hope in waiting

Waiting.

Waiting can be a big deal. Waiting isn’t always a simple action we perform (e.g. waiting for the bus), but can also characterize a part of who we are. Waiting, in many instances, is a condition placed upon our lives. And it's hard.

Waiting for the birth of a child illustrates such a condition. Three days past due, Julie and I are in the midst of waiting to meet out second child. And such waiting, while filled with much hope and anticipation, isn’t always easy. We are impatient. Come on baby, come out already! It’s a helpless feeling, really.

In our impatience to meet baby, I was led to read this famous Bible passage in Isaiah: “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31 NRSV). This verse offers a good reminder to place my focus on God and remember the promise that strength lies in God’s work in our lives. Timely words, no doubt.

Trouble is, the verse can easily become shallow sentimentality, not affecting the situation whatsoever. Nice words, but no difference to me. Or, we put all our energy on the renewal/strength part. But when renewal and strength don’t ensue, we get frustrated. Again, nice words, but for us, we want the baby out now (especially Julie!)! Insert your own pressing situation and I think you’ll understand.

We too easily neglect the waiting in the Isaiah passage. We think waiting, with God’s help, is the part to overcome. Yet in the Hebrew of Isaiah, waiting is an integral part to the experience of the faith journey. Not negative or passive as we often see it, the word insinuates intention on our part. Waiting is active. And more importantly, waiting is hopeful. Hence the NIV, “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.”

As I find renewal and strength still absent (and likely the case in some ways for the next several months with a newborn baby!), I’m trying to place my waiting in the right context. It’s necessary, even good. But it’s still hard and I’m still impatient. Yet I’m hopeful. In the Bible, bizarre for us fast-paced moderners, waiting and hope are the same thing.

Waiting needs hope. Waiting is hope.

"gospelizing"

Gospel - literally, “good news.”

As Christians, we tend to think of the gospel in terms of ideas, beliefs, and religious constructs. To share the gospel - often part of our “testimony” - is to explain the significance of the Christian faith, making clear the credibility of belief in God revealed in Jesus Christ.

In the process, however, we neglect an important fact in the New Testament story: “gospel” is often a verb. Unlike a noun, a verb describes action. We don’t simply share “the gospel” as an idea (noun), but we live it out with our whole lives (verb). As Bruxy Cavey suggests, Christians go about “good-newsing” the world, “gospelizing” the people around us in word and action. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” means your whole life (Mt. 22:37).

So, how you drive, how you treat others in the grocery store, how you respond to the homeless women on the sidewalk, how you resolve conflict with your neighbor, how you treat your boss...all these things matter because they are part of the “good news.”

As we consider, then, how to share the gospel may we recognize that this “good news” isn’t merely an idea to agree with, but a whole-life-lived reflecting the ongoing transformation of Jesus in our midst - the gospel “written on our hearts, known and read by everyone” (2 Cor. 3:2).

This reflection is based on a conference I attended last week with pastor/teacher/writer, Bruxy Cavey of The Meeting House.

life, death, and “happy Terry Fox”

Life: Existence, yes. But also all that brings joy, peace, wholeness and unity. Synonyms are vivacity, sprightliness, vigor, verve, activity, energy.

Death: The end of life. Destruction. The absence of joy, peace, wholeness and unity. Synonyms include decease, demise, passing, departure.

Life has been on my mind lately. Julie and I are eagerly anticipating the birth our 2nd child - the entry of new life into our family and the world. I can’t wait!

But death lingers in my mind as well, especially when my 3-year-old asks me, “Where’s Terry Fox Daddy?”

You see, this past weekend we took our son to participate in his first Terry Fox Run. We explained to him how Terry got sick and lost his leg. But then courageously ran with a metal leg. Our son liked that part. He’s mesmerized by video of Fox running. But he didn’t like the part about Terry Fox dying. “I want to see happy Terry Fox” my son exclaimed as we watched clips of Terry’s Marathon of Hope online. I found myself emotional as my innocent 3-year-old naively expressed this deep human aversion to death.

As I reflect on these mixed experiences, I realize how easy it is to compartmentalize life and death. The birth of a child - life! The passing of a loved one - death... But life experience tells me it’s never that simple. On the day our child is born, thousands of children around the world - just as deserving as ours - will suffer and even die. Ever since Terry Fox’s tragic death, life has been breathed into communities around the world, celebrating Terry’s example and raising millions of dollars to preserve life through cancer research. Life and death together. It’s perplexing.

In this messiness of life and death, I’m starting to realize that death doesn’t have to mean the end of life. On Sunday, amongst the crowd of Terry Fox Run participants, there was hope, life. People rallied to support a worthy cause. Terry’s inspiring memory leads people to create their own memories. In some ways, the annual Terry Fox Run is our attempt to overcome death, however limited or incomplete. In Terry’s death, there is still life. We are resilient.

As a Christian, I place such human resilience in the context of a greater hope. This life at the Terry Fox Run or through the birth of my child, are reflections of my ultimate hope in the face of death. This is a hope that my son’s desire to see “happy Terry Fox” isn’t merely sentimental. This hope is real - a hope that one day death will finally be overcome.

God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev. 21:4 NIV).

Playing for Change Day

“Play a song. Change the world.”

Really?

“Yes!” according to people around the world on this, the first annual Playing for Change Day - “a global day of action where musicians of all varieties perform on stages, cafés, city squares, and street corners worldwide and raise money to bring music into the lives of young people.”

Playing for Change is an organization that believes there is uniting power in musiLinkc. They are “dedicated to creating positive change through music & arts education.” Gathering musicians from around the globe, songs are recorded, videos made, and money raised - all with the expressed purpose to make the world a better place. It’s an inspiring project - one which I’m happy to endorse.



questioning technology

Technology is everywhere.

And these days, the technology we hear about is related to all-things social - Facebook, twitter, Google+, on and on and on... And technology is often represented by those cool, hip devices that have an “i” affixed to their name and which we all have to own - purely for functional purposes, of course ;-).

This week I received in the mail (yes, and on paper no less!) a challenging set of articles out of Regent College discussing the understanding and use of technology from a Christian perspective. It’s well worth the read - available online here.

A few things stood out to me:

1. Technology can enhance existing relationships, but is limited in creating them. Dr. Albert Borgmann makes the interesting comment that while “we should certainly recognize [social media strengths] and use social media to reinvigorate parishes and families...if there is no existing community, then social media is unsatisfying in and of itself.” His comment made me think how when it comes to technology - social media in particular - the old adage “quantity vs. quality” still applies. That is, don't place too much value on your number of Facebook friends, or you Twitter ranking, or blog stats - these present an incomplete image of reality for who you are in relationship to others. A timely reminder for all.

2. Creativity is needed to break our technological addiction. Too often basic techniques of addiction therapy are applied to how we respond to overuse of technology. “To combat the addiction, you have to discard the addicting substance” David Stearn quotes about common practice. But Stearns feels such an approach is both unhelpful and unrealistic, failing to account for the complexity of life in our technological culture. “If we cannot realistically give up a new device or social medium, we are left feeling hopeless.” And in the process, Stearns suggests, we miss examining how we might envision “an active domestication that reshapes the device or medium to be more closely aligned with our particular social values.” We need to figure out how to use technology well, not just get rid of it.

3. Hesitant technology users (“Luddites” says Ron Wilson) are often looked down at. I'll admit, I've experienced this. The “what, you don’t have a cell phone?” of a mere 3 years ago (to which I finally relented) has already turned into “what, you don’t have a iPhone? You are a pastor, aren't you?” Any questioning of technological advance, especially regarding social media or personal devices, is seen as regressive on all levels, however relevant the questions are. Yet isn’t it good to evaluate our use of technology in light of pointed observations such as this one Wilson makes: “Technology has lulled us all into a belief that we are available, accessible, and responsible 24/7 (a claim that belongs only to the triune God!).” My wife and I like to say (only partially joking): if you can’t reach us at home, that probably means we don’t want to talk to you.

4. And this is just funny: Upon receiving a Facebook friend request from “Martha S (623 friends)” Iwan Russel-Jones offers this comical observation: “What!! Martha and I have been close acquaintances for more than twenty-three years, during all of which time she has been my daughter. But she, too, at this point in time, feels the need to be my friend.”


These articles set up nicely for a set of lectures next month at Regent College. Dr. Albert Borgmann will be presenting this years Laing Lectures on October 19-20, titled “The Lure of Technology: Understanding and Reclaiming the World.” Should be very interesting.

heaven: some things to remember

This is the final post in a series, Heaven: Out of this World?

When we reorient ourselves around a view of heaven that is not merely “out of this world” there are some important things to remember.

1. When considering specifics of the afterlife (heaven, hell, consciousness, etc...), we need to remember: don’t get caught up in the details. There is much ambiguity when it comes to the afterlife. For example, at one point, Paul describes death as a vague spiritual experience of resting “with Christ” (Phil 1:21). Elsewhere, however he talks extensively about our resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15). While “spiritual” (different than our current bodies), Paul envisions a future physical reality. Which view is right? Well, maybe it is both. There may be two realities after we die. N.T. Wright describes this distinction by saying there is “life after death” – this “resting with Christ” – and then there is “life after, life after death.” And it is this second distinction – this time in which Christ returns and gathers his resurrected people in the new heavens and new earth – that much of the Bible is talking about.

But we just don’t know exactly what this will all look like. What will “resting with Christ” be like? Conscious experience? Like sleeping? We can only speculate. And what do a new heaven and a new earth look like? Earth, but a little better than now? It’s something totally new, yet an extension of God’s good creation. It’s still physical. But really, who knows!?! Again, we can only speculate. When we try to figure exactly how this works, we run the risk of distracting ourselves from the main point of it all: the hope that resurrection - new life - actually happens!

2. Not getting caught in endless speculation, we’re then called to remember that life in this world – the physical world around us – still matters to God. The “it was very good” of the creation story carries forward in this vision of the new heaven and new earth. God is not done with the earth and the physical side of creation.

Things like caring for the environment, feeding the hungry, working for the common good of people around us can reflect God’s plan of redemption for the world. How we treat the physical world and those around us is our testimony as Christians to our hope in the resurrection and a new heaven and a new earth. Our actions can become a foretaste of heaven.

3. And finally, in relaying this hope, we must remember such a reality is not our own doing. God initiates the new heaven and earth. Jesus announces and initiates the kingdom of God in the world. As followers of Jesus, we are exactly that: followers – empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in God’s plan of salvation for the world.

New heavens and a new earth. The kingdom of God. Future hope, indeed. But present reality as well. Revelation 21 sends us off with a vision of completion that is most inspiring to keep hoping in this salvation:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (Rev. 21:3-6 NIV).

This series is adapted from a sermon I preached at Killarney Park MB Church, Vancouver BC.

"my kingdom is not of this world"

This is the third post in a series, Heaven: Out of this World?

Jesus once said, "My kingdom is not of this world...my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36).

By itself, you could say this is affirming an other-worldly view of God’s kingdom or heaven such as I outlined in my first post. Yet if we look at the Gospels, we realize that the Kingdom of God/Heaven is more about allegiance and action in the world, than a literal place out in the cosmos.

For example. if we look at the Gospel of Mark, Jesus announces, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15). Surely he doesn’t mean heaven is near? He said this some 2000 years ago and nothing has changed! Plus, Mark’s whole gospel elaborates how the Kingdom of God is the work of God through Jesus in the world – healing, miracles and transformation are all recorded by Mark in describing what it looks like when God’s kingdom is near. Even for Jesus, then, the kingdom of God/Heaven - is not “out there” in some strange metaphysical location no one knows exists.

So we need to realize this important point: Jesus may have said God’s kingdom was "not of this world," but he didn't say God’s kingdom was out of this world. With Jesus’ victory over sin and death through his life, death, and resurrection, God’s kingdom comes to us.
Through Jesus, then, we can realize there is a concrete hope in the image of “a new heaven and a new earth.” "Your kingdom come" echos in history, making the future hope of heaven a realized hope today.

Next I’ll explore some things to remember in light of this understanding of heaven.


This series is adapted from a sermon I preached at Killarney Park MB Church, Vancouver BC.

"a new heaven and a new earth"

This is the second post in a series, Heaven: Out of this World?

So, as I explored in my previous post, beliefs about heaven are fueled by cultural assumptions that skew our understanding of what the bible actually teaches about heaven.

I closed my post with a question: Is God’s “good” creation - “heavens and earth” - really describing two realities, one of which we’ll finally escape from?

The phrase “a new heaven and a new earth” (Is. 65:17, Rev. 21:1) helps us answer this question.

In Hebrew and Greek, the words translated “new” in English also carry with them a meaning of renewal or restoration. In Isaiah 65, then, it’s not surprising that the rest of the passage is loaded with images of a prosperous earthly kingdom (houses, vineyards, good health, and long life). For Isaiah’s audience, heaven was a this-worldly vision. But lest we think this is just Old Testament ignorance - the New Testament people had progressed in their metaphysical beliefs - Revelation 21 extends the Isaiah vision. Heaven is seen as the “New Jerusalem” not up in the clouds but as a physical reality that is “coming down” to us (Rev. 21:2).

This image of “a new heaven and a new earth” reveals to us a hope not in some sort of vague, intangible, ethereal, hyper-spiritualistic reality separate from God’s creation. We must remember, God didn’t create with different levels of importance (heaven up there, and now for fun, let’s create this earth place to keep things interesting for a little while). God created the heavens and the earth, and all of it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Isaiah and Revelation remind us that God’s plan continues – heaven and earth in full unity, “a fusion” as N.T. Wright puts it.

“A new heaven and a new earth” – shalom – life as God intended it – this is our vision of the future, and should be our hope for today.

But you might be wondering, what about Jesus’ words, “My kingdom is not of this world...my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36)?

Stay tuned as my next post will explore that very question.


This series is adapted from a sermon I preached at Killarney Park MB Church, Vancouver BC.

heaven: out of this world?

Heaven is an intriguing topic. Many people imagine what the afterlife will involve with a hopeful expectation that life in this world - oftentimes filled with sorrow and suffering - is not all there is. There has to be more. Human experience in some form will continue. We often call this hope “heaven.” But what shapes our vision of heaven?

Pop-culture for sure (Gary Larson’s Far Side comics come to mind).

And let’s not forget the influence of Platonism, or Dante’s Paradiso, or even the recent story of a little boy’s journey to the heaven.

Personally, my childhood naïveté helped shape my view of heaven, where all the talk of praise and worship actually made me a little hesitant about this whole heaven place. I mean really, I thought, who wants to go to an eternal church service in the sky!?! - quite uninspiring for an active young boy.

In all these examples, heaven is literally out of this world - a spiritual reality “out there” so to speak.

The Bible talks about heaven, no doubt. In it we see phrases like “new heavens and a new earth” and “Kingdom of God/Heaven” along with the apocalyptic visions of certain OT prophets and the daunting book of Revelation. But all too often we import our cultural assumptions to these biblical references of heaven. We can forget that while Gary Larson may have been a comic genius, biblical scholar he was not.

For Christians, accepting these assumptions can be problematic. If heaven is “out there,” distinct from any concrete form of experience here on earth, we can develop the idea that life is only about putting in our time until “real” life begins (i.e. heaven). We long to “fly away” to the “sweet by and by.” And while we wait we withdraw from engaging the world around us. It is only temporary after all.

With such an understanding both within and outside of Christian circles, it’s no surprise technology has become a source of fulfillment in and of itself (as opposed to a tool for engaging life in this world). It’s an escape. And at its worst, such escaping to cyber-reality - be it pornography, games, Facebook, or even blogging (yes, me!) - can consume us, where in our own minds we are only ourselves if we’re online. Our only taste of heaven in this world is to escape it. Which only makes sense if we accept the cultural assumptions of heaven in the first place.

But as a Christian, I need to ask, is this really the biblical vision of heaven? Is God’s “good” creation - “heavens and earth” - really describing two realities, one of which we’ll finally escape from?

I’m not so sure...

Next, I’ll explore the biblical phrase, “new heavens and a new earth.”


This series is adapted from a sermon I preached at Killarney Park MB Church, Vancouver BC.

stop: randomness ahead!

It's been a bit of a random week - one of those periods where my blogging radar hasn't been able to pinpoint a specific topic to consider. But these types of weeks don't always mean an absence of interesting thoughts and ideas - some of which could eventually turn into a blog post. So stop! And consider some (hopefully-beneficial) randomness:

A quote:
“If we don’t learn to live with one another we will not live. We will either love each other as neighbors or we won’t be. I believe that it is an insult to me as a Christian to say that I cannot love as neighbor somebody who thinks differently than I do. Where did we ever get that idea?” (Miroslav Volf)
A lame church sign: "Tithe if you love Jesus, anyone can honk!" Boy, there is an explicit plea for money if I ever saw one. Budget struggles anyone?

An idea in my upcoming sermon: "Jesus said his kingdom was "not of this world" (Jn. 18:36). He didn't say his kingdom is out of this world." Subtle, but important distinction if you ask me.

A free sampler of songs based on the Lord's Prayer: "Abba Father."

A cool website that let's you explore the Sistine Chapel (still not the same as in person)

And finally, a music video of Willie Nelson singing Coldplay's "The Scientist" with a very interesting story to tell: