Picking up Flowers for Fran

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I just picked up a small flower arrangement for Fran, from one of the florists who’s been helping me with this Sunday’s sermon. Each of the three times I’ve dropped into Anne’s shop this week, I’ve exegeted a different facet of her vocation back to her. It’s been quite profound for both of us. “You see all this stuff in what I do,” she said. And I walk away even more convinced of the need for a good book on the spirituality of vocation.

This morning, after telling her how beautiful the arrangement was (Frescias are Fran’s favorites), I asked her for a few floral maintenance tips.  She told me to keep the water fresh and clip the stems when I change the water. Then she pointed to one of the Frescias and ran her baby finger down the dark green, unopened blooms. “Every single one of these should bloom,” she said. “Just pick off the old blooms as they die and each of these should come into flower.”

As she ran her finger down the unopened blooms I thought about the God who – knowing how things are made – knows where things are going and still has a plan for that little flower, plans to prosper it and not to harm it and to give it hope and a future.

After I told Anne that she reminded me of God in this way, her eyes teared up. Then she talked about some of the pain and mystery she encounters in her work – her search for meaning and how she wonders sometimes if she’s making a difference. We had a good talk.

How beautiful that God put this florist in my path this week.

And I hope Fran like these flowers…

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Stone Cold Stares

Sitting by the river, minding my own business, and I notice all these stones staring at me!

“And this our life exempt from public haunt. Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones and good in every thing. I would not change it.”                                  Senior Duke, As You Like It, Shakespeare

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Preaching the Parable of a Florist

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This is how it works…  I just sent an email to a botany professor (from a faith based school) for my upcoming sermon on a florist. After making my introduction I wrote;

“I have a question (if you have the time). I’m preaching a sermon on the vocation of a florist (how their job is a, kind of, embodied parable illumining the heart of God) and am wondering why God (the original floral arranger) created so may different kinds of flowers…  or more scientifically, why are there so many kinds of flowers in this world? I’m hoping that the answer to that question, will illumine something about the mind and heart of God, that will highlight where florist’s vocationally image him (in their continued filling of the earth with floral beauty).

(imagine exegeting everyone’s job like this!)

 (I love my job!)

Mitigating College/University Rape Culture

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“This past weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that makes universities redefine consensual sex. From now on, students must  effectively obtain the “affirmative consent” of their partners, which must be “ongoing” every step of the way.”

When I read these words in Margaret Wente’s Globe and Mail editorial this morning I thought, “Well in order for that to happen, people are going to have to really know each other, know their partner’s personality, know how they communicate, know what kind of mood they’re in and what they’ve been dealing with that day, week or month. In order to really know someone that well, it’s almost as though you’d have to have spend some time with them, have a relationship, maybe date for a while; even court.”

Sort of slows down a hookup culture’s momentum a bit doesn’t it? And perhaps it teaches us that ‘old fashioned’ sexual ethics didn’t have it all wrong. Sex, it appears, works best under certain conditions, with clear constraints and a strong sense of commitment. The more you know someone, the better you’ll be able to trust them and the more sexual freedom you’ll enjoy.

(“Toronto-Slutwalk” by Anton Bielousov – Own work: Slutwalk (Toronto, ON). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toronto-Slutwalk.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Toronto-Slutwalk.jpg)

Calgary hit by water again (this time frozen)

While snow in September is shocking, the arboreal destruction Calgarians are now witnessing is devastating. Out walking today it seemed that very few trees where left unscathed. And it was as though I was feeling some of (The Lord of the Rings’) Treebeard’s angst, “Many of these trees were my friends. Creatures I had known from nut and acorn.”

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The Parable of a Teacher

Teacher 2Tonight I’m meeting with a few elementary and high school teachers to discern and exegete ‘The Parable of a Teacher’.

Over the past year and a half I’ve been working on a book that explores the idea of our jobs as embodied parables - real life vocational stories, authored by God, through which and within which, He speaks (reveals himself) and accomplishes his will. To date I’ve preached on all kinds of jobs – accountants, doctors, Walmart greeters, servers, scientists, psychologists, farmers, stylists, firefighters, judges and more. The hope in preaching these vocational sermons is that people will be enabled to experience God’s presence at work more; know him in real time as they image Him at work.

These are the questions I sent to the teachers in preparation for tonight’s talk;

1. What do you love most about teaching? Describe a ‘just right’ teaching moment you’ve had as a teacher – what made that moment so right? What were you feeling?

2. Believing that you are made in the image of God, what does ‘what you felt in that just right moment’ say about who God is, about what God is like?

3. God made you with desires and passions that image him. Have you ever experienced God’s teaching heart in a ‘just right’ teaching moment?

4. As you consider the specific ways you image God through your teaching, what bible stories, verses or theological truths come to mind?

If you teach, and have any thoughts in relation to the above, please post a comment!

 

Calling the Church’s Bluff

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I think the church is bluffing when it says it believes in general revelation.

If God really does speak through creation then preachers should have no problem regularly preaching his creation words… as ‘texts’…  reading and treating them as authoritative revelations from God.

Over the past ten years I’ve undergone a transformation. For years I wondered if I was allowed to preach from God’s book of creation; leading to a years-long search into both the bible and my reformed theological roots. Now I am convinced that I must; and more than that, that the rest of the church should too!

Surely God made us to know him through both word and world (in that order authority-wise). When the church chooses to ignore God’s creation words then I think it’s missing the mark, falling short and risking institutional idolatry. By not preaching all that God is saying we limit him and cast him in our own ‘revelatory worldview’ image.

At worst this leads to bibliolatry. At best it leaves believers with only half of God’s revelatory story. No wonder churchgoers struggle connecting their faith to the rest of their lives! The church has never taught them what God is saying through the rest of their lives; how they image God in their creating, working, playing and loving and how he moves in very real ways through nature, history and all things. They’ve never heard their pastor preach on God’s word in pop culture, science or work.

While I understand that not all churches can engage the creation text as much or as often as we do at New Hope Church (it takes time to change and preaching the book of creation is hard work), to completely ignore God’s creation words is quite simply wrong.

So I guess this is my challenge to the church. If you say you believe in general revelation then preach it. If you’re not preaching from general revelation, then change your statements of faith. You can’t say that God speaks through creation and then ignore him there.

Robin Williams – Make God Laugh!

    Screen-Shot-2014-08-13-at-11.17.46-AM “Robin Williams~Rest in Peace~ Make God laugh”

After reading these words from the marquis of the Los Angeles Laugh Factory I had to wonder if Robin Williams really was making God laugh; right now. Perhaps he’s been doing it for years.

God made Robin Williams. No doubt with a smile on his face, God came up with the idea of this very unique human being; deeply sensitive and aware, able to creatively connect seemingly ordinary things in hilarious, outrageous, manic and brilliantly funny ways!

God made Robin Williams – according to the bible – in his image. Which, I guess, means that God too has a great sense of humor.

You may have never considered that before. Looking at the church, those serious icons of Christ that have been crafted over time or reading the Old Testament stories of Noah or the battle of Jericho, it’s easy to think of God as anything but funny. But is that a fair or complete picture of the Maker of all things (including humor)?

Look at Jesus. While it’s hard to see his humor with 21st century eyes (2000 years is a long time for a joke to hold up!) many theologians think it was certainly there; in his parables and through his use of hyperbole. When Jesus t0ld the story of the lost sheep to the self righteous Pharisees – likening them to the despised vocation of shepherds – they would have been upset and the people in the surrounding crowd delighted. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a slam on religious leaders that would have made many smile. You can just see them putting their hands over their mouths at Jesus’ irreverent jab!  Then there was the time when Jesus poked fun at all of the petty legalisms of the Pharisees; so worried about minutiae while losing sight of what mattered most, “You blind guides, you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”  (Matthew 23:24).  The audience would have split a rib when he said those words!  And maybe Jesus even cracked a smile.

G. K. Chesterton once said, “I’ve often thought that the gigantic secret of God is mirth.”

So maybe Robin Williams is cracking God up right now.

And perhaps, between jokes, he’s also finding some answers regarding all of the pain and suffering that came with his laughter. Maybe God’s prophetic promise to Job has now come true for Williams, “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.” (Job 8:21)

Surely God knew and felt the depths of Robin Williams’s suffering. God knows what its like to carry pain that eventually kills you. And God knows that pain is not the last word. Perhaps that’s the performance ending punchline that he’s sharing with Williams right now. 

Top 10 Things I learned about God through creational texts this year

earth-rise-NASA-image The best part of preaching from both of God’s books is that moment of surprise when a creational text teaches you something about God that you’d never considered before. It’s kind of like the epiphany you might have felt when you first read a different translation of the bible. Only with a creation text, the ‘aha’ always seems to come out of nowhere. Perhaps it has something to do with the oblique angle from which creational words are ‘spoken'; they come from all directions. Or maybe God is saying something new – a word that hasn’t been spoken in the bible. Not sure how it all works, but it has happened a lot again this past church year. So, here are the top 10 things I learned about God through creational texts this year (in no particular order);

10. Cultivating God’s Presence through a Farmer (Oct 13, 2013) – The idea of an ecosystem offering a earthy reflection of God’s interdependent – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – nature was quite compelling. So was looking at a farmer’s hand as he examined a few kernels of wheat and spoke a parable about all of the attention he pays to the land, seed, weeds, rain and sun; it was as if God was speaking.

9. Supernova, Death and Resurrection in the Universe (Nov 10, 2013) – When a Mars Rover physicist first told me about the death and resurrection of matter that occurs through supernovas, allowing life as we know it to even exist, I thought, “Of course! No surprise there – that the very fabric of the universe would image a dying and resurrecting God in this way.” All of creation images it’s Maker and every one of the 30 supernovas that (even now) happen per second, image Christ!

8. God, Mathematics and Infinity (Nov 17, 2013) – I can still recall the delight I felt as I watched a group of mathematicians unfold the scope of the concept of infinity. Moving from large numbers to ever larger numbers (googol, googolplex, Graham’s number, etc) it was as if the heavens were parting – revealing the ever-infinite and eternal nature of God.

7. God’s Just Heart in a Judge (Jan 19, 2014) – One of the judges I interviewed for this sermon spoke about how he preferred to give verbal judgements so that he could look in the eye’s of those being judged and adjust his tone and even reshape his judgment on the fly. As he told me about his modus operandi I sensed the image bearing presence of an incarnating Christ all over him! God is a God who speaks his words while looking at us!

6.  God’s Hospitable Heart in a Server (Feb 16, 2014) – The passionate hearts of the many restaurant servers I interviewed for this sermon taught me about how God delights in meeting our needs and always serves us in a thoughtful, timely and just-right way. One server loved the challenge of making even the crankiest customer happy; he would give all he had to accomplish that goal.

5. Why Does God Allow Pain (How Wolves Change Rivers) (Mar 16, 2014) – When my daughter in law sent me a link to a video showing how wolves can change rivers, I was struck by the powerful parallel to how God mysteriously works through suffering. Even as wolves can move rivers so too can God use death to bring life. I’m surprised God didn’t include this wolf/river connection in his chapter 38 questions to Job; “Can you tell me Job, how a wolf moves a river?”

4. Resurrection and Searching for Sugarman (Easter Sunday April 20, 2014) –  As I watched Sixto Rodriguez (a kind of savior to Apartheid era South Africans and a musician who many thought was dead) step onto the stage for his resurrection/reunion concert, and vicariously felt the overwhelming ovation of the crowd, and then saw what it was like for this overlooked, suffering servant to receive the adoration of his fans, for the first time ever, I wondered about the joy Jesus (and the Father and Holy Spirit) must have felt on that first resurrection morning.

3. The Science and Gospel of Branches (April 27, 2014) – Remaining in Christ can look different for every single person; even as no two branches of a vine/tree are the same. “Plants are highly flexible and highly responsive to their environment and really only grow to the extent that a particular environment allows them to.” (Dr. Vern Peters, Kings University). It’s the same with your connection to Jesus; its ‘s unique as you are.

2. God’s Providence in a Map (June 8, 2014) - Through this sermon I learned that the Holy Spirit can take the imaginative gift that enables us to ‘go there’ via maps (an innately human gift that was made by, for and through Christ) and give us a foretaste of the New Earth by applying it to the divinely descriptive words of heaven found in the book of Revelation.

1. God, Cancer and Radiation Therapy (June 22, 2014) – In this very difficult sermon we learned that God addresses the cancer of sin with often unseen, perfect, multi-disciplinary precision and via a process that always involves a little bit of (cell) death. Again, God is a God of death and resurrection.