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How to stop the spread.

March 8, 2021

When it comes to stopping the spread there are three key actions to keep in mind:

  1. Keep Isolated
  2. If you go out keep your distance and do not touch other people.
  3. Wear a mask around others

This is good advice if the spread we are wanting to stop is COVID-19 but it is exactly what we should not be doing if we want to spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Unfortunately many do keep isolated, afraid that somehow the bad influence of others may somehow rub off on them but forgetting that we have been called to rub off on others. We must be around people if we are going to spread the Good News.

And for goodness sake if you are going to be with people draw close, get to know them and don’t be afraid to be used to touch their lives and to have their lives touch yours. This is how friendships are built, how love is shared and how the Kingdom spreads.

Lastly, take off your masks when you are with others. For too long Christians have given a false impression by hiding behind masks of self-righteous pretense and false holiness. Nobody expects you to be perfect and don’t believe you when you pretend you are. Better to be genuine, vulnerable and real with others. They may just then feel that you are safe enough to confide in and you may be able to confide in them about God’s Kingdom.

By all means follow the advice of experts to stop the spread of COVID-19 but, when it comes to sharing the Good News of Christ’s Kingdom help share the spread!

Subtleties, Shades and Nuances

February 9, 2021

I love seeing my friend’s artwork which they post online. Pen and ink drawings, water colours, quilting, landscape art – I’ve got some very talented friends. Back in high school I took some art classes and it soon became apparent to me that the difference between good artwork and great artwork is the subtleties of colour and the shading, the gentle nuances that plays with light and the almost imperceptible dappling of contrasts that people look past in seeing the whole. It is these features that allow your mind to think you are seeing something which isn’t actually just a flat piece of paper with lines and colour. The artist knows how to draw your attention to what they want you to focus on. The empty space is as important as the space that is filled. The background doesn’t just sit there, it leads the eye. And there is a feel to art, a mysterious sense of ethos that is communicated to the person looking that can move them.

I’ve read how Bill Murray was about to take his life when a picture at the Art Institute of Chicago saved his life. It was the 19th-century French realist painter Jules Breton, who depicted a young peasant woman working in a field at sunrise called The Song of the Lark. Somehow that picture gave Him hope and changed the course of his life.

It was a moving encounter with a picture entitled Ecco Home, by Domenico Feti, with the inscription below “this have I suffered for you; now what will you do for me?” that moved a young Count Zinzendorf to commit his life to service for Christ and helped to launch the prelude to the modern missionary movement.

The power and the beauty of art all hangs tentatively on those subtleties, shades and nuances.

God is an artist. For many this a beautiful realization. We love how he paints sunsets with purple hues. We feel the playful joy of the fall leaves changed colours, or the haunting, reflective mood that is set by shadows and light on cresting snow drifts. But apart from nature we sometime forget these subtleties of God’s hand. Some people simply want a black and white moral code. They prefer a Bible that is absolutely literal and denies the poetic nature of the psalms or the figurative symbolism of apocalyptic writings.

“In 2012, an amateur art restorer in the small village of Borja, Spain, turned her attention to a fresco of Jesus Christ called “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”). Alas, Cecilia Giménez’s “fix” rendered the face of Jesus — painted in 1930 by Elías García Martínez — wholly unrecognizable. Ecce Homo 2.0 became a global laughingstock, compared to a blurry potato and a monkey.” – so reports this article in the New York Post. So it is with many modern “interpreters” of the Bible.

Behold the Man? – Botched fresco of Jesus

I find that sometimes critics of the Bible, fail to catch the nuances that are often present and often sketch a crude, unflattering and misrepresentation of what God is actually communicating. I find other, so called scholars, who want all shade and smudges with no fine, but firm, lines to help distinguish the foreground from the background and blur its message so that its core truth is all but whitewashed.

The Bible is the kind of book that a small child can read to understand, with epic stories of heroes. But it is also the kind of book that a grown adult can stare at with ever increasing intensity and find that the author reaches out through the pages and communicates great truth which moves their heart. It is the kind of writing which intellectuals can scrutinize and dissect and find deeper complexity and wonder as they analyze its composition. That does not make the Bible a bedtime story book, a love letter or a textbook. It is all this and so much more. And as such, the next time you read it and think “I don’t get it?” or “Is that all?” remember that it was written by an artist, look more deeply for the subtleties, shades and nuances.

That Elusive Itch

January 27, 2021

I read the news first on January 27th, and I was instantly intrigued. Perhaps you also may have heard the news. Toronto now has some stores bringing in the rarest coffee in the world! Coffee from the rare Racemosa bean. It only grows in a specific 150 square Kilometer area located in the coastal forest belt between northern Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mozambique, found growing wild in the coastal forests north of Lake St Lucia.

Those who know me will know that I like coffee – a lot! However, I’m not a coffee snob. I couldn’t discern an Arabica bean from a Robusta. I’ll drink anything from Starbucks to McDonalds. Instant, pour over, brewed, pressed, flavoured, expresso – I like it all. And to be honest I don’t really taste that much difference. Sure, there are subtle nuanced differences but if I’m honest, coffee is coffee. I can drink it black to double, double.

So why is it that reading the announcement of a new bean – the rarest in the world no less – makes me so desirous to try it? I honestly don’t think I’ll drink it and think to myself, “That is the flavour I’ve been seeking all my life!” I think the reason is much more rudimentary than that. I think it has to do with the unquenchable desire to experience something new and novel (or at least it sounds like it will be).

I suspect we all have that longing somewhere deep down that can easily be awakened. Perhaps yours isn’t awakened by a new coffee bean, but perhaps it’s the lasts i-something, a new car feature that’s only in the latest model or some exploit you’ve seen on YouTube that you can’t wait to try. There is a restlessness within the human species that’s longing, craving, dare I say, pining for something we can never quite put our finger on. Sure, the latest, greatest, newest whatever will distract us, perhaps appease the urge, distracting us for a while but eventually it will come back. It always does.

Could it be that our longing can be satisfied, but not with anything on earth? Is it possible that we have an “itch” for something transcendent, that is found beyond this world? The great English scholar, C.S. Lewis said, “The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.”

There is an old saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Why is it that we are fooled not just twice but over and over again thinking that somehow the next big thing our heart desires will somehow satisfy a piece of us that nothing else has ever touched? Perhaps instead of investing in what’s newest, we might try investing in something quite ancient. What if instead of pandering to the restlessness of distractions propelling us from one thing to the next, we spent time being still, acknowledging our distractedness and invited God to satisfy us?

Roughly 3000 years ago the lyrics of an ancient song said of God, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” His hand is open to each of us. What stops you from reaching out and receiving?

Same old, same old.

January 9, 2021

It’s just over one week since 2021 arrived. Statistically most of the resolutions we made will have been already broken. The resolutions we make go in one year and out the other.

We had hoped that the end of 2020 would usher in a better year and yet 2021 doesn’t look much different from 2020 – at least not yet. And now that for most of us, the holidays are over and we are back to the old routine, it feels like we’re right back where we left off. It’s the same old, same old.

The phrase “same old, same old” indicates that something is boring, plain and predictable. And for many it feels like there life is in a rut, caught in the endless, repeating cycle of what they’ve always known. And even though we all know the worn and trite meaning of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, we somehow look to each New Year hoping that maybe this year can be different.

So if the year doesn’t change our circumstances, and given the weakness or our resolutions, we can’t change our circumstances, what choice do we have? I’d like to suggest a change in perspective. Not a lowering of expectations per se, but rather a new orientation to how we view them. How we view are circumstances is really the only thing we have complete control of.

You’ve probably all heard the story of the two twins, one always optimistic and one always pessimistic. The parents, wanting to bring some balance to both their “distorted” perspectives, decided one birthday to give the pessimistic child a room full of every toy they could think to buy, while the other was given a room full of manure. As they went to visit the child with the toys, he was crying in the middle of the floor because they had forgotten to get one toy he really wanted. When they visited the other child, he was as happy and excited as could be digging through the manure. When asked why he was so happy he said, “With all this manure there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

For most of 2020 many have focused upon our losses and our problems. We’ve had our head down and our nose stuck in social media bemoaning all that’s wrong in the world. What if we chose to look differently, not ignoring the problems, but simply not dwelling on them and looking for them. What if we chose to see the good and the beautiful? What if we focused upon our moments of joy rather than times of sorrow? What if we expressed more gratitude and did less complaining? What if we celebrated what we have that hasn’t been taken, rather than mourn what we’ve lost?

It may not change our circumstances, but neither did complaining and whining. But what we might find is that hope and joy are found apart from circumstances and are always available if we are looking for them and that would be different from the same old, same old!

One tragedy, two tragedy, third tragedy – true tragedy.

April 17, 2019

On April 15th the world witnessed a tragedy. An architectural wonder, that took lifetimes and decades to complete was destroyed in the matter of hours. The world mourned as the Notre Dame was turned to ash and before the flames were squelched millions of dollars were pleged to rebuild it to a more glorious form and future.

But there was another tragedy that day. The only known female of four remaining Yangtze soft shell turtles left in the world died. Hunted to near extinction and now the species is on the pericope of being lost to the world forever.

I love the architecture and beauty of the Notre Dame but I can’t help but wonder how a creature of God’s making, a one of a kind living breathing, glorious creature is all but ignored. No money committed to help preserve the remaining three turtles . No crowds mourning for its demise. Hardly any headlines or tweets or mentions of the second, arguably equal if not greater, tragedy.

And perhaps, the true tragedy is the third tragedy that such a disparity of concern unveils. Are we as a species becoming less humane as a species. Does the tale of these two tragedies reveal a preoccupation with all things anthropocentric and a hardening indifference to the world of creation?

Regardless of the religious nature of the building, the soft shell turtle was a greater testimony to the creativity of God and His love of beauty. And perhaps this third tragedy of humanity’s callous indifference, or at least misplaced prioritization of concern, signals the ever looming extinction of our essential humanity.

I might be the only one…

October 17, 2018

The way the news is reporting it, I might be the only one who is not high on the legalization of marijuana. In fact I am quite the opposite. How is it that a law with such poor planning, and nearsightedness was foisted on me without input or discussion? We’ve been told it will reduce the amount of money going to crime. Really?

How is it that that everyone is smoking up today when they haven’t been able to purchase marijuana to have it mailed to you until today? Will they really stop using their friend down the street for Canada Post?

How will it be policed?

What are the long term health costs, not just physical but mental as the incidences of schizophrenia and anxiety begin to climb?

What of second hand smoke in condos and for children?

What of the thc levels in the breast milk of mothers who smoke up?

And what of the dozens of unforeseen ripple effects, that can never be proven to be linked to marijuana legalization, but will still exist and bear negative fruit in our society?

And when in 10 or 15 years we begin to decry our decision how can it be reversed or pulled back? Might we find that we have set off into the sea without compass or map or means of rescue?

I know that many will disagree with me. I’m overly concerned about nothing, after all “It’s only marijuana” they will say. But what if my concerns are justified? Then what?

Today while many run around giddy with a fresh buzz of freedom, where the commercial “this buds for you” takes on a new meaning, I feel melancholy for my country. I might be the only one who is concerned… but I don’t think so.

Let it snow!

April 15, 2018

Today there is a terrible ice storm that cancelled church gatherings and University exams. It has kept people in doors and the streets have an apocalyptic feel to them; deserted, empty, abandoned.

What has caused these drastic change in routines? If you break it down to the root cause it is simply snowflakes that have crippled the streets and shut the doors. Of course if it were only one snowflake it wouldn’t have mattered, it probably would have gone unnoticed. Even a few hundred would have been quickly brushed away. But these were hundreds of thousands. Millions! Hundreds of thousand of millions of snowflakes!

I wonder if any of those little flakes, especially those first few – if they could have thought – would have thought “What use will my small contribution be?”

It really is a testimony of how that which is small and insignificant can have an impact when multiplied. Consider the go fund me campaign for the Humboldt tragedy. The story has gripped the hearts of people all around the world and the goal of $100,000 has been dwarfed by the actual figure that continues to come it. Most of it in small $5, or $10 dollar gifts according to a Star report (https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/04/14/humboldt-gofundme-donors-have-their-own-stories-their-own-reasons-for-giving.html)

I wonder if any of those first few contributors would have thought “What use will my small contribution be?”

Sacrificing first in great causes is no doubt filled with second guessing even scary, but I suspect that most of those who are first in a movement don’t do it because they think their small contribution will change the world. Neither do I suspect that they have in mind to start a movement. No, for those first few, they do what they can because their conscience will not allow them to stand by and do nothing.

If they were to think “What use will my small contribution be?” They would probably not start. Truly great causes are not started because of some grand illusion that they can change the world, but because of a small vision of goodness which resides deep within that compels. The next time your heart is gripped by goodness don’t bother wondering about the affect you will have simply act because you must. I say, “Let it snow!”

So What if I’m Right?

April 13, 2018

I suppose I am like most people. I imagine that, by and large, I am representative of the human race – at least in the Western world. And as such I imagine that most people assume, as I do, that their perspectives are correct. Me, like you, think that anyone who is thinking correctly would reach the same conclusions and point of view. In short I believe that I am right – just as you believe that you are right.

But here is where I find things then begin to get murky; when we disagree why is it that we treat each other so poorly? Especially since we would probably both agree that we ought to treat others kindly? It is as if there is a belief that says “because I am right it does not matter how I treat you.” Our attitudes betray an hypocrisy in our hearts. We want from the other a chance to be heard, understood, and our position considered because we believe we are right. And yet we do not extend that same courtesy to the other person who thinks that they are right. We want them to offer to us what we are not willing to offer to them – that is hypocritical.

However it is more than simply being hypocritical, we have valued the treatment of our ideas above our treatment of humans. We preserve our ideas at the expense of people. The non-tangible has become more important than the tangible. The conceptual has been valued above the relational. What we think has outstripped what we love.

And I think when we do this we have taken a step towards our own dehumanizing. We see a lot of this dehumanizing “l’m-right-so-it-doesn’t-matter-how-I-treat-you” mentality. But the sad, pathetic irony of it all is that by dehumanizing you, I dehumanize me in the process. Therefore, is there any sense in which I can any longer say I am a representative human, at best I am a less-than-human representative. My view, my thinking, has become a reflection of my sub-human reality. So how now can I insist that I am right?

I suppose the only way I can now reach “truth” is by bouncing my sub-human ideas off of other sub-humans. I need to listen to see if together we might build on each others limited thinking and reach better conclusions. And I ought to be very careful, even gentle, in how I reason with them, because in the pursuit of finding out what is right, people are the most valuable asset that I have and it is very unlikely that I can find what is right without them.

At least this is what I think but I might be wrong and you might be able to help me think about this more clearly.

The Bitterness of Good Friday

March 30, 2018

On Good Friday, nearly 2000 years ago, the Bible records how the sky went dark at noon, while Jesus hung on that cross. It was during the celebration of the Jewish feast of Passover and those who loved Him, mourned for Him when they would normally have been singing and they wept for God’s only son. It was a bitter day.

But this is what the prophet Amos had foretold:

“In that day, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.”

But I wonder if Jesus, reading that passage, and realizing that it was spoken of Him, I wonder if He asked Himself, how bitter that day would be? Could Jesus have imagined that the nation that hailed Him as a king as He entered on a donkey would reject His life for that of an insurrectionist? Did He suspect that the one He trusted with His money purse would betray Him for a few silver coins?  How was He able to see past the boldness of the one who stood by His side with a sword to defend Him at His arrest and perceive the coward who would deny that he knew Him? How deep was the pain of hearing those who were experts in the law, which foretold of Him, twist that law to deny Him the justice that the law upheld? How bitter was that day when the one who created humanity was rejected by that humanity?

How bitter was the ridicule? Were there among the voices the sound of those who had once been mute, were there eyes of scorn now staring which had not long before been blind, were there people running with the crowd, drunk in the revelry of bloodthirsty entertainment, who because of once lame legs, had once only been carried to Jesus? How bitter was the day? Was the cross that he carried made from a dead fig tree found outside the city that some say He had cursed and now was cursing Him? Were the tools which fashioned it those which once held memories of joy in His father’s workshop? Had the soldiers who mocked Him ever been under the command of the centurion whose servant Jesus had healed? How bitter was the day when the one who upheld the universe was held up upon a cross?

How bitter was the irony when the one who claimed to be life was stripped of life? When the one who said that “whoever believes in me will never thirst again,” Cried out “I thirst?” When the feet that walked on water were nailed upon a cross and hands that blessed the heads of children were stretched out as a curse; that the one who heard a voice from heaven say this is my son, now cried out to heaven asking why he was forsaken? How bitter was the irony that the one whose spit had opened blind eyes was spit upon by those still blinded?

How bitter was that day? How bitter was the pain that He endured in silence? The one who chose to put on flesh now had his flesh stripped from Him as He was whipped by Roman guards. The one, who was head of all powers and authority, was surrounded by the puppets of Caesar’s authority and struck upon His head. The words of whose breath had calmed storms and gave life to the dead, found His breath being slowly choked as he breathed His last. How bitter was the pain for the one which the prophets said, “A bruised reed he will not break,” whose body now lay bruised and beaten?

How bitter was the humiliation of being stripped and exposed and displayed in shame, for one who modeled modesty? Whose life had exemplified gentleness and love to be surrounded by anger and hate? The one about whom the Psalmist said, “owned the cattle on a thousand hills,” was buried in a borrowed tomb.

His final taste was the bitterness of vinegar, His final image was the bitterness of His mother and friends in mourning, His final sounds were the sounds of crowds mocking, soldiers swearing and religions leaders ridiculing. His final feeling was the agony of asphyxiation as He could no longer lift His body to draw His breath, His final thought was that God had abandoned Him and His final resting place was in a stone, dark, cold cave – the end of a bitter day in deed.

Longing

March 21, 2018

I have come to discover a trait within me. I advocate for living fully present in each moment, which I try to do. I try not to borrow tomorrow’s worry or pine for yesterday’s successes. I remind myself in the mornings to drink in the day as if it could be my last. To look people in the eyes, to hear their hearts and not just their words. To embrace challenges and look for where God might be in my circumstances and discern what He might be up to so I can join Him.

But what I find is that it is not the moments that trip me up but the seasons. At first the newness of the season is great. I love the first snowfall of winter, the sun dancing off drifts, the squeak of snow beneath my feet but after a while I’m restless for a change. Similarly with summer, I love the warmth and thrill at the opportunity to wear sandals and t-shirts while walking down a wooded trail. But then, again, my heart gets restless for change.

And it’s not just the seasons of the year, it is the seasons of my life. When I was single I was restless for a relationship, when I was in high school I was restless to be in university, and in university I was restless to begin a job. And on and on my heart is stirred season to season.

And it’s not that I don’t appreciate each season but with each new thrill there comes, over time, this sense of disappointment, it is as if I was longing for something else, something more.

I don’t think I’m the only one. I think that this same longing is behind many divorces, job changes, and career changes. It, in part, is what drives chronic shoppers to shop, alcoholics to drink and video game addicts who spend real money on developing a make believe world.

If we are not careful we become cynical, or worse despairing.

Past writers have spoken about this and have come to the conclusion that it reveals that the world as it presently exist is not our true home. My restlessness, your restlessness, is evidence that we were created for a different world. The restlessness we feel is simply the longing for our true home. It is as if there is a primal memory of a world we once enjoyed and our inability to see and experience that world produces the anxiety-laden, boredom infested, flighty world we now live in.

But here is a secret. God, who architected our true home, offers to place His Spirit within our hearts so that with Him we can help to remake this world to become more like that for which we all long. The restlessness now fuels our activity. It spurs us on towards fashioning the circles of influence we have, so that the world we long for – a world full of beauty, love, justice, and mercy – begins to be experienced by others through us.

Jesus imagined the reality of this process when He spoke to His Father about it in this way, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And now that I have experienced a small piece of its presence in my heart how can I become settled in a world that still falls so short?

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