Lichen and sap

There is nothing more restorative for my soul than getting lost taking macros while lost in the Weaselhead Conservation Area for two hours. Birds doing flybys, songs all around and so many surprising colors in the dead of winter. In the rustling grass I heard him pass, he spoke to me everywhere…

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Listening to God in utero

Pregnancy_ultrasound_110328150032_1501330“Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb, you taught me wisdom in that secret place.” Psalm 51:6

In the bible wisdom has a lot to do with the ‘way of things'; God’s right way of ordering and doing things. There’s a structure to the universe and a way for a human to be, even in utero.

Which makes me wonder about the kind of the wisdom God teaches us there. I suppose most of what he’s whispering is creational in nature – image bearing, biological truth that he’s woven into the fabric of our being. Deep within the womb a sucking reflex is developed, preparing us to be fed. Long before we’re born a yearning for sweetness, security, comfort and warmth is ‘taught’. For nine months we learn that to ‘be’ is to be completely held, sustained and grown by another – by one who loves us. In our mother’s wombs God speaks words of wisdom through the formation of limbs, internal organs and neural patterns; foundational words that will one day help us run to him, embrace him and cognitively understand what he means when he says, ‘Love God and love your neighbor as yourself’.

Before we were born, God taught us wisdom, without really saying a word. His pedagogy was physiological, his lessons ingrained. I suppose faithfulness, in that place, was to just ‘be’ who God made us to be.

IMAGE CREDIT – © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Preaching Evolution as a text

image_1986_1-Metaspriggina-walcottiA month ago I had lunch with Calvin College science professor Dr. Loren Haarsma and I told him that when I finally find the time (and courage) to properly research and preach evolution, I want to approach it as a text that gives us more to know and love God with. Surely evolution’s magnificent ways reveal profound truths about the mind of of our Maker. Surely ‘the way things came to be’ gives us more to glorify God with!

Yesterday I read a fascinating Globe and Mail article on the new discoveries that are pouring out of a mountainside two hours west here; 500 million year old fossils from the Cambrian era; a time before insects or dinosaurs. The article ends on an existential note, revealing the heart of the project’s lead researcher, Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron (and G&M science reporter Ivan Semenuik).

“Dr. Caron turned 40 while working at the Marble Canyon site last summer. Bespectacled and soft-spoken, he conveys less the image of an Indiana Jones than that of a librarian of nature tending to sacred volumes of fine-grained rock.

It is in these geological tomes that Dr. Caron is seeking the deeper patterns that underlie life in all its forms. It’s a scientific quest, certainly, but one with an existential dimension. “In the end” Dr. Caron says, “it’s a fundamental question that most human beings will ask at some point: Where do I come from?”

Standing beside him at the rock face, holding a piece of a fossilized animal in the palm of my hand, I can feel the weight of the past. It is like an anchor, hidden beneath the primordial waters of the Cambrian, but tied to my own identity with an unbroken strand of DNA. The creatures of Marble Canyon are strange in appearance, but in their struggles to survive they are eminently recognizable.”

If all things hold together in Christ, then he is the “deeper pattern”, the one who holds all of “life in all its forms” for all of time. He is the “anchor”. So when we read the rocks and ask, “Where to I come from?”, we’re really searching for Christ. The “unbroken strand of DNA” that we’re following ultimately leads back to Him.

Image credit: M. Collins – Reconstruction of Metaspriggina walcotti.

Books and talks Dr. Haarsma recommended;

1. George Murphy’s, Theology of the Cross

2. This talk by Robert Bishop.

3. A talk by Dr. Brian Madison (which I’ve yet to locate)

 

New Facility Search

logoLast night we had a leadership team meeting to discuss all that’s going on at New Hope. I can honestly say that for the past three months, more things have been up in the air at our church than ever before. Right now I can’t see how it will all work out.  As our meeting played out last night, that same sense spread over the whole team. And it was a good thing. One leader commented that we are now in a place where we have no choice but to rely on God in faith.

And so we trust.

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling a bit stressed about our facility options. The one and only  location with some potential seemed to be going soft. But then, after my morning devotions, I got a call from my contact at that site, “It looks like we will be leasing the space (and not selling the building). Why don’t you come out and take a more thorough look at its potential and tell us how much space you think you’ll need. Then we can run the numbers and see if there’s a deal to be done.”

This morning I’m heading out with one of our staffers to take that more detailed look. It’s a complex building, tight space-wise, but doable (I think), some parking issues to work out and service timing concerns, but worth looking at.

So, the two of us will take a look… and prayerfully try to discern if this is where God wants us to be…  in faith.

The Word of God in a Mummy

mummy-mask-150118 livescienceLiterally!

I just read a news story in Christian Courier relaying a Livescience report on the recent discovery of the oldest known fragment from the Gospel of Mark (90 CE they think) found in the papyrus that made up an Egyptian mummy mask.

How cool is that? Apparently Egyptians who could not afford gold would be buried with papyrus masks. And because papyrus was expensive, they’d often recycle old materials – in this case a gospel fragment.

Which means that the gospel was probably written decades before this fragment made its way to Egypt, fell out of use and got re-purposed. All of which makes me smile at God’s mysterious providential ways; that the oldest known fragment of the Gospel of Mark was preserved in a ‘not-as-non-Christian-as-we-thought’ Egyptian burial mask.

mark fragment

 

My Post-Superbowl Confession

Russell_Wilson_vs_Vikings,_November_4,_2012I have an ugly Superbowl confession to make.

Yesterday I cheered for the Patriots so that Seattle QB Russell Wilson’s faith perspective would be exposed. You know what I’m referring to – that post Green Bay game interview where he gave God so much credit for the win that it made you cringe. Throughout Sunday’s game, whenever the Patriots did well or the Seahawks did poorly, I said to myself, “So what you thinking now Russell… thankful to God right now?” (At least I held back from tweeting those sentiments!)

This morning I woke up thinking about the nature of idolatry. I’m beginning to wonder if people give their idolatrous selves away when they inordinately, prematurely or with unwavering certainty give God credit for things that they so desperately want. Whenever we over-thank God for getting the desired outcome, are we giving proof that we’ve made God in our own image? We see it all time in sports – where passions run high, fingers point skyward and it’s hard to hide misbelief. We also see it in ourselves as we vicariously engage the game and the idol of ‘moral superiority over football players’ faith’ wields its ugly head.

In life the same thing often happens in reverse, when things go wrong and people blame God for suffering and leave the faith. By lauding or blaming God based on results, are we not showing the world – others, God and ourselves – where our allegiances truly lie? That we want what we want and we want to be God?

And should our faith so deeply hinge on outcomes? Of course we should be thankful when things go right – and I don’t doubt the sincerity of Russell Wilson’s faith one bit. But we need to be careful when attributing wins to God. I suppose a good test of whether we’ve fallen into idolatry or not would be these questions, “Am I equally praising God in times of loss? Is the feeling of joy at the goodness of a life circumstance as inexplicable as the feeling of suffering in a bad circumstance? Am I experiencing a humble and mysterious sense of “why do I get this” in all things?”

After losing all of his children and his livelihood, Job said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21).

A person can only say this when God really is first their life; their first love, their greatest passion and their Lord. When God is truly God, he can be praised in all circumstances – whether you make a huge, last second mistake enabling the other team to make a goal line interception and win the game, or not.

(image credit – By Larry Maurer [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Going to School on Sidney Greidanus

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 9.06.40 AMYesterday I wrote this paragraph as part of chapter one of a book I’m writing on preaching ‘two-book’ sermons;

“Several years ago I gave a talk at Calvin College, about the two-book preaching method that was evolving in my mind and at our church. After I presented, someone came up to me and told me that Calvin Seminary’s Old Testament and Preaching professor, Sidney Greidanus, had been sitting in the back row. I swallowed hard when I heard that news. Dr. Greidanus was my pastor when I was a boy and I knew he held the bar very high when it came to orthodox preaching. That night I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought. The next day, I bumped into him and his wife. I remember thinking, “Well at least his wife is here, he can’t be too mean!” After smiling and greeting me with his deeply resonant voice he said, “I think I see what you are doing. I’ve spent my entire life connecting the Jesus of the New Testament to the Jesus of the Old Testament. You are connecting the Jesus of the New Testament to the resurrected Jesus today.”

Today I woke up with a single thought that bloomed into an outline for chapter two. The bulk of this chapter is going to take what Dr. Greidanus spent his life thinking about (captured in his seminal book, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament ) and reapply it to the context of two-book preaching.

There’s an axiom that theologians and preachers are familiar with, ‘The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed’ (Augustine).  Christ, the gospel and the message of grace are already there, in the Old Testament, in a veiled, foreshadowing kind of way. All of the promises, covenants and the laws of the Old Testament find their fulfillment in the Christ of the New Testament.

Can the ways Christ in concealed in the Old Testament illumine a path to seeing the resurrected Christ in his world more?

How to preach from both of God’s books

two books

I’m in the middle of writing Chapter One of a new book on how (and why we need) to preach from both of God’s books (the bible and creation).  As I placed the following quotes alongside each other I thought, ‘How can we not?’

“Every good and true Christian should understand that wherever he may find truth, it is his Lord’s.” Augustine, (2.18) De Doctrina Christiana

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” Martin Luther, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

“Whenever we come upon these matters [truth] in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn [show contempt toward] and reproach the Spirit himself.John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press) 2.2.15, pp. 273-274

“The whole creation is nothing but the visible curtain behind which radiates the exalted working of [God’s] divine thinking.” Abraham Kuyper, (p39) Wisdom and Wonder

“General revelation leads to special, special revelation points back to general. The one calls for the other, and without it remains imperfect and unintelligible. Together they proclaim the manifold wisdom which God has displayed in creation and redemption (italics mine).” Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1909), pp.27ff, in Revelation and Grace in Herman Bavinck, Jan Veenhof, in The Kuyper Center Review, Volume Two: Revelation and Common Grace, John Bowlin, Editor, (Eerdmans, 2011, Grand Rapids, MI)

 

 

The Unguarded Gaze

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This is paragraph describes the stance I try to take when listening for God’s word in creation;

“In his book Real Presences, George Steiner discusses at length the concept of intellectual hospitality and the need for the reader to freshly submit to the “presence” communicated in a given text or work of art—to achieve an unguarded gaze and receptivity that allows the work to do its work. Steiner goes on to say, “It takes uncanny strength and abstention from re-cognition, from implicit reference, to read the world and not the text of the world as it has been previously encoded for us”—in other words, to submit to the thing seen, not to its culturally conditioned simulacrum.” (Bruce Herman in The Unguarded Gaze, Books and Culture)

The biggest impediment to discerning God’s word in the world is what we already think we know about the world.