one that belongs to each and every one of us. We have sought scapegoats in minority cultures, racial groups, and now the mentally ill. When we are ready to accept that the demon is within us all, we can begin to treat the cycle of anger and suffering.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Governor General science & faith?

Julie Payette, Canada’s Governor General, in a speech at the 9th annual Canadian Science Policy Convention in Ottawa, on 1 November 2017, set off a bit of a firestorm. 

Rather than speak on her areas of expertise, she decided to take on sciences outside her expertise and, in fact, whole disciplines (philosophy, religion) entirely beyond her training.

Payette brings a science background to the office of Governor General. She was trained as a computer engineer and later became an astronaut and licensed pilot and in 1999 was the first Canadian to board the International Space Station.

She urged her friends and former colleagues to take responsibility to shut down the misinformation about everything from health and medicine to climate change and even horoscopes that has flourished with the explosion of digital media. That part is good. And the previous Conservative government did a lot to hinder scientists from communicating clearly. But then, she went on:
“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”
In her inaugural speech as Governor General, Ms. Payette emphasized “collective duty” and the need for teamwork to tackle difficult global issues such as climate change, poverty, and nuclear proliferation.

I trust and pray that our Governor General (which means she is Her Majesty’s representative – the Queen is also head of the Church of England), will take seriously her call for “collective duty” and “teamwork” and enter into real dialogue with scientists who are also people of faith.

Maybe she should read some books by scientists who are also people of faith. For a start: Francis Collins, John Lennox, Alister McGrath, and John Polkinghorne.

Her words, seem to me, to be minimizing and even discrediting the science done by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Shiks, 1st Nations people and others who hold to a belief in a Creator. 

Ms Payette, as Canada seeks to model a community that welcomes diverse beliefs, religions, cultures and languages, I am disappointed to hear remarks which could be understood as exclusionary and belittling. You are better than this.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Bill C-51

Omnibus bills are terrible.
An omnibus bill is a government bill that pulls together a variety of usually somewhat related issues. But it is also a great way to slip things in that on their own would never pass.

Bill C-51 has passed 2nd Reading and is currently before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. They meet again this afternoon (8 November 2017 at 3:30pm).

The legislation would:
  • Clarify certain aspects of sexual assault law relating to consent, admissibility of evidence and legal representation for the complainant;
  • Repeal or amend a number of provisions in the Criminal Code that have been found unconstitutional by appellate courts and other provisions that would likely be found unconstitutional;
  • Repeal several obsolete or redundant criminal offences; and
  • Require that the Minister of Justice table a Charter Statement in Parliament for every new government bill, setting out the bill’s potential effects on Charter rights and freedoms.
These are all good changes. Although there is much debate over whether the changes to aspects of sexual assault law really will make much difference.

However, Clause 14 of Bill C-51 would remove Section 176 of the Criminal Code which states:
176 (1) Every one who
(a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or
(b) knowing that a clergyman or minister is about to perform, is on his way to perform or is returning from the performance of any of the duties or functions mentioned in paragraph (a)
     (i) assaults or offers any violence to him, or
     (ii) arrests him on a civil process, or under the pretence of executing a civil process,
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
Disturbing religious worship or certain meetings
(2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction. 

This change will reduce protection for worshippers and places of worship at a time when hate crimes against religious communities in Canada are on the rise.
EFC (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada) has more on this here.
I encourage you to write / email / call your MP and ask them to maintain protection for the free expression of faith in Canada. 
I have contacted my MP Bruce Stanton, Simcoe North & he will "work to convince the government to back down on these changes."

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

not good news: ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible

ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible"Theology should, first and foremost, be rooted in God’s Word. The goal of the ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible is to demonstrate how all Christian doctrine arises from the pages of the Bible. Created to help readers understand how Scripture forms the basis for our understanding of God, humanity, sin, salvation, and eternity, this study Bible features over 400 short in-text doctrinal summaries connecting Christian beliefs to specific Bible passages, 25 longer articles explaining important theological topics in greater depth, and introductions to each book of the Bible that highlight the unique ways each book contributes to the whole of Christian theology. Created by an outstanding team of editors and 26 contributors, this resource has been created to help Christians better connect what they believe about God with the very words of Scripture."

There is a new study Bible out: The ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible. I labelled this post "not good news." Not because I have a problem with the ESV. But because I have a problem with publishers confusing adding helpful aids (i.e. maps, definitions, background historical information) with adding a deliberate theological lens. 
Yes, I know that any Bible translation, brings with it, at least to some extent, the theological worldview of the translators. But, and here is the crux of the problem, when we bundle a specific way of interpreting the Bible with the Bible, we are doing a great disservice to the very people the publishers say they are trying to help. 
Rather than helping people read the Bible, and listen to the voice of the Spirit, they are saying, in effect, "you don't have to think, pray, listen - this (and this alone) is what it means." Sure, that may be exaggerating a little, but my past experience with people using study Bibles is that they:

  • rely more on the notes than on the Bible;
  • they accept the authority of the notes at least as much, if not more than the words of the Bible;
  • they let the notes do the thinking and praying and listening to the Spirit for them.
So, don't buy a study Bible. Read a Bible, Read multiple translations. Pray. Read books about the text. Listen to the Spirit. Find some people with whom you can interact with the text together. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

the Elbphilharmonie

It might have taken 7 years longer than planned, and it might have cost ten times more than the original budget, but Hamburg’s new concert hall was definitely worth the wait. The hall, called the Elbphilharmonie, can seat 2,100 people and cost a whopping $843 million USD. The designers used algorithms to create the auditorium’s 10,000 unique acoustic panels.
Made from gypsum fiber, each panel contains one million “cells” which line the ceilings, walls and balustrades of the central auditorium. When sound waves hit these panels, the “cells” help to shape the sound by either absorbing the waves or causing them to reverberate throughout the hall. No two panels absorb or scatter the sound waves in the same way, but together they create a perfectly balanced audio that can be heard from every corner of the auditorium. And it is perhaps the most beautiful auditorium in the world. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself:
Oh, yeah. One more thing: the outside of the building can do THIS!!!


Do not follow your heart; train it.

Trust in the LORD, and do good; 
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. 
Take delight in the LORD, 
and he will give you the desires of your heart. 

Psalm 37:3-4

The heart is at the centre of our will, or our ability to make choices; to choose right from wrong; good or evil. 
Psalm 37 reminds us that one of the deepest desires of our heart is for security that comes through justice. However, the psalm also recognizes the human tendency to seek short-cuts to security through other means — wealth, power, possessions — which lead us to exploit our neighbour, and so undermine the very thing we desire. 

Those of you who run or bike or get out to the gym, you know that there are times when you don't simply "follow your heart"... you train it.

As followers of Jesus, we don't just "follow our heart" because our heart tends to want what pleases itself... we train our heart... to do what is on God's heart.

The answer is to take delight in the LORD. 
Do not follow your heart; train it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Galatians 6:14-16

At the end of his short letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul writes:
As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.
Galatians 6:14-16 NLT
For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life! All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God—his chosen people. Peace and mercy on them!
Galatians 6:14-16 MSG

In these concluding sentences Paul declares that in Christ, because of Christ, through Christ, something brand new has and is happening. We have been transformed... we are the new people of God. Paul is saying (at least in part) that because of the cross (which is shorthand for the cross-resurrection-ascension) both Jews and Gentiles are the people of God - there is no more distinction based on ethnicity, class, sexuality, because the basis of inclusion in the people of God is not what we have done or hope to do, but what the triune God has done and is doing.

All those Old Testament laws were temporary not meant to be permanent
We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
Galatians 4:3-7 NLT

We are welcomed as God's own children, not as slaves or citizens. And so Paul says 
now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.
Galatians 4:9-12 NLT

If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, if you are child of God, loved by Father-Son-Spirit, then live that way. Live in the freedom and joy and release of that love, not trying to earn or conjure up some sort of religious experience. The old way is dead and crucified. You are a new person in Christ. And if we are new people in Christ, then,
  • we are free to worship (beyond our personal preferences); 
  • we are free to serve (beyond our comfort zones); 
  • we are free to bless other (beyond our selfish tendencies);
  • we are free to be who God sets us free to be.
The goal or purpose of being the people of God, is not simply for our own sake, but for others who are not in Christ. The promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12...
I will make you into a great nation.
I will bless you and make you famous,
and you will be a blessing to others.
I will bless those who bless you
and curse those who treat you with contempt.
All the families on earth will be blessed through you.
Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

was that all peoples would be blessed... and this would happen through God's people being a blessing to other peoples, ultimately being fulfilled in the radical forgiveness extended through God's love in Christ.


The Bible is the compost pile that provides material for new life. I do not use this figure as an irreverent metaphor to suggest that the Bible is “garbage.” Rather, I use it to suggest that the Bible itself is not the actual place of new growth. Our present life, when we undertake new growth, is often inadequate, arid, or even barren. It needs to be enriched, and for that enrichment, we go back to the deposits of old growth that have been discarded, but that continue to ferment and may contain resources for a way to new life.
Walter Brueggemann, "Texts Under Negotiation" p 61-62