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.

 

 

 

“Are you still humans?”

photo-23-4.51.02-PMAs soon as I saw the photo and read the caption I knew.  The words read, “Surrogate forgives parents of deserted baby,” and the image shows a young Thai woman holding a caucasian infant boy. Sure enough the deserted boy had Down syndrome. The story got worse. The boy is sick and needs healthcare. While he was left behind, his twin sister was taken home by her Australian parents. The doctors knew about the DS diagnosis early and didn’t tell the Thai woman. At 7 months they did and suggested she abort the twin with DS. And then to add insult to injury, the surrogate has not been fully paid for her surrogacy. After I read the piece I had to go over an hug Eddy for a while. The Thai mom (and I think she deserves the title now) says she forgives the bio-parents for their actions (not sure I feel that much grace yet). But she was very upset when asked if she’d abort the downy boy. She asked the doctors (the bio-parent’s new surrogates), “Are you still human?” (Here’s the original article from today’s Globe and Mail)

Those parents in Australia have no idea what they’re missing. I am convinced that this young Thai mother has received one of life’s greatest gifts!

My Life’s Angst

christ-cosmos-Two days ago, while on a walk with Fran, I said it more concisely than I’ve ever said it before, “We (Christians) are good with knowing Christ as the mediator of our salvation, but what about knowing Christ as the mediator of creation and Christ as the mediator who now holds together that creation?”

We’re good at quoting John 3:16, but not so much John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:15-17.

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 3:16

” 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.” John 1:1-3

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17

Through Jesus everything was made, saved and is now held. I think we need to get on with knowing the fullness of who Christ is!

 

Top Ten Fun Things I got to do as a result of Preaching Creational Texts

 

10. Talking with Roger Hodgson’s manager about how much he appreciated my sermon on Supertramp (How God used Roger Hodgson (Supertramp) to save my life)

9. Visiting several fire halls and interviewing firefighters for a sermon on their vocation (God’s Saving Heart in a Firefighter)

8. Having a huge catered-in mid-winter feast as our church service one chilly February Sunday morning (complete with a string quartet).

7. Moving our entire church service to the Telus Spark Science Centre for our Sunday service (Epigenetics and the Love of God)

6. Having a professional basketball player do a slam dunk after first flying over top of your head – after preaching on the sport (Henry Bekkering jump)

5. Blowing glass with a local Calgary artisan (God’s Hand’s on Truth in Glass Blowing)

4. Riding a combine and taking in the fall harvest of Hard Red Spring Wheat with a local farmer on a brilliant fall evening (Cultivating God’s Presence through a Farmer)

3. Interviewing judges in their chambers and then heading off to hear a case with one of them and entering the courtroom from the judge’s entrance (God’s just Heart in a Judge)

2. Interviewing a fashion designer on stage, after the runway show, as that Sunday’s sermon (Paul Hardy Interview)

1. Donning a beekeeping suit and being swarmed at a hive out on the middle of the prairie (God’s face in a Honey Bee)

Digging for Dinosaur Bones

Coulee WallWent on another dinosaur bone dig with Fran today (I love that I live in Alberta!). Mid-day I experienced a wonderful God-moment as I stood back from the coulee wall that I was exploring and took in all of its layers. A hundred million years right before my eyes! All of it held by God. For a second or two it felt like I was standing face to face with the God of all time and geological history.

At roughly two meters from grade, tiny bone fragments pour out of the hillside. They look like petrified wood and you can tell they are bones by the porosity of their ends (according to a geologist/friend). We must have picked up a hundred pieces and then threw half of them back. Such a great day.

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Top 10 reasons to preach on Radiation Therapy

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 10.20.46 AM copyHere are the top ten reasons for preaching radiation therapy;

1. Over the past 5 years you’ve been given the opportunity to learn how to preach scientific texts though your involvement in two John Templeton faith/science grants. Having already preached 15 science based sermons on topics ranging from physics to hydrology to neurology to nephrology, you find yourself in a place where it wouldn’t seem odd to preach radiation physics.

2. Six months ago you meet a woman with late-stage cancer who’s undergoing radiation treatment and as you talk with her you get the sense you should preach on God’s healing presence through the gift of radiation physics.

3. A few days after meeting that woman, an old friend calls and says he’s in in Calgary and would love to meet for coffee. Later that day you learn that he’s written three text books on radiation physics (and he’s willing to help you with your sermon).

4. The next day you message that woman with cancer and tell her that you’re going to preach on the radiation treatments that are trying to buy her some time. She’s excited about the topic and gives you permission to use a photo of one of her treatment sessions.

5. A month later you’re holding her hand in the hospital and you tell her that you’ll still preach that sermon. You say a prayer, with both her and her friend, and it feels like God is in the room. You express thanks for her ever-loving and accepting character and pray that God will give her peace. Two days later she dies.

6. A few weeks later your physicist friend makes the research easy by sending you the introductions to his three books and then – a week before your scheduled preaching date – agrees to an hour long phone conversation (where you get to clarify – and gain some confidence about – what you’ve read).

7. You start that phone call off with this sentence, “Hey Jake, when you came up to me at church 22 years ago and told me that you thought I should change careers and go into the ministry – could you have ever imagined that one day you’d be helping me research a sermon on the radiation physics you’ve dedicated your life’s work to?”

8. As you’re writing that sermon the next day, the pile of information that seemed overwhelming and incomprehensible at times, now starts to come together alongside the biblical text. You begin to catch glimpses of the nature of the God of all medical history, particle physics and human biology.

9. That same afternoon you visit an old squash buddy who’s dying of cancer. He used to be so healthy (ripped, huge pipes, all round athlete) and now he’s a fraction of his former self. His radiation treatments fell short and there’s no more they can do for him. He’s worried for his wife and kids. He feeds himself through a tube while you’re visiting and your heart is broken.

10. The next day the rest of the sermon comes together and the concluding point seems to come out of nowhere. Through tears you type the words… who could have ever known that the death that brings life via radiation would connect to the death that brings life via Christ?

And here’s how that sermon came together. http://vimeo.com/98968544