Category Archives: 2011

God with us; listening

There’s something about presence that makes listening all the more real and effective.

God coming to us is a powerful affirmation of love leaning in.

Think about the best listener you’ve ever trusted yourself with – a parent, a friend, a counsellor – and now look through them, to the God who gifted them to you, who made them with the capacity to hear, who gave them compassion, patience and wisdom, and who, being timeless, has all the time in the world.

Reading well-known Canadian psychiatrist, Robin Menzies’ obituary this morning, I couldn’t help but think about how God attends to us. “I give my patients the service of listening to them. I don’t just go through the motions. I am their friend.” (Globe and Mail, Dec 24th, 2011) “I have called you friends.” (Jesus to his disciples in John 15:15, TNIV)

Sometimes when I pray, it’s almost as though I can see Jesus’ face up close, his eyes staring back into mine. The sense of being heard is so intimately palpable. He is with me… listening. God came to us so that Jesus could have ears.

And when he listens I’m empowered.  In being understood, I understand myself, through his respect I find self respect; I’m free to “speak openly, face truth and dare growth.”

There’s a dearth of listeners in our world today.  And yet, God through Christ, is listening all the time.

What was it like for Jesus to hear human voices through human ears? What can human  listeners teach us about how he hears us right now?

Obituary Exegesis; Made in the Image of God

This is how it works.  I’m reading a Globe and Mail obituary of a man named Lloyd Johnston today and I am caught by a quote describing the nature of this life time engineer; “He was drawn to the concrete and quantifiable.”

As soon as I read these words, I thought, “So is God.”

Engineers are made in the image of a God who appreciates the concrete, created reason, is analytical, understands the facts of a situation, and knows how things work.  God made a lot of matter.  Material nature clearly matters to him. God imagined the nature of all reality.  And I think an engineer’s imagination is ultimately meant to connect to the Maker-of-all-things’ imagination. Via curiosity, ingenuity and a passion to discover how things work, or how they can work, an engineer can connect to the mind of God.

The obituary went on to say that, “throughout his life, he would pick up interesting things in nature, or useful widgets found abandoned.  He would repair or re-purpose broken down old things…”  Sounds pretty God-like here as well.  Maybe one of the ways God does that is by showing us just how much he made us like himself.

I love that I can read an obituary like this and end up knowing and loving God a bit more.  Thinking about the nature of an engineer I encounter God’s nature. And as I do this, it feels like worship.  I recognize a bit more of God’s worth.

Obits are a great place to learn about how human beings image God (the Imago Dei). Read carefully, they unpack the sense of the divinity (sensus divinitatis) that resides in us all.

Animal sermon auditions – The Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

My son Tom and I just had the most amazing experience.  He’s studying for exams at the dining room table and I’m working on my sermon in the living room when all of a sudden he jumps up and says, “Dad, look outside… the birds!”

[Image from Birdscalgary.wordpress.com]

There must have been thousands of them, swarming and swooping right in front of our picture window.  It was avian pandemonium.  Our trees were filled, the hedge alone hosted a hundred or so, and the whole of the visual space looking out our window must have been 50% wings, feathers and beaks. Their fluttering and trilling was cacophonous, joyous, jubilant.  Our local magpies didn’t know where to fly or what to do. They all just huddled close together in the Aspen tree across the street.

The scene was awe inspiring.  Wondrous. A gift.  My heart is still racing.  And to think that the whole experience just flew in out of nowhere. You’ve got to love the serendipity of that… “look at the birds of the air.”  I didn’t even have time, or think, to get my camera out at first.  By the time I did, most of our visitors were long gone.  But the memory’s not.  After googling a description of the bird we discovered that they were Bohemian Waxwings.  Apparently they are indigenous to Alberta – who knew?

Last week I posted that I was thinking of preaching a sermon series on animals.  Perhaps this was an audition?  Here they are flying away…

How God answered one of the biggest theological questions ever

“My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.”  Job to God after God answered Job’s question on the problem of suffering.  For the first 37 chapters of this biographical book, Job’s wife and friends tried in vain to offer an explanation for his painful circumstance.  All to no avail. The answer came directly from God via a few chapters worth of questions about creation.  ‘Who made all of this?  How does it work Job?”  And somehow through a flood of existential cosmic query Job gets the answer he’s searching for.  Not a rational explanation, he doesn’t get that, what he gets in response is God himself.  ‘I’d only heard of you before, but now I see you… You used to be a far away reality to me, but now you are near…  you’re here… and that is more than enough answer for me.’

To the biggest theological question imaginable – If God is good, then why is their evil in our world? – God responds with the best answer possible (if God is answering then you’ve got to presume this) and says, ‘Look at the mysteries of the material world around you Job… all of this was made by me… all of this is being held by me… and all of it is beyond your understanding.’  God doesn’t offer a rational explanation/theodicy (“you learn through pain Job, it’s a consequence of free will, etc…), he comes back with the mysteries of the material order.  And the mysteries that are at the end of every created thing (now even as then) leave him is a place that is much nearer to God, closer to the answer  A place of ecstasy and glory where all you’re left to do is put your hand over your mouth in wonder.

Large Hadron Collider particle physicists know this place, as do poets and artists.

Again, God’s best answer for the problem of pain (to Job) is creation. God opens our hearts through the doors of mystery, awe and wonder, and as we are faced with/observe and read the world around us, we see.

And this is where, what we do at New Hope Church, has it’s starting point.  We don’t just stop at the wonder/awe/’wow-there-must-be-a-God‘ place, we go further and ask, ‘What does this creational beauty tell us about who you are God?’   What does nature’s nature say about your nature? What does human nature say about your nature?

I’m gonna use this Job story as the introduction for a someday book on Faith and Science.

Does God speak sculpture?

I just read these words in a Comment article byKnut Heim,

Poetry makes up a large part of the Bible. In addition to the poetic books themselves—Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations (these alone amount to around one third of the Old Testament)—there are large sections of poetry in other biblical books: well over half of Isaiah, over one third in Jeremiah, and around one fifth of Ezekiel, as well as more than half of the materials in the so-called Minor Prophets (Hosea to Malachi) and other poetic sections in the narrative books, such as Hannah’s psalm in 1 Samuel 2. Altogether, then, more than half of the Old Testament is poetry.”

And if the OT is 2/3 of the bible, that means 1/3 of the bible is poetry!  1/3 of God’s revelation to humanity via the written word comes to us in verse! Why? I’m thinking one reason is that God’s truth can’t always fit into more linear or didactic forms of language. God’s beauty, majesty and wisdom need something more creative, open and deep.  This makes me wonder if God would have liked to communicate more of his message via other artistic media as well – like sculpture, dance or music – were is possible to disseminate these genres to a broader audience.

And think about how much of the bible is narrative.  Story, like poetry and parable, also holds truth in a unique and askance kind of way.

I guess what strikes me in all of this is that if God is a God who chose to reveal himself via the oblique means of poetry and story, surely he can do the same via verse, narrative and the arts today. God seemingly prefers to “tell it slant”, to show it veiled, to paint and play out his truth in abstract and indirect ways. Which leaves me wanting to know him more through sculpture. Gotta learn that language one day.

Do you love God for who he is… or for what he does?

Of course the two are synonymous when it comes to God.

For the ancient Hebrew, to know something is to do it. Because God is who he is, he does what he does.  When we experience something that he does, we know more about who he is.  Being and doing are connected in the person of God.  But I’m beginning to wonder if everyone thinks this way.

Last night I met with a few New Hopers to talk about how we can see and know God through the creational text of parenting.  Great meeting.  I love being part of a church where the community helps write sermons.  In the course of our discussion I asked, ‘But do we love God for who he is, or for what he does?’  Up until that point in the meeting we’d been drawing all these parallels between God and parenting – unconditional love, forgiveness, sacrifice, etc… – with the anecdote attached to each parallel describing an act undertaken by the parent or by God.  “When a parent acts in this way, it reminds me of God acting in this way.”

Which made me think, do we ever just love a parent for who they are… outside of what they do?

In my experience, my love for God is mostly attached to who God is. I love him for his being, perfection, wisdom,  goodness, holiness, beauty, majesty, grandeur, and glory.  Yes, I am very thankful for all that he does, and has given me, but those things seems secondary to these more primary loves.  As a parent I’ve noticed that I feel most loved when I am loved for my being, and not for what I’ve done.  In the ideal parent/child relationship unconditional love operates in both directions.

When I asked the Do you love God for who he is or what he does question, two people immediately responded with, “For what he does.”  As we talked about it some more, you could sense perspectives changing; wondering if the move to loving God for who he is, is about maturing in our faith, in our love.

When I got home that night I thought about it some more, in the context of our vision here at NHC.  If lots of people love God for what he does, what impact would that have on a person’s capacity to engage a moment of co-illumination (one of those ecstatic epiphany moments where God’s truth in a creational text connects/co-illumines God’s truth in a biblical text).  For me, co-illumining moments are all about the presence of God; about being, perfection, wisdom, goodness, holiness, beauty, majesty, grandeur and glory.  Yes, these moments come to me via acts of God through creation (and the scriptures).  But in the glory of the moment, the acts fade, and his presence is all that matters.

Which makes me wonder if Christians who love and know God primarily through what he does (not making the move to presence), would have a harder time understanding why moments of co-illumination are so everything to many others of us.  God isn’t doing a thing in times like these.  He’s just being everything.

Parenting as an act of worship

Can you imagine a moment where, even as you are delighting in your child, God is delighting in you?  Has you ever held both of those feelings in your heart at the same time; joy expressed toward another even as joy is recieved from the Other?

I’m sitting here in my living room, trying the concept out on my sick wife, who is lying opposite me, sleeping on the couch, and I find myself a bit overwhelmed.  A deep love felt for her in her frailty is pouring out of me even as it’s being extended to me by God in my brokeness.

Can you imagine the same thing happening every time you forgive? Offer guidance? Speak words of discipline? Encourage someone?

I’m trying it out on my son now; feeling this heart-swelling pride for him even as I know and experence God feeling the same for me. There’s a sense of ecstacy to the moment. It’s conductive in a way; like pride is flowing through me. God’s pride infusing, informing and enflaming mine.  Which makes sense, seeing as God must be more proud of Thomas than I could ever be.

God feels very real and present in this moment. And I feel fully alive. It feels a bit like worship. Very cool.

I want to enter  into the discipline of this way of being (more).

Collecting your children

“The starting point and the primary goal in all our connections with children ought to be the relationship itself, not conduct or behavior.” page 181, Hold Onto Your Kids

Remember the last time you made eye contact with an infant?  What were you looking for as you engaged in all that cooing, eyebrow raising and smiling?  And when you got what you were looking for, how did it make you feel?

Last Sunday I met young father who was holding his months old daughter. Often when I look at little kids they turn away frightened (must be the glasses!), but this time the opposite occurred.  This little girl maintained eye contact, and then after a few seconds reciprocated my smile with one of her own.  And I melted.  Yes, the smile was what I hoped for, but not for the smile’s sake itself.  What preceded the smile was what mattered most; I made a connection with this young human being!  And her smile said she made it back.

The moment I read the words quoted from the book above, I thought of Christ’s incarnation.  God connected with us (incarnated – took on human flesh, became one of us) because he wanted to have a deeper relationship with us.  God wanted to increase the attachment between us, like how a parent seeks to bond with an infant.  Yes, human behaviour can’t help but change in response to eye contact with God, but I wonder if what matters most to God is the connection.