Category Archives: General

Joining an Ongoing Story

Alice was a lost soul wandering through a strange land trying to find her way back home. Along the way she stumbled upon a cat sitting on a tree branch. Initially frighten, she overcomes her fear and asks the Cat which way she ought to go. The Cat, being a bit mad, responded with perhaps the most powerful statement ever recorded, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”[1] George Harrison would later paraphrased Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat in the equally profound lyric, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”[2]

This advice, while originally given in the context of spatial dimensions, is equally valid in a temporal and spiritual sense. If we, the followers of Jesus, really want to find our Beloved in the darkness of the unknown, we need to first know where we are going. It may sounds strange to think about knowing where you going while embracing the mystery of the unknown. Yet, it is exactly in this paradox that we find the truth of life.

Years ago when the people of Israel were on the edge of the unknown with Jerusalem and the Temple about to be destroyed, the Creator sent the prophet Jeremiah to tell them not to worry. Rather they were to “stand at the crossroads” between the known and unknown and “ask for the ancient paths” (Jeremiah 6:16, NIV). It would be in walking down the ancient paths of those who followed the call of the Creator King that they would find rest for their souls.

The same is true for us today. We are the heirs of an ancient faith with roots back to the very beginning of time. We are not the first people to start this journey, nor will we be the last. Accordingly, we can look backwards to those who have gone ahead of us to find our way forward. As author of Hebrews reminds us, we are “surrounded” by a “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering us on, encouraging us to finish the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1, NIV).

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Roman Catholic Church once remarked that “Americans have never liked history” since the “past comes with obligations on the present, and the most cherished illusion of American life is that we can remake ourselves at will.”[3] This self-imposed historical amnesia causes us to have an unhealthy “egocentric obsession with the present”[4] as noted by Brian Zahnd. Once we embrace the concept that we are part of an ongoing story that is bigger than ourselves, then everything changes. No longer is the Christian faith about me or what I can get out of it. No longer is it just about our particular group within Christianity or our nation. Rather our eyes are opened to the bigger picture of God’s rule and reign that spans both time and space.

 

[1] Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Boston: International Pocket Library, 1941), 75.

[2] George Harrison, “Any Road,” in Brainwashed, Dark Horse/EMI, 2002, compact disk.

[3] Charles Chaput, “Remembering Who We Are and the Story We Belong To” (speech, Notre Dame, Indiana, October 19, 2016), National Catholic Register, accessed October 20, 2016.

[4] Brian Zahnd, Water To Wine: Some of My Story (Spello Press, 2016), Kindle edition, 1349.

Following Those Before Us

Our journey through the darkness of life is a lot like a blundering trip through the woods at night. The circumstances of life will sometimes force us to strike out into the unknown though we may want to stay where we are. We may even start off walking on a familiar path only to find ourselves lost in confusion far from any recognizable landmarks. At some point during these times of wandering we will most likely stumble across some type of marker left behind by those who went before us. And when we do stumble upon a marker, it can be hard to know which direction to go.

Luckily for us, some of the people before us kept a record of what they did and what the Lord did around and through them. We call this record the Bible and it was written over approximately 1,500 years by at least forty different authors. Within its pages we find life and encouragement to keep walking into the darkness of the unknown. We can read about a farmer named Gideon who nervously stepped out in faith and followed the Lord’s command. Or we can hear how a few fishermen, a tax collector and some backwoods nobodies changed the course of human history. Furthermore when we are awakened in the night by a thought provoking dream, we can open up the Scriptures and read about Joseph and his dreams. In reading these stories, we can build up our faith and courage as we see how God worked in and through average folks just like us.

In addition to reading the ancient stories, we can also talk to those around us. Years ago when I was in my late twenties I found myself lost in the darkness of life surrounded by lots of new concepts about God and life. As I pondering these things, I realized that I needed some help before I could fully embrace them. Looking around me, I asked some women and men in my church who I perceived were further along the ancient path to join me for coffee. Gathering together, we allowed ourselves to be completely honest with each other and ourselves. No concept or issue was off the table as we all wanted fully vet the new concepts we were learning. If the ideas were not in line with the person of Jesus and the Scriptures, then we didn’t want to walk down that path. This monthly “Kingdom Coffee” group soon became a guide for us as we traveled through the darkness of life.

It is easy for those of us in the United States of America to forget about the value of community. We are surrounded by an individualist society with a high value being placed on the views of the individual. And while there is some good that comes out of such a society, we must also recognize the value of belonging to a faith that is bigger and older than any of us. “We do not read the Bible as isolated individuals,” Bishop Kallistos Ware of the Eastern Orthodox Church reminds us, “interpreting it solely by the light of our private understanding, or in terms of current theories about source, form or redaction criticism. We read it as members of the Church, in communion with all the other members throughout the ages.”[1]

Theology, after all, is the “ongoing conversation among those whom the God of the Bible has encountered in Jesus Christ.”[2] And in thinking about the community of believers, we must not limit ourselves to only those who are currently alive. Christianity, we must always remember, does not belong solely to the living but also to those who have confessed Christ throughout the ages. Accordingly there is wisdom in listening to and learning from both those who have walked before us in history as well as those living around us at this moment. It is a both/and concept in which we seek the counsel of others even when we are tempted to isolate ourselves.

[1] Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, 110.

[2] Stanley Grenz, John Franke. Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 233.

Learning the Rhythms of Work and Rest

“The rhythms of work and rest are fundamental to our well-being.” – Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership

I spent my twenties and early thirties running hard and fast with very time allowed for rest. It wasn’t that I was out partying or going “crazy.” Rather I was a workaholic like my forefathers before me.

For example, there was a time in my mid-twenties when I worked a full-time salaried job (think 40+ hours), joined a church planting team, went to school (VLI), and led/participated a few local church ministries in the sending church. I did all this while living an hour drive away from my day-job and sending church. So yeah, I was one busy guy – and I loved every moment of it!!

Somehow the Spirit of the Living God was able to break into my busy life and began the hard job of teaching me to slow down.

One of the things that the Spirit used to slow me down was my two sons. It may sound strange to think of children as something to help you find rest, but that’s my strange life! 😀

You see, over the years of being a parent I have noticed how much my kids need down times at home. They, like myself, have a strong desire to go out and have adventures in the wider world. Playing with friends, being at the park, going here or there…. yet as I watched them, I’ve noticed that there is something powerfully therapeutic about being home with all the family members.

Accordingly I have found myself staying home more and more these last few years. And in doing so, I have discovered that I do better with down days at home – which is quite the self-realization!

This doesn’t mean that I have stopped doing things. It just means that I’ve come very picky about what things I do and how often I do them.

The sirens of doing still call with their song tugging on my heart….but I’ve gotten better as resisting their song. And that is a good thing.

[The Sabbath is] a weekly reminder of our pledge to follow Jesus with our whole hearts, soul, bodies, and minds. To deny the Sabbath is to tell Jesus that we don’t trust him; that we have to keep on working in order to make things happen. The reverse is also true, to observe the Sabbath is to tell him and ourselves that God is in charge…

“To observe the Sabbath [is] to refocus our hearts toward Jesus and give us the strength to keep walking towards him. For, let’s face it, following Jesus is hard work. We are constantly in a battle with the sin within us, the evil one, and the culture around us as well as with the forces of nature. We need some time to stop and refocus.” – quote from The Here and Not Yet

Back on Bass

cr band bassIt has been about three years since I have played in a band, but I back now! 🙂

Last night I had the honor of joining the Vineyard Boise’s Celebrate Recovery band as they kicked off the evening with a worship set. They usually host the CR folks in the Chapel, which has an inmate setting.

However, being Good Friday, we had to move into the sanctuary, which meant a HUGE stage and lots of cool sound equipment. For example, I got to use a personal mixer that allowed me to adjust the band’s sound to my personal liking. Granted, why cool, playing with sound-canceling earbuds was very strange! The best thing about using good quality sound equipment means that our sound really came out great for people to listen to, after doing all this I think me and the guys should do a few more gigs around where we are… can’t harm, can it! We’ll need to invest in some good quality sound equipment, obviously we’re not breaking the bank but I know that there are some out there I have had recommended to me by some people in the business, I had a friend tell me “Graham Slee HiFi – free shipping on most preamps“, as he raised his eyebrows (he knows I like the bargains!) I could do with free shipping, it is always best to check it out anyway! Next year we could be on stages all over the country, not holding my breath but I’m also not shutting us down either.

All in all, it was a great evening. We played three songs and I didn’t make any big mistakes. The worship pastor even kept me on the schedule next month, which is a good sign! 😛

The Light That Leads Us Home

The following text is an excerpt from the recently released “The Light That Leads Us Home” booklet published by the Vineyard USA.

“’Twas the night before Christmas…” the 19th century poem begins, and goes on to say, “…the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”

Saint Nicholas. Known in many countries for over a thousand years as Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Weihnachtsmann (“the Christmas Man”), and, of course, Santa Claus, the name of Saint Nicholas has become synonymous with the ideas of winter, generosity, festivity, presents, children, box stores, outrageous sales, and last, but not least – Christmas.

The-Light-That-Leads-Us-Home.190A Generous Man

Though legends abound, Nicholas was a real person who lived in the 4th century AD. Nikolaos of Myra, as he was known, was the Greek Bishop of that city (now known as Demre, part of modern day Turkey).

Born on March 15, 270 in the port city of Patara (also in Turkey), he died on December 6, 343, and was the son of wealthy, Greek Christian parents. Nicholas grew up in a home full of faith, and after his parents died in an epidemic, he went on to become a priest, and later, a Bishop (a pastor of pastors).

In his lifetime, Nicholas was respected for his acts of kindness and generosity. He was known especially for giving gifts in secret. It was said that he would put coins in the empty shoes of those who were poor when they left them out for him to see.

Legends grew around this great man of faith into the story of the chimney-descending Santa Claus we tell to children today.

The Stories We Tell At Christmas

While our thousands of tales about Saint Nicholas are imaginative, and maybe even fun, are they true enough to give us guidance, to give us light, for our everyday lives

And we have other stories of the season we enjoy at Christmas, each with its own bit of light to shed on our path. Maybe your favorite, like mine, is one of the following:

• It’s A Wonderful Life (“Teacher says every time a bell rings…”),
• A Christmas Carol (“You may be an undigested bit of beef, …a crumb of cheese…”),
• Miracle On 34th Street (“I believe, I believe; it’s silly, but I believe…”),
• White Christmas (“’How do you do?’ ‘Mutual, I’m sure.’”),
• A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”), or
• Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (“…Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”)

Stories That Give Limited Light

While all of these stories (and the memorable songs attached to them) are endearing and heartwarming, conveying beautiful truths about family, friendship, and generosity, they all have a limit to their ability to offer real guidance to our lives.

• We never hear someone going through a divorce reciting lines from It’s A Wonderful Life to help them walk through their pain.

• We never hear parents, whose teenager is estranged from them, singing Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer to console themselves that everything will be okay.

• We certainly never hear the child of a parent dying of cancer praying to Santa Claus as their hope for healing.

Why not? These are not stories from which we can find sufficient light for our entire life’s journey. Sure, these stories shine some rays of truth on our situations, but they still leave deep shadows unaddressed. They can never truly guide us, with a bright Light, to safety, to peace, to harmony in relationships, to life that lasts forever – to Home.

The Light That Leads Us Home

God’s Word is called a “…Light to my path” in the Bible (Psalm 119:105). For billions of people over thousands of years, the Scriptures have provided vital guidance to people walking through life’s hardest challenges.

The New Testament in the Bible goes further to say that there is a Light that can live in us and be with us as we navigate life’s difficult terrain.

As the truest Christmas Story ever told opens in the book of Matthew, Jesus Christ steps on the scene of human history and says these seven, simple words recorded in John 8:12:

“I am the Light of the World.”

The Light we all need for life’s journey must transcend the passing comfort of Christmas lights, and even the soft glow of family and friends. We need a lasting Light, a guiding Light, that shines in the shadows of our darkest fears and deepest failures, penetrating them with truth and life and faith – and Hope for the future.

The Light that we all need to experience this Christmas season is the Light of the World – the Light whose name is Jesus.

He is the One that Saint Nicholas bowed down to worship. He is the Light that is available to us through our brightest days and darkest nights. He is here to shine on you this Christmas, to lead you Home.

Enter The True Story Of Christmas

You may be facing some challenges that a cup of egg nog and Christmas cookies can never fix. If that’s true, embrace the lasting Hope of Christmas once again, with fresh faith – the faith of a child.

Locking Book Safes and Christmas Bazaars

book safe bazaarThe last two weekends were spend talking to folks and trying to sell my special, one-of-a-kind, handcrafted locking book safes at two different Christmas bazaars.

The first one was hosted by Vineyard Boise Christian Fellowship and is one of the biggest craft fair in the area. There were only 80 vendors selling their handcrafted items with over 800 folks coming through the bazaar over the two day event.

I sold a decent amount of book safes the first day and was hoping for even more sales on the second day… however while I talked to more people that Saturday, I only made one sale and that was to a lady who saw the safes the night before. Oh well. 🙂

The second Christmas bazaar was held at a local school and was a LOT smaller (just over 30 vendors). Being the first time the PTO had ever hosted such an event, it wasn’t advertised as well and very slow… luckily I was able to break even with one sale and a partner who split the entry fee.

Over the next few days I will be listing all my book safes on Esty for those of you who might want a great Christmas gift. Remember that all proceeds go to help me attend St. Stephen’s University where I’m studying for my Master of Ministry degree. In other words, not only do you get an awesome gift but you help a young man follow the call of God. 😀

book 1book 2

 

Finding Sunlight Inside A Hallway or The Mystery of Simplicity

IMG_0937I had a few moments to kill, so I decided to take a close look at the paintings at the art gallery inside my local church. Every quarter this gallery hosts a new exhibit displaying the work of artists from within and without the church community.

The current exhibit is about God’s Creation with paintings and sculptures of types and skill levels reveling the different aspects of the Creator King. Next to each work of art is a short artist statement with a little glimpse into the heart behind the piece.

Meandering through this gallery, I saw oil paintings, mixed medium pieces, water colors, sculptures, pen and ink. I also saw gorgeous pieces by professional artiest next to those done by recreational amateurs. Everyone was invited to submit a piece for consideration in the exhibit.

As I wondered through this wonderland of visual stimulation, my feet suddenly stopped working as a huge smile cribbed across my face. There in front of my eyes was the best piece in the whole gallery. I had found my pot of gold, the foundation of youth, the Holy Grail of Creation art hanging on a wall surrounded by fleeing clouds of color and texture.

You may think I jest, but I do not as the joy I felt when I first saw this painting comes back even as I write these words.

What was this painting that I saw that brought me such joy?

Well, I’m glad you asked as I took a picture of this jewel which I now display below along with the artist statement:

IMG_0938artist statement

So, you may ask, why did a child’s painting stop you so suddenly? That is a question to which there is no easy answer…. Perhaps it was because I have had several science versus religious discussions lately in which Genesis was used as weapon on both sides… perhaps my emotions were triggered by being a father with two young children….. perhaps I have no eye for art and should be banned from all art galleries in the tristate area….. perhaps I’m just a crazy fool with very little gray matter between the ears…

Or perhaps the smile came from the simple manner in which a child can standup and say “God made the sun.” Complexity is removed and simplicity is embraced along the mystery that surrounds all simple answers.

Perhaps…just perhaps we humans of the 21st century could stop trying to figure out everything for a moment and just relax in the mystery of a Creator Love. Yes, physics and science are wonderful pursuits and should be studied and discussed (it sadness me to have to state that as I don’t see science and following Jesus has being opposites…but if conversations over the past month taught me anything, it is that this false dichotomy is still embraced by folks on both sides of the steeple door.)

Perhaps…and this is my last perhaps… I should just let fathers of old guide us along this journey around the sun.

“In love did He bring the world into existence; in love does He guide it during this its temporal existence; in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised. And since in the New World the Creator’s love rules over all rational nature, the wonder at His mysteries that will be revealed then will captivate to itself the intellect of all rational beings whom He has created so that they might have delight in Him, whether they be evil or whether they be just.”St. Isaac of Syria

“God is everywhere. There is no place God is not…You cry out to Him, ‘Where art Thou, my God?’ And He answers, “I am present, my child! I am always beside you.’ Both inside and outside, above and below, wherever you turn, everything shouts, ‘God!’ In Him we live and move. We breathe God, we eat God, we clothe ourselves with God. Everything praises and blesses God. All of creation shouts His praise. Everything animate and inanimate speaks wondrously and glorifies the Creator. Let every breath praise the Lord!”Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Pictures from St. Andrews, Canada

While I’m a tad late in getting this post out, here are some pictures from my recent trip to Canada.

Two hundred year old cannons put in place for the War of 1812. The land you see in the far distance is Maine, USA.
Two hundred year old cannons put in place for the War of 1812. The land you see in the far distance is Maine, USA.
Looking across the bay towards St. Andrews, Canada.
Looking across the bay towards St. Andrews, Canada.
Saint Croix Island - location of the frirst French colony established by Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons in June 1604. Maine, USA, is in the far distance.
Saint Croix Island – location of the frirst French colony established by Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons in June 1604. Maine, USA, is in the far distance.
Celtic cross at St. Andrews as a tribute to the souls buried on Hospital Island. A quarantine station was place on that island and housed hundreds of Irish immigrants fleeing the famine in Ireland from 1832 to 1862.
Celtic cross at St. Andrews as a tribute to the souls buried on Hospital Island. A quarantine station was place on that island and housed hundreds of Irish immigrants fleeing the famine in Ireland from 1832 to 1862.

 

Post SSU Report

ssu classI’m four days back from my trip to St. Stephen’s University (SSU) and still trying to get back into the swing of things. Work, family, odds, ends and all the stuff that you find you miss when you are away for a few weeks. =)

My time at SSU was wonderful. At first I was very uptight and nervous as I didn’t know what to expect from the professors, classmates or even the country (it was odd being in a foreign country that wasn’t all that foreign). The altitude and climate difference also threw me for a loop that first week – causing me retreat into myself and be more introverted than I typically am.

Somewhere over the weekend I found my footings and started coming out of my self-imposed shell. This caused one classmate to comment on that Monday that I was a different person. 😀

Classes

I had four classes crammed into those two weeks. Below is a quick outline of these classes:

Spiritual Formation – Lorna Jones, Ignatian Spiritual Director

Drawing on the spiritual formation exercises of Ignatian Spirituality, this class walked us through some contemplative practices – giving us a chance to stop and reflect on what we were experiencing and learning. It was interesting walking through these practices as a group as I’ve always heard them talked about within an individual context. I’m looking forward to introducing some of these practices into my local small group here in Boise. 🙂

Historical theology: Ancient Insights for Today (16th–21st C.) – Dr. Peter Fitch

This was our main class throughout the two weeks. Dr. Peter is a great professor that has a way of encouraging dialogue and drawing out insights from each class member on our required readings. A lot of the book reports that I have posted here over the past few months was written for this class as we had to read writings from Luther, Calvin, Teresa of Avila, Pascal, Herbert, Baxter, Thérèse de Lisieux, Bonhoeffer, C. S. Lewis, Rollins, and others.

ssu class 2Healing through Symbol and Story – Dr. Walter Thiessen

This was one of the most challenging classes as Dr. Walter walked us through inner healing and narrative therapy concepts. Having experienced both freedom and pain through inner healing programs, I was a bit apprehensive about the material… Dr. Walter quickly disarmed me through his love and grace for people. His clinical background coupled with making room for God to work allowed him to lead us all through the sometimes murky waters of inner healing.

Jesus and a More Christ-like God – Dr. Brad Jersak

Drawing off Dr. Brad’s recent book (A More Christlike God), this class took a deep dive into the self-revelation of God through Jesus as seen from below (biblical studies) and above (systematic theology). With a focus on Jesus and the Kingdom of God, I have to admit this was the class I loved the most – it was also taught during the second week, meaning that I had my feet under me and was engaging more. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm my fellow class members with all my questions… :/ Dr. Brad, by the way, is currently a Reader in an Eastern Orthodox monastery in B.C., Canada – which is really, really cool as I have had a longstanding flirtation with the Eastern Orthodox church for many years.

School Atmosphere

The culture of SSU was really cool. It is a small university with only 50-60~ undergrad students who live in a communal type setting with students and teacher eating and working together. The university also actively encourages questions with no topic off-limits – even topics that would typically be considered off-limits in other Christian universities (not to mention churches). At first this openness threw me as I’m used to being careful about who I talk too about certain topics. Yet after two-weeks this openness grew on me and I started joining in on some of the conversation. 🙂

Well…that’s all for now. I’ll try to post a more touristy post later on with some pictures of the area. Until then, be blessed.