Thinking Big: What are Christians Hoping For?

One of the most persistent questions I hear about the Christian faith relates to what we believe about the future—our future, the future of our communities, the future of the world. In the midst of our suffering and confusion, what are we hoping for? There was a time when responses to this question were dominated by the idea a spiritual future in “heaven.” This vision didn’t include our bodies and didn’t have much of anything positive to say about God’s beautiful creation. The concept of heaven is important to the scriptures, but not as the dominant picture of the future for which we hope. That spot belongs to “new creation” or “creation renewed.” II Corinthians 5 is one key passage here, as are Ephesians 1 and Revelation 21 & 22. The first chapter of Colossians is important too, as is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. What we anticipate is the renewal of the world God created. We believe that God’s peaceful economy will realized in the place we were designed to enjoy and keep. Continue reading “Thinking Big: What are Christians Hoping For?”

Responding to the Turkey God

Several weeks ago I parked the car on the side of a rural road south of Ottawa. The snow had melted back to big banks thrown up by the plow. My sons and I scrambled up and over the snow. As we did, the oldest pointed to movement in the forest. A flock of turkeys, annoyed at our slamming of doors and crunching of snow, headed deeper into the tress. We followed their tracks hoping to see them again. We found nothing but a few stray feathers. Continue reading “Responding to the Turkey God”

To the Mountain, with Nobodies (190)

In the middle of Luke chapter 9 we hear Jesus giving his followers some harsh news: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” He is telling them, and telling us, that we can’t save our lives by trying to save our lives. If we hold on too tightly, if you try to keep everything under control, we will lose our lives. The liveliness will be gone. We’ll squeeze out the vitality.

Then, a few verses later, Jesus says something really strange. He says that some of the people listening to him will see the “kingdom of God” before they die. Actually he says, they will see it before they “taste death.” They will “see” before they “taste.” It’s an interesting way to put it. Continue reading “To the Mountain, with Nobodies (190)”

What does it mean to trust God?

One of the most persistent pieces of spiritual advice is to “trust in God.” Like so much of the spiritual life, what initially seems simple and direct, becomes more profound and more challenging as the years pass.

What does it mean to trust God when experience tells us that this does not mean our lives will unfold in the way we had hoped? What does it mean to trust God with loved-ones who we know will not escape suffering? Continue reading “What does it mean to trust God?”

Body Membership and the Importance of Being Needed (186)

[I Cor. 12:12-31a; Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6]

The community of faith in Corinth was vibrant and young, but the group needed help figuring out how to do life together. So Paul penned several long letters in which he addresses some specific challenges. He insists that because of Jesus things are different. Because of Jesus’ teaching, because of Jesus’ death, because of Jesus’ resurrection in the power of the Spirit—the community of faith should stand apart. It should be a people shaped by worship, overflowing in love and powered by the Spirit. And as we read in I Corinthians 12, it should be a community where everyone contributes.

Not too long ago a fellow named John Kaag discovered the abandoned library of an important American philosopher in the hills of New Hampshire. Kaag is a professor at a university in Massachusetts. He tells the story of his find alongside the history of American philosophy in an impressive little book that came out in 2016. Very few people can talk about philosophy in a way that’s interesting for general readers and isn’t just boiled-down nonsense. I know this is hard because I see some of you beginning to glaze over simply because I’ve used the word ‘philosophy’ four times in one paragraph. Continue reading “Body Membership and the Importance of Being Needed (186)”

When you pass through the water (185)

[Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22]

If you go to any good museum there are usually places where you can get a sense of what something historical felt like: maybe you can feel the weight of a Viking sword or maybe touch the sort of cloth worn by the Romans. The Bible suggests that are similar touchpoints for the Christian life. There are at least four natural phenomena that allow us to feel life with God. Continue reading “When you pass through the water (185)”

Discovering a bit of Joy (182)

[Zephaniah 3:14-20; Luke 3:7-18]

I want to begin with part of a prayer from Thomas More. More was a 16th-century lawyer and an ardent critic of the Reformation, including our spiritual ancestors the Anabaptists. Sometimes we find wisdom in our enemies. Let us pray:

“Grant us, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant us healthy bodies, and the necessary good humour to maintain them. Grant us simple souls that know to treasure all that is good and that don’t frighten easily at the sight of evil . . . .”

*   *   *

I don’t know if you heard it, but our reading from Luke has a very contemporary ring. This is a passage about privilege.

John has barreled in from the wilderness, chased by an epiphany. He has realized that his people were abusing their privilege. Way back in the book of Genesis we learned that their ancestors were blessed in a special way with God’s presence. John believed they had let the gift sour. John’s people had become complacent in their status. So he marches in to share his epiphany. It’s this: God can use stones. Stones can fulfill the mission. God doesn’t need a special people. The people have become like a privileged tree that doesn’t produce any fruit. John tells them to get ready for the axe. Continue reading “Discovering a bit of Joy (182)”

By the Tender Mercy of our God (181)

[Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-6]

Some time before, Zechariah had drawn the short straw. He had been chosen by lot to carry out the priestly duties in the most holy, and most dangerous, part of the temple.

Different time and different culture, but this time of year we see fellows who have drawn the short straw too. They are the ones in the Christmas parade carrying the shovels, following the horses.

It was different for Zechariah. For him drawing the short straw may have meant that his colleagues clipped bells to his robe and tied a rope to his leg. If the bells stopped ringing his colleagues knew he had been struck dead and had to be pulled out by the rope. As it happened, Zechariah was not struck dead. He did, though, have a strange encounter. He saw an angle. The angle said that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. This son would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Continue reading “By the Tender Mercy of our God (181)”

A Tree and a Branch (180)

[Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36]

Have you head of Big Lonely Doug? He lives near Port Renfrew. Actually he lived there when the town was still called Port San Juan. Authorities had to change the name because the mail kept ending up in the San Juan Islands (USA). Port Renfrew is on Vancouver Island. Big Lonely Doug doesn’t live in town. He’s something of a hermit. Even so, he’s had thousands of children, and outlived most of them. Big Lonely Doug has been part of political campaigns and he’s been featured in magazines. Now he gets some visitors. Here are some of the basic facts: Big Lonely Doug is old, probably 1000 years old. He’s tall, 66 meters (216 feet). He’s well-rounded, 3.79 meters in diameter (12.4 feet). He’s also a record-holder: Big Lonely Doug is Canada’s second-tallest Douglas fir.   Continue reading “A Tree and a Branch (180)”

“She brought him to the house of the LORD” (179)

[I Samuel 2:1-10; Mark 13:1-8]

Not long ago an international newspaper profiled someone who lives here in Ottawa. By itself, this isn’t terribly surprising. This is the nation’s capital; there are many interesting people here. What caught my attention about this piece, though, was that the subject was known essentially for a blog about books. The guy had previously worked for a Canadian intelligence agency and now has a website that is popular among CEO and high-net-worth investor types. What’s interesting too is that one of the most recent authors this guy has featured is a former nun, named Barbara Coloroso.

Now, one of my rules for life is that when I get an opportunity to listen to a conversation between a former spy and a former nun, I always say ‘yes’. Continue reading ““She brought him to the house of the LORD” (179)”