seasonal faith

The final few weeks of summer in the life of a pastor typically involve preparation, planning, meetings, brainstorming, and other such activities related to a congregation’s fall kick-off. Basically, many modern churches follow the school calendar when it comes to primary programming of events and activities beyond weekly worship.

In many ways, this makes sense. People are often away during the summer months and time of rest from the busyness of ministry can maintain a necessary level of sanity (!!!) in the annual life of congregational programming. And practically speaking, when many other aspects of culture break for the summer months, it makes sense for churches to shift gears as well.

I’m generally okay with this situation - I like my rest and relaxation!

But I wonder, generally speaking, in our acceptance of seasonal church ministry do we risk unintentionally accepting a seasonal faith?

Have you ever asked this question: Do we make following Jesus a seasonal activity?

And these words from Christopher Wright only sharpen the challenge:
“We are called to role of the prophet, not just of the chaplain. That is, the church’s role is not simply to put a veneer of uncritical blessing on whatever social or economic (or military) enterprises take place in the public arena.” (The Mission of God's People)
This should include our calendars.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many valid reasons to shift gears for a few months - rest is healthy and necessary, for individuals and churches. But let’s know why. And if necessary, let’s be ready to model a different way. After all, following Jesus doesn’t happen at the whim of popular culture or at a pace that suits our personal convenience. It may be obvious, but it’s a healthy reminder: we follow Jesus in all seasons.

The blessedness of the Christian life is that it’s about our whole life, all of the time. 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” 
(Dt. 6:5, Mt. 22:37).

weekly clips - U2 "Where the Streets Have No Name"

Had this in my head all week - classic!

blessing the "other"

As I prepare to preach on Genesis 46-47, this brief interaction between the patriarch, Jacob, and Egypt's grand vizier, Pharaoh, has gotten my attention. It's a story, often lost in the drama of Joseph and his brothers, that is worth reflection:
Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?” 

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers. ” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence (47:7-10).
Walter Brueggeman describes this scene as a “dramatic meeting between the ‘Lord of Egypt’ and the ‘Father of Promise’” It’s a stark contrast, one which reveals how Jacob handles being in this strange land – “Pharaoh has land. He is settled, safe, and prosperous. Jacob has none. But he believes the promise far beyond any Egyptian realities.”

It’s true, Jacob’s blessing of Pharaoh could be describing a simple greeting (e.g. “Hello, hope you well”) or a sign of reverence (“Your worship”). But it could also mean a literal blessing, where, like earlier with Joseph and Potipher (Gen. 39), the presence of God’s people leads to blessing for others.

I like to think it’s the latter.

You see, Jacob doesn’t shrink back from living and interacting with these pagan people – these “others” – the Egyptians. He engages Pharaoh. He blesses Pharaoh – a blessing that doesn’t compromise his ideals, but is an extension of them. True, Jacob is far from becoming Egyptian, but he doesn’t ignore the Egyptians either. Or run away from them. Or mock them. Or judge them. Not unlike Jesus’ teaching on life in the world (Jn. 17:16), suggests Brueggemann, Jacob is “in Egypt, but not of Egypt.”

For Christians, living in the world as "strangers and aliens" (1 Pt. 2:11) in our allegiance of Jesus, Jacob's examples leads to some key questions to consider:
  • How do you act or treat others when you’re in uncomfortable circumstances? 
  • Do you retreat, ignore, or even ridicule those in “the world”? 
  • Or does the hope of God’s promised presence cause you, like Jacob, to be a blessing to those around you, wherever you are and to whomever “they” may be?

we need the real thing

Modern life has a way of distancing us from the beauty of nature. Technologization, urbanization, globalization and a whole host of other “zations” put the world at our fingertips, while ironically, we never actually have to encounter the world. Thus we have fabricated attempts at beauty (television, internet, movies) - attempts that never quite live up to the real thing, perhaps even conditioning us to believe that our feeble attempts at beauty’s replication are the real thing. Here is where technology's benefits are incomplete, even debilitating. We need more.

We need the real thing.

This past weekend I experienced the real thing in the form of two amazing ocean sunsets:

All photos taken at Deception Pass, Washington, USA.

Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.
He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains. 
 Psalm 104:1-6

weekly clips: "Authorizing vs. Authority" - Walter Brueggemann

This reflection from Walter Brueggemann on the authority of the bible relates well to my post from earlier this week, "Stop applying the bible!"

stop applying the bible!

A key word often associated with reading the bible is “application.” How does this ancient text of scripture apply to our lives today? As a teacher and preacher of the bible, I’m constantly wrestling with how the complex message of the bible is relevant to our complex lives. As Christians we want – and need! – our beliefs to connect with everyday life. Important stuff!

But I actually think it’s time we stop applying the bible!

Or at the very least, we need to stop making application our goal.

In his book, The Cost of Community, Jamie Arpin-Ricci offers an alternative worthy of reflection:
In application, we take a new insight, idea or truth and apply it to our existing way of life, like adding a LEGO block on top of another. Considering the implications requires that we examine our entire way of life—our assumptions, our expectations and our every choice—in light of this new understanding or conviction. It is being willing to make any change, no matter how difficult or demanding, if it means being more faithful as a disciple of Jesus Christ.   
If application is our primary goal in reading the bible, we risk adopting a limited faith, one in which we seek answers to life’s question without examining life itself. We can forget that following Jesus rarely offers solutions (i.e. application) for our problems in life. Instead, following Jesus offers a solution for life itself. We need the implications of the bible to sustain us in the journey of faith – implications like faith, hope, and love to form our everyday lives. Living in these implications of the bible, application doesn’t need description as it’s embodied by our very lives. Application comes naturally.

I’ll close with words from a post several years ago on this very topic:
As we reflect on Jesus’ teachings, the implications of what he said will invariably lead to transformation of how we live. Application isn’t absent. Rather, application develops out of our wrestling with the implications of being a follower of Jesus in our specific contexts. This will be different for me. Different for you. Different for the CEO of a major corporation. Different for the roofer in Abbotsford. Quite simply, application isn’t given to us. Application is discovered.

Demanding easy applications attempts to “do” Christianity without having our lives transformed by the implications of following Jesus in our everyday lives. As difficult as it may be, I’d much rather explore the depth of implications than the emptiness of generic applications.

Olympics and our "true colors"

Ok, one more Olympics-related post...

I’ve already mentioned the disappointment and difficulty that comes with the Olympics - the “heartbreak” as I heard several announcers describe. And then we are inundated with images and stories of excellence and elation in victory and accomplishment. 

In both instances (victory and defeat), I find it intriguing to observe the athletes in their response. Will disappointment result in bitterness and anger, or humility and sometimes even thankfulness (for the chance of just being an Olympian - a very Canadian response!). Does victory lead to hyped-up displays of self-congratulation or (similar to above) humility and thankfulness for the opportunity to win. Over two weeks in countless competitions, the reactions vary greatly. 

Essentially, day after day for the duration of the games, not only do we see the athletic achievements of these individuals, we see their character - true colors revealed in both victory and loss.

These reactions offer a level of bonus coverage beyond the details of the competition. And often, the winners and losers aren’t who we’d expect. And there aren’t any medals for character. Which makes me think, in a society so dominated by work/reward attitudes - reflected so deeply in the nature of competitive sport - what role does character play in our society?

We put great energy into achieving success in the details of life (e.g. job, relationships, money, etc...), details that are constantly changing depending on many different variables. Not unlike Olympic athletes investing in their sports, we exert ourselves to succeed. We invest time, energy, and money into “getting ahead.”

And I wonder...Do we invest in character?

No doubt situations of victory and defeat will come our way and like the Olympians our character will be revealed. And we’ll be forced measure our worth differently - success in personhood, not achievement. True victory, I believe, is only found in our character. We may not all be Olympians, but we all have character. And we can all be winners!

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col. 3:12-14 NIV)

weekly clips: "something new" - Miroslav Volf

In my previous post, I asked this question: What do we do with disappointment in life?

This reflection from Miroslav Volf responds to such questions, offering an honest theological reflection on the significance of Jesus - the significance of cross and resurrection in a life often filled with bitter disappointment:

h/t to the Work of the People (again!)

Olympic hype

With the London Olympics now in their second week, we’ve had our fair share of stories filled with triumph, surprise, excellence and sportsmanship. 

To say the Olympics is inspirational is an understatement.

And when it comes to the Olympics, inspiration is often accompanied with hype. We sure love to celebrate our beloved athletes! But to be honest, I think there is way too much hype for certain athletes in the Olympics. Don’t get me wrong, the achievements of Usain Bolt (makes fast look easy!), Michael Phelps (another 4 gold medals!), and Missy Franklin (4 gold medals at age 17) deserve some hype.

But when their excellence becomes the benchmark for everyone’s excellence, hype becomes unreasonable. And as expectations are not met, both athletes and fans trade the hype for disappointment.

Media coverage does well to tell the stories of the many Olympic athletes, bringing a face to the often obscure sports that comprise the Olympic games. But how the stories are told can be a problem. Unreasonable hype surrounds athletes who, if we’re honest, don’t offer the guarantee for success that coverage suggests.

How do we respond when repeated promos for an athlete's greatness and “sure” success are followed by a last place finish, a tripped over hurdle, hometown failure, or this doozy of a dive back flop?

With all the hype for greatness, everyone is set up for disappointment.

Which has me thinking: What do we do with the disappointment at the Olympics?

And seeing as the Olympics have a way of acting as a sort-of microcosm of our lives (i.e. the journey of struggle and success) I can’t help but also consider this: What do we do with disappointment in life?

A few times in the Bible, life and faith is related to athletics - “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1). As a Christian and a fan of sport, I think the metaphor has stood the test of time. It makes sense

But how the Bible defines success won’t always make sense, particularly to the modern Olympic fan where hype is all we know.

The true nature of the race - to follow Jesus - is one that gets little hype. It’s a race with no guarantee of victory and accolades - a race characterized by servanthood and suffering. It’s by the example and teaching of Jesus that we know:

"The last will be first, and the first will be last" (Mt. 20:16).


"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Mt. 16:24-26)

The Olympics remind us that for every storybook ending there are countless untold stories of frustration, loss, failure, and disappointment. And our Olympic hype only exacerbates the situation.

But the Christian story offers an alternative to the hype-disappointment cycle of so many Olympic stories. Hype and success aren’t always what they seem. And it is possible to have hope amidst failure. Failure and disappointment don’t have the last word. In fact, in God’s failure (Jesus’s death) we see the greatest victory of all (Jesus’s resurrection)!

weekly clips: Monty Python Olympics

Considering the London Olympics are happening, I figured this clip was appropriate for this week - Monty Python's "Silly Olympics."

the world around me

There is something about vacation that makes me pay more attention to world around me. I notice the nuances of sights and sounds near and far. Here’s a collection of some favorites from my recent vacation:
My little girl
My tunnel boy
Bear Creek Provincial Park, BC
Gold River, Golden Ears, BC

Nice sky
More nice sky
Not so nice sky, Okanogan Lake, BC

Mountains, Kelowna, BC
Kettle Valley Trail, Kelowna, BC