what's in a name?

As my wife and I anticipate the birth of our second child we find ourselves immersed in the project of picking names (we don’t know the gender). The resources at our disposal are immense and oftentimes overwhelming - books, websites, and opinion after opinion. At times name-picking is an arduous task, with endless dislike or disagreement. Yet there are also moments when the process is quite fun, even comical.

Take “David” for example (no, there will not be a David Jr. if the baby is boy!):
  • David remains a consistent favorite, as high as #15 in popularity.
  • Origin: Hebrew/Biblical
  • Meaning: “beloved”
  • Nicknames: Dave, Davy, Doftja (low-German for "little David")
  • Suggested sisters: Karen, Deborah, Diana, Susan, Kathy
  • Suggested brothers: Michael, Stephen, Alan, Mark, Daniel
  • Random: David is a death row name; a name for smart kids (yes!); future Olympian (curling?); workoholic (uh-oh!); charmer.
For fun, check out the random baby name generator. A few of my “favorites” were Hooper, Chet, and Ugo (boys) and Platt, Welby, and Poppy (girls).

All this naming has gotten me thinking, what’s in a name?

We picked Landon for our son mainly because we liked the sound, not because of its meaning (“long hill or grassy meadow”) or history (e.g. Michael Landon). For others, the meaning or history of a name is central (especially true in the biblical narrative). You know, the third son on the husbands side of the family has to have a capital "T" in their middle name - or something like that. It’s a big deal!

Names also carry with them associations, both positive or negative depending on who we’ve met or heard of with a certain name. When I hear “Stanley” I think of the theologian I wrote my Masters thesis on. I like the name (Julie does NOT!). Oh well :-).

But I don’t think it’s beneficial to over-analyze names and the whole naming process (some would disagree). It’s just so different for everyone. Yet there is something powerful about the process of naming - this gift from a parent to a child that will last a lifetime (most times).

Which is why I think God’s act of naming in the Bible is such a central characteristic to God’s action in the world. Christians believe that salvation is not something we attain through our own doing, but is God’s gift to us. In the biblical story, we see how God’s initiates - God calls individuals, oftentimes changing their names to reflect this calling (e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Peter, and Paul). And while most of our names don’t reflect such a dramatic calling, there is one name - or label - that God gives to all of us which reflects who we are:
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
Whether you’re a Bob, a Michelle, a David, a Brayden, or even a Hooper or Poppy, your name itself may be insignificant or trivial. The fact your are called a child of God, however, is anything but insignificant or trivial.

What’s in a name? At times, not much. At other times, everything.

“over and over again”

I’ve been preparing to lead worship this week at our church. For the most part I enjoy preparing songs, selecting scripture readings, and crafting an overall experience that will hopefully lead the congregation to connect with God and one another.

Coincidentally this past week I’ve come across some thought-provoking pieces on the role and purpose of worship in the life of a church.

First, I read an article by religion professor Debra Dean Murphy, that asks the question, “should worship be entertaining?” She suggests “we ought to regard worship as the slow transformation of our desires and our dead-end ways.” By focusing on the resources at hand (e.g. people, not just technology or style), Murphy leaves the reader with this challenge: “if we’re not consumed with being consumers of entertainment, this work, our worship, in whatever setting we find ourselves, will be a beautiful thing” (emphasis mine).

Second, I came across this interview with author and artist Ian Morgan Cron:



Here’s a few lines that stuck out to me as I listened:

"God most often works very slowly..."

"We keep amping [worship] up. It is like being a junkie."

"When Christianity becomes an instinct...that's when you know you've arrived...telling the story over and over again..."

In both these reflections, we’re confronted with a tension in worship: our desire to experience God now is contrasted with the reality that experiencing God is often an elusive endeavor. We try so hard to meet God by the many worshipful means at our disposal: a vast blend of catchy songs, relevant sermons, a few hymns, some artsy images, all kinds of prayers, intellectual readings, and some feel-good testimonies. Oh, and maybe some scripture if there’s time :-(. I was struck, however, how both individuals commented on the patience required to worship God. Worship isn’t supposed to be easy.

In some ways, this adds pressure to my worship leading preparation. I don’t want to force my concept of worship onto the congregation or simply pander to the tastes of those in my church out of my own insecurities. Yet this reminder also takes some of the pressure off as well. Each Sunday gathering is but only one day in the year in the life of our church in the gathering of the saints around the world throughout history. I can’t do it all in one worship service. Nor should I.

In the routine of weekly worship, let’s remember this: each Sunday is one chapter of many as we gather to rehearse and remember the story of God in our midst “over and over again.”

fads

Fads.

Our culture is prone to fads. Social media only increases the faddishness of our culture. Take fashion. My wife asked me recently, “who picks the fashion trends each year?” It seems completely random - most times absurd - what is deemed popular. Yet every year new fashions catch on. Fads are born. “Mom-jeans” anyone!?!

In general, I find fads quite intriguing. They make cultural history so interesting and colorful, even if mostly ridiculous looking back. And yes, we all do it. No saying, “I’m glad I’m not faddish!” Even 'counter-cultural' can become a fad.

A few random fads I’ve noticed are:

Planking: lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location and posting a picture on the Internet.

Sliders: mini-hamburgers. I think every restaurant has these now.

“whassup”: ad campaign that had men all over greeting each other in this really annoying, yet catchy, manner.

Reality TV: Even though it's been running for over ten years, I still hope this is only a fad!

Calculator watch: really thought this one would stick around...


As a pastor, I’m also led to think of religion and spirituality - fads abound here as well:

Prayer of Jabez: an obscure Old Testament passage used to ‘guarantee’ prosperity and success.

The Secret: Oprah-endorsed philosophy suggesting that positive thinking can literally change the energy of the universe, creating life-changing results such as increased wealth, health, and happiness.

WWJD bracelets: a whole industry of merchandise asking the question, “what would Jesus do?”


So, I’m curious, what’s your favorite (or least favorite!) fad?

Rumors of God

ru·mor /ˈrumər/ [roo-mer]
noun
1. a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts: "a rumor of war."

There are rumors all around us. Relationships. Sports. Politics. Celebrity gossip is an industry built on rumor. Rumors can be intriguing, but they also create uncertainty and even fear. Some have called ours a “culture of fear.” People live in a constant state of distress, often fueled by rumors that such and such did or may happen. The result: people live disoriented lives, unsure what reality is. Unhappiness wins.

Well, such a state also applies to Christianity in America, or at least so says young(er) evangelical pastors/leaders Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson. In their new book, Rumors of God, these men raise an important issue for Christians in America: “Christians talk a lot about what we are doing or how we are doing it, but don’t discuss why any of it even matters.” Any basis for faith is left unexplored or ill-defined. Any knowledge of meaning and reality is mere rumor.

In the face of this problem, the book sets out to confirm the rumors “that God is doing something new in the church.” In doing so, the author’s trace central aspects of 21st Century evangelicalism, all under the rubric of these “rumors of God” - life, kingdom, generosity, love, grace, freedom, commitment, community, justice, and hope.

Stylistically, the book is easy to read, full of engaging stories and straightforward explanations. I’ll be clear, at times depth is lacking (e.g. definition of the gospel - ch. 5) and the chapters could have been integrated better - it seems like ten separate sermons.. But if anything, the book should push the reader explore the themes further, testing for ourselves whether these “rumors” are true. There is only so much you can do in 189 pages!

I appreciated how in summarizing these broad topics, the authors present a balanced perspective that refuses (mostly) to pick sides of the evangelical theological spectrum on most topics. Their interaction with a variety of sources exemplify this strength. The main exception, however, is central. They limit the gospel to a penal substitutionary view of atonement (ch.5). Including their discussion on justice here (ch.9) would have enhanced their definition of the gospel. It's just too narrow. In fact, it was the discussion of justice I found most illuminating. A holistic “biblical justice” is defined, one which refuses to accept justice in the world as “optional initiatives for Christians looking for extra credit from God.” This is part of the “good news” of God’s kingdom, no!?! Intended or not, chapter order can communicate importance.

If I were to summarize my evaluation, I'd say Rumors of God is incomplete. But that’s okay. It succeeds in confirming what the rumors are (grace, love, community, justice, etc...) with the real task left to the reader. Knowing the rumors, now it’s up to the people of God to indeed confirm these rumors as reality and hope in our world. Rumors of God can help us along the way.

**The publisher provided me with an extra copy to give away. Let me know if you want it and I'll pass it along (comment and I'll arbitrarily decide who gets it)**



"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".

post-vacation blues

Summer is winding down. Vacations have or are wrapping up. The nights are cooler (although the days are hotter, thank goodness!). Vacation and rest shift to work and activity.

It can be a troubling time. Wikipedia calls it “post-vacation blues” - a time when the end of vacation can result in various levels of anxiety or depression. Unfortunately, this problem is fueled by a certain view of life: vacation = good; work = bad. The end of summer highlights this perspective. But we also carry it with us the rest of the year. We compartmentalize our lives (work/home, weekends/weekdays, summer/school year, etc...). We live differently in each “compartment” of life. Even our faith reflects such a view, summarized by the term “Sunday Christian.”

But as Christians, we aren’t called to follow Jesus some of the time. And rest and relaxation isn’t supposed to be a summer or weekend luxury. The encouragement in Hebrews to “make every effort to enter [God’s] rest” (13:11) is a call for how we live our whole lives. Which is why we need to find ways to incorporate rest into all of life.

I have two pretty straightforward questions for consideration (with some suggestions to guide your reflection):
  • What priorities guide your schedule (e.g. money, family, recreation, etc...)?
-Pray the Lord’s Prayer as you reflect on this question.
  • What steps can you take to make rest part of your whole life?
-Pray the Lord’s Prayer again, allowing it to direct your priorities (e.g. work can be God’s way of meeting our needs - “daily bread” - but working lots and lots to accumulate excess wealth may not be “[God’s] will on earth as it is in heaven”).

I’ll leave you with this prayer from the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith:

On the seventh day God finished all the work of His hands,
and He rested from all His labors.
O Lord, You thought it a good thing

to pause,

reflect,

enjoy

what You had done.

Help us to do the same.

Help us to rest, thankful for our daily bread.

Help us to rest, enjoying a sweet foretaste of eternal peace.

Help us to rest, relying on your goodness,

and not on our own activity.

Help us to worship You, the giver of every perfect gift,

and slow us down

so that we can

be still and know that You are God
.

the forgotten airshow

This past weekend was the Abbotsford Airshow (in the town I grew up). I have great childhood memories of the event. I saw the Blackbird fly and the annual aerobatics of the Snowbirds directly over our house were a special treat. It was exciting every time.

As I grew up, however, my airshow appreciation waned, particularly as I became aware of the history of violence and what the evolution of the airplane has done for modern warfare. To be sure, I still marvel at the sights and sounds of an F-18 screaming through the sky. The airshow remains an amazing spectacle. But I'm hesitant to celebrate it. I’m no longer an innocent child in awe. I live in a globally connected world where I know that one jet’s show in Abbotsford is paralleled by another jet’s reality in war-torn regions of our globe.

But not all is lamentable in the world of aerospace. I got a letter this week highlighting the work of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and their response to the drought and food crisis in Northeast Africa. I also have family connections to MAF. The organization has planes and pilots around the world and specializes in bringing supplies to isolated and impoverished areas. But we don’t hear much about them. They fly small planes (not jets) that are relatively quiet and uninspiring from an aviation-fan perspective. You don't go to an airshow to see a small Cessna!

Yet for a starving child in Africa, seeing a small MAF plane circle and land must be the airshow of a lifetime!

This is the forgotten airshow - the type of airshow our world so desperately needs.


Go here to support the work of MAF in their African relief efforts.

If the Bible was still being written...response

Here my response to my previous post, “If the Bible was still being written...”

Much more could be said on each of these ideas/situations, but I throw them out for your consideration:

Greatest commandment: We can never get enough of this one if you ask me! Loving God and loving neighbor should push each one of us wherever we find ourselves. Perhaps some of Mother Theresa’s story, as suggested, would be appropriate.

Letters to unknown Christians: My initial thought was that the Bible would address popular Christians. You know, those with the most influence to make a difference or those models of success so often praised (e.g. megachurches, popular writers, etc...). And they might be included (although not necessarily in positive light). Instead, I’m thinking of those Christians toiling in the trenches of society, being ‘salt and light’, not looking for the spotlight. The shelter volunteer. The high school teacher. The church nursery worker. The roofer. They need encouragement!

Challenging modern day Pharisees: I need to be careful with this one (maybe I’m one of them!). Jesus’ harshest teaching was reserved for the religious majority, the ones leading and shaping the religious culture of the day. And he wasn’t impressed. I wonder if much of the labeling and conflict in North American evangelicalism wouldn’t be the topic of a warning or two, to which people on all sides of whatever spectrum is created receive more than just a light slap on the wrist for their behavior? I’m thinking a contemporary 1 John here.

Encouraging the persecuted church: I live in Canada. I don’t experience persecution for my faith - and I don’t dare pretend the minor challenges to my faith in a post-Christian culture equate to persecution in the Biblical sense. There are people around the world who are disowned by their families and even die for their decision to place Jesus as Lord. Christians in Iran, China, parts of Africa live in constant danger. They need to be encouraged to persevere.

Money: Need I say more?

Care for the “least of these”: Likely specific people and places came the minds of Jesus’ audience when he taught this. The same should be true for us. The person living in the cardboard shack. The socially awkward coworker. The gang member. Your alcoholic neighbor. You get the point...

Prayer and song:
A modern day book of psalms would be great, no!?!

Faithfulness in a culture of religious freedom: This one is primarily addressed to Christians in the developed world. The early church in the New Testament lived in constant odds with their society, not just spiritually, but politically. Not the case for many of us. We are free to practice our faith to our hearts content, so long as it doesn’t intrude too much. Here are a few areas I think need addressing:
-the church in suburbia
-the church in the city
-the church who’s trying to be culturally relevant
-the church who’s trying to be culturally pleasing
-the church and democratic government
-leadership in the church
There you go. This list is far from exhaustive, I know. Feel free to add more!

If the Bible was still being written...

I’m always intrigued when I’m reminded of some of the background stories (context) behind the actual words of the Bible. John’s famous line “God is love” was born of out of a messy leadership conflict (1 John 4:8). Paul’s unifying dictum “you are all one in Christ” addressed social and racial tensions (Gal. 3:28). The book of Revelation wasn’t written to inspire a whole industry of apocalyptic ‘art’ (I use that term very loosely!), but addressed those first Christians who literally faced death for their decision to place Jesus as Lord. I could go on and on.

And really, we shouldn’t be surprised when we we’re confronted by such messiness. History, and our own lives for that matter, tells a story full of conflict and struggle. I take comfort knowing the themes of scripture arise from a world not unlike our own.

From this idea, a hypothetical question recently came to mind:

If the bible was still being written, which issues or stories would be addressed?

I’m not asking this to delve into issues of the closed biblical canon. I have a pretty strong confidence in the decisions made by the early church fathers in the first 300+ years of church history. No, I just think it’s an intriguing question. The Bible addressed specific places, people, and situations. I can relate to that. So, which people, places, and situations would be addressed today?

I’d love to hear your responses.

CLICK HERE FOR MY RESPONSE

“the world is not the way we thought it was going to be”

Anytime conflict arises - personal or social - it’s easy to become caught up in the moment. For my 2-year-old son, “no!” or “mine!” are provoked easily, even leading to moments of hysteria if things don’t go his way. But that’s normal. Yet even adults or groups in culture broach similar hysteria if specific things don’t go their way.

Take the ongoing saga of homosexuality and Christianity for example. For some, recent legislation in parts of the U.S. and the full-on acceptance of gay marriage in Canada should be accepted by Christians and within the church. To disagree with this is seen as ridiculous! Yet others aren’t so quick to accept such change. For many Christians, the cultural shift to accept homosexuality is one of the greatest battles Christians should fight. Thus, sides are picked, theologies defended, and relationships broken. Both sides are prone to hysterics in defending their side (or simply bashing the other side).

It’s interesting, though, because oftentimes the conflict centers around specific definitions of homosexuality itself (e.g. biological, social, or biblical definitions) without much consideration for the factors driving the conversation.

Renowned biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, offers an insightful comment on the issue in a recent interview:
“It is an amorphous anxiety that we’re in a free fall as a society. And I think we kind of are in free fall as a society, but I don’t think it has anything to do with gays and lesbians particularly.”
Instead, Brueggemann suggests, the emotionally charged conflict around homosexuality has more to do with people’s unease when “the world is not the way we thought it was going to be.” Like my two-year-old when things don’t go his way, people from all perspectives can act irrationally if the world around them is not as they’d like it to be. Homosexuality just happens to be the current illustration. I think Brueggemann’s onto something.

When expectations aren’t met, fear, loss, frustration, and unease fuel the conflict for all involved. Engaging in dialogue and achieving understanding around the dynamics of homosexuality and Christianity are furthest from the minds of many. They just want their world back (or for the first time). And they’ll do whatever it takes to get it.

Unless people process their feelings of loss and frustration, emotionally charged conflict will likely continue to guide the debate on this and many other issues facing Christians in the 21st Century.

So I ask: what comes to mind when you hear Brueggemann’s phrase?
“the world is not the way [I] thought it was going to be.”
And if you’re honest, how does your answer influence your life and faith in the world?

the exception of good music - "farther along"

It’s not often a song stops you in your tracks. You see, music is everywhere, not just in the elevator (thank goodness!). But such a presence dilutes the quality of music we hear. Quantity does not equal quality! But there are exceptions.

To me good music connects with the listeners experience not just through the lyrics, but the music. Like all good art, a song shouldn’t just tell the truth, but represent the truth - rhythm, vocals, lyrics, and overall band dynamics combine to communicate reality as we know it. And in the case of Josh Garrells“Farther Along.” a little bit of hope along the way is always welcome.

Garrells’ soulful voice, tasteful blend of musical styles, and creative ability to communicate hope in the midst of earth’s chaos is inspiring. “Farther Along” does just that.


Farther along we'll know all about it
Farther along we'll understand why
So, cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We'll understand this, all by and by

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man died, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because he loves 'em both...

I found Josh Garrells via Noisetrade. Check it out, it’s great!

"Flood Waters" is another great hopeful song:

rest and reading

I came back from vacation last week rested. As I mentioned before I left, I think rest is important. I recently read how our rest should be likened to the agricultural concept of fallow (when a field uncultivated - plowed but left unseeded for a season or more). A pastor friend asks, “Do you confuse fallow time with shallow time?” He goes on to quote Len Sweet. Here’s the closing snippet:
When it looks on the surface like nothing is happening, down deep, everything is happening...

Let the soil of your life lie fallow for a season, plowed but not planted. To rest from doing allows the soil to be enriched by God, making the soul more fertile for God's next planting.
"Plowed but not planted..." I like that. These are wise words in a world where success is most often associated with concepts like productivity, results, and growth.

Personally, a great way to practice such rest is to read novels. This spring/summer I ‘plowed’ through the Harry Potter series for the first time. I loved it. The narrative of Harry and his escapades at Hogwarts and beyond captured my attention right from the get-go. It wasn’t that I love fantasy novels. I don’t. I just like good stories. And J.K. Rowling writes a good story.

And in a way, reading a good story can be like the time of rest in the quote above. I mean, practically speaking, I didn’t need to read seven books to be told that we can have hope that good triumphs over evil and that the true depths of love are of the sacrificial variety. People make such claims a lot. I could have saved myself a lot time.

But the life of hope and love isn’t just an idea captured in a sentence or a paragraph or a sermon. For the depth of these virtues to become reality in the world, they need to be deeply rooted. And such rootedness takes time. Seven Harry Potter books only scratch the surface.

And so I look forward to reading more good stories, however unproductive such a practice seems from the outside. For whether it’s reading a novel, watching a film, biking with my son, or walking along a beach with my wife - when it looks on the surface like nothing is happening, down deep, everything is happening...