Category Archives: 2013

Death in my front yard

Shot these photos for Sunday’s sermon on death (mostly of dead plants in pots that I never stored for winter – I knew I procrastinated for a reason).

 

The Crooked Made Straight…

It’s Saturday morning and I’m listening to The Messiah on vinyl. As the piece entitled, Every Valley plays I’m looking at Edward sitting on the couch across from me and wondering what it will be like for him – when the “crooked shall be made straight.” Over the years I’ve asked this question many times. Will every chromosome be made new? Will it have to be?

Then a lesson from a recent math sermon came to mind. In his book Thinking in Numbers, Daniel Tammet writes that, “Mathematicians aspire to these heavenly realms. Vast numbers that split our senses enrich their work. But they also produce paradoxes. For instance, which is greater: 10 or 27, when each is multiplied by itself a googolplex number of times? (A googolplex is a number so big that were you to write one digit of the number on every atom in the universe, there would not be enough atoms in the universe to get it down). The latter, of course, although even the most powerful calculators – plunging one hundred digits deep – struggle to tell the two apart. This difficulty confounds our expectations: intuitively, we feel that the ordering of a number’s precise value should remain straight forward, even when the number’s precise value cannot be known. And yet, there exist numbers so large that we cannot easily distinguish them from their double, or triple, or quadruple an any other amount. There exist magnitudes so immense that they escape all our words, and all our numbers.” (page 83).

Who will be all become in Christ? The Apostle Paul was right when he surmised, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV

In that sermon I ended with the formula below- this calculation rendered my question about Edward moot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nelson Mandela: For Such a Time as This

I’ve been reading all of the tributes to Nelson Mandela with different eyes today. My perspective is being shaped by two interpretive lenses; the Old Testament book of Esther (a story that never once mentions God but has God moving powerfully throughout it) and a quote by historian Modris Eksteins saying, “Individuals and events achieve symbolic power not just because of their own inherent features, but because they intersect with broader historical forces.”1.

In the biblical account of Esther, Esther faces a life and death decision; both personally and in relation to her enslaved people. Her cousin Mordecai, believing in God’s history holding hand, asks her, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”2. Esther got to royal standing because of her God-given beauty. She was born for that time in the history of Israel and after she made the right decision, an entire nation was freed.

As I’m reading the synopses of Nelson Mandela’s life, I’m trying to see if I can see where God’s hand is at work in this chapter of human history. Surely Mandela was born a native South African, in that mud-floored hut in the Eastern Cape, in 1918, for such a time as this. Who else but God could give him his remarkable, “ability to learn from experience, to mask his uncertainty and to inspire others to become better human beings.”3. Who but God has the power to raise anybody up in the eyes of the people?

Could Mandela ever have known that his expulsion from university was a good thing, leading him into the mentoring arms of Walter Sisulu, who then connected him to a lawyer friend, who then hired him as a law clerk, which then led to him become a lawyer? Did Mandela know that he and Sisulu would be cellmates one day?

Who was it that arranged for Mandela to meet and then marry Sisulu’s cousin (Mandela’s first wife) and then later in life, to drive by that particular bus stop where a beautiful girl named Winnie stood? Was there a plan that allowed Mandela to be captured so early on in the insurgency and then be imprisoned on Robben Island for 28 years? Was 28 years of wrongful imprisonment the exact amount of time it would take for a nation and a world to wake up to the injustices of apartheid?

Who gave Mandela the wisdom to see a way forward that would bring about the least amount of bloodshed (and the most amount of reconciliation)? Who gave him that self-sacrificial love for all people; a love that would bring peace to his fellow revolutionaries and both soften and assure the hearts of so many of his oppressors?

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”4.

 Who quickened Mandela’s resolve and broke off all of his sharp edges as he mined chalk in a Robben Island quarry? Who brought all of South Africa to a psychological and economic standstill, paralyzed by Apartheid’s refusal to let go? Who’s Spirit was moving throughout both South Africa and the world at the time of Mandela’s astonishing unconditional release? How was it that the entire world was changed by an imprisoned man who could do nothing to effect that change?

Upon release from Robben Island, Mandela shared these words with his supporters, “Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life into your hands.”4.

Whose image was Mandela’s servant heart reflecting here as he was released from prison? Could he ever have imagined being elected President of South Africa? When he opened that ANC office in London 50 years ago and vowed (in jest) that one day there would be a bronze statue honoring their movement next to those of Churchill and Lincoln, next to the British Parliament, did he have any idea that his words were prophetic, that 45 years later he’d be dedicating that monument?

Who is this God who takes mere men and women and puts them in times and places to accomplish his will? Who else but God can move in so many hearts in so many ways to set prisoners free?

God unchained the people of South Africa – black and white – and he used a man made after his own gracious, humble and loving heart to be his voice, to be his presence; for such a time as this.

  1. J’accuse encore, The Globe and Mail, October 10th 2009, Why the Drefus Affair Matters, by Louis Begley
  2. Esther 4:14, NIV
  3. The Captive Freedom Fighter who became a global role model, Sandra Martin, Globe and Mail, 12/06/2013, page A4
  4. Ibid, Mandela’s words upon release from prison.
  5. Mandela image via Wiki commons

God and Divorce

On Sunday I’ll be preaching on the topic of divorce. A couple of days ago I wrote the following paragraph – thinking it would be my introduction. It’s now become the outline for my message.

“In the book of Malachi the prophet speaks God’s words and says, “I hate divorce!” (Mal 2:16, NIV) As do all of us I would imagine!

I hate the pain of seeing friends breakup. I hate it when one of them wants to stay in the marriage and the other is resolute that that can never happen. I hate it when a couple is too weak or wounded or tired to try anymore. I hate hearing about it when it’s too late. I hate it when couples forget what they once knew and felt. I hate it when they ‘relationally divorce’ – separate, lose all intimacy, become apathetic or contemptuous toward one another – but stay married. I hate it when people operate with such a narrow definition of love, as though it were just a feeling. I hate seeing what happens to kids when divorce happens. I hate the anger, the vitriol, all the money spent in court, the emotional cost that is paid, the dreams shattered, the hopes abandoned, the hearts torn and how God’s good gift of marriage – what he made to communally image him; a beautiful, synergistic, foreshadowing intimacy – is destroyed!

No one ever gets married ever imagining or planning for the pain of divorce.

Thank God that he has the restorative solution for all relationally broken souls. A solution that can save a marriage if that’s where your relationship is at. Or a solution that can heal you if you gone through a divorce. God he sees all the small things that are leading to the big breakup. And his heart is torn. God hates divorce.”

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Rev 21:1-2, NIV

The Self-Condemning Parable of Rob Ford

When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s life first started to come off the tracks a few months ago, I made a pledge to not join him in the derailment. Why let all his mistakes cause all that ugliness to rise up in me?

So much for pledge making.

How could I not read the breaking news story about the mayor’s crack smoking video and then all of those reports alleging connections to the criminal underworld? And then, when the US/global media frenzy began, even as Mayor Ford’s story got worse and worse and worse, I found it impossible to not join in. Colbert, Conan, Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live.  NBC, BBC, FOX, and every other major network.  Rob Ford saying things that no politician has ever publically said before. The comedians didn’t even have to comment. All they had to do was stand there with their mouths hanging open.

Knowing my weakness for pride and judgmentalism and how much I love to delight in the failures of others, I still chose to join them and condemn and mock. I was building myself up by slamming Rob Ford. I’d totally forgotten my pledge.

But then my sin was exposed; by Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Early on in the Ford debacle, he was asked for his opinion in a CBC news interview. His response cut me to the core. Instead of the usual ‘political speak’, he was at a loss for words. “I am close with the family, I am…” and then the Finance Minister started to lose his composure. Visibly upset and almost in tears he just stood there shaking for several seconds.

And as he stood there, obviously heart-broken, out of what appeared to be a genuine love and care for Mayor Ford, I saw the love of God.

I’m sure that God is upset with all that’s gone wrong with Toronto’s mayor. But I’m also pretty sure that God has never once laughed at, mocked or felt shadenfreude toward Rob Ford. Perhaps God, too, is struggling to hold back tears; at a human being, a government, a city, and a world full of judges who themselves are falling short.

The sad fact in all of this is that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s train wreck says as much about us as it does about him. His incredible capacity to deny and deceive is only matched by our unrelenting desire to mock and destroy.

We can only hope that the heart-broken love of God shown through Jim Flaherty will one day flow through us.

Imaging God via Junie B. Jones

As I read children’s author, Barbara Park’s obituary today, there was a sentence that really struck me;

“As reviewers often remarked, it is no small trick for an adult to write convincingly in the first-person voice of a child.”

As soon as I read those words I thought, “Yeah, but she was made in the image of a God who does that all the time!” Our unlimited, infinite Maker – the adult mind – has been writing his story through limited, finite human minds and voices for a very long time.

I’ve never really thought about that before; how far God had to bend down in terms of the language he used, how his perfect ability to communicate had to be simplified so that we could understand.

While Barbara Park had to span the relatively short distance between adult and six year old, God moved from Trinitarian communal perfection to us! Imagine God thinking, “Okay, so how are we going to say that in a way that they’ll understand… in a way that’s creature-appropriate, relevant and not over their heads?”

Junie B. Jones (one of Park’s main protagonists) often used superlatives like ‘bestest’ and ‘funnest’, because somewhere in the language development process of kids, those words seem most appropriate. Surely there’s a grace in speaking in a less-than-perfect way for a child’s sake. And that God would let us use small words like ‘father’, ‘shepherd’ and ‘husband’ to describe him is a powerful evidence of his love.

As I think about that, I bet that Barbara Park felt all kinds of love as she entered into Junie B. Jones’ world. And surely that love led to the best word choice.

 

Worry-free Chickadees

Last night – as I was stressing out about something – I decided to read and remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 6 – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (25-27, NIV).

This morning he spoke those same words again.  I was hiking in the Weaselhead Conservation Area – temperature -13 degrees C. – hoping to photograph some snowflakes. It wasn’t really working out, but as I tried to capture some frost on a metal railing, two chickadees jumped in front of my lens. I think they wanted to play – or show off. One actually perched on the end of my lens. Another landed on my toque and then on my shoulders and arms. I couldn’t help but laugh. They were flitting all over the place, buzzing my head, singing like crazy and getting into my face (and heart).  As I watched them swoop all around me I noticed how beautiful they were in motion. Who knew chickadees came in so many different shapes? The photos don’t do them justice.

I am very thankful for the encouraging words those birds spoke to me. When I left I said, “Thanks!”