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Chapter 5 - More on Discernment

Dec 12, 2006


This morning I’m reading my bible, the gospel of Matthew, chapter five, where Jesus is teaching the beatitudes and I come across two thoughts that build on the whole discernment discussion.

"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.” Verse 5 (Wow… is this not a profound insight!!)

"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” Verse 8

That first verse got me thinking about the Kingdom of God – Jesus’ big theme in much of his teaching – and how that kingdom is all around us and within us. It’s not in any specific geographical place, or at any specific time, or with any specific religious group, it’s here, right now, everywhere, if we have eyes to see.
When you see it for what it is, you then find yourself knowing who you are, how you fit, and why you’re here. (“You’re content with just who you are”) And when you know this – no more, no less – then you realize you have everything. Then, you’re able to see all that you have – a knowledge of God (personally), and a knowledge of all that he means as the creator and sustainer of creation (all that stuff I posted yesterday).

I felt what those poetic words meant as I read them this morning. It was though I was hearing them directly from the lips of Christ… very intimate, very close, very real.

And that second verse, boy does it relate nicely to the whole discernment endeavour. Sort your soul out first, get healthy inside, then you’ll be able to see God in his world. The concept tangentially connects to the ‘love God and love your neighbour’ point I made yesterday, but it also reminds me of something more; another facet of how the expression of charity and love toward others in discerning manifests itself.

When you discern in love for others, in gratitude for them, when you do that along side the belief that the Spirit of Christ is already at work in that person’s life, there is a humble listening stance that you bring to you’re interaction. Love for God and that person makes you listen more dependently; to where God is at with that person, to what God is doing there. You really don’t have any answers for that person/situation, only God does. And because you love and respect God, and you know that he’s about the task of making all things new, you follow him. Follow, not lead – a wonderful new orientation for those of the faith.

You also come with a bit of a student’s heart to any given situation. Because you don’t know it all… because you coming into a situation where God already is… because he might have something to say back to you… you engage his world with a humble attentive tentativeness; not knowing what you expect, and yet expecting more than you could ever imagine.

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.

Chapter 5 - More on Discernment
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, December 22 2006 @ 02:39 PM PST
It's amazing what freedom we can experience once we just let go. Give it all up. Let Christ carry the care. I can relate directly to what pastor is saying. It is a lot easier to listen to others as they open up when we carry less baggage. Like being a child again. The child-like expectation we experience in a conversation is quite spiritual. An amusement park for the soul because "What is God going to say or do next?!" Life is exciting when we let ourselves expect things of Him.
[ Reply to This | Delete | 24.21.7.93 ]
Chapter 5 - More on Discernment
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, December 23 2006 @ 12:59 PM PST
I'm stuck on this line...

"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less."

What does this mean? How can we be content with who we are? When does this become pride or ceasing to strive for more? Self-hatred seems to be counterfeit humility that so many of us accept from others (and ourselves at times) however when one is content with who they are it seems that often they must give all of the classic phrases about how none of it is them & its all God.

A friend of mine put it well one day when he said "How come whenever I do something bad it's me & whenever I do something good it's God?"

I had no answer...in my head I thought that maybe if we focus on God we don't want any credit? ...but later I thought ... we still have to have a self-concept in there, don't we?

I know this is kind of a rabbit trail but still very related so I thought I'd throw it out there to my brothers & sisters for thought.

~sleepless in Scenic Acres



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Chapter 5 - Discerning God's Spirit

Dec 11, 2006


“From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God's kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God's government, a good government!” Re: Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 4:23

My friend Rob is right; the theological concept of providence is a very strong and real foundation for the kind of stuff we’re pursuing in our church. And we can trust in it, if we dare. God really is holding all things together with a common kind of grace. God truly is the creator of all things (even though they’re messed up a bit… a lot!). God’s Spirit is the source of all truth, beauty, peace, joy, and hope; of everything that is right. God is watching over things, taking them somewhere, moving in and through them, imbuing all that exists with a sense of purpose and meaning. And God most certainly is Governor over all that he has made; a good Governor.

I think this rather large view of God is critical for the discernment process. Believing these truths is the first step in learning how to see God’s goodness, truth and beauty in the world. Unless you are able to think correctly about God’s nature and place in his world, you won’t be able to clearly discern that He is speaking, where He is speaking or what He’s saying. You won’t have the categories. You need to have a few core theological beliefs in place in order to give yourself the space (cognitively and otherwise) to allow this to happen. This believing lens is a critical and foundational part of your discernment grid...
Get what I’m saying here? What you believe about who God is impacts how you will be able to see and know him as he moves (or doesn’t move) in his world. If God is a bit player in the goings on of the created order - set the world a spinning and then went on holidays - then there’s no use wasting your time looking for signs of his involvement. But if the opposite is true, if God really is as big a player as we’ve been told, then we should be able to see evidence of this fact everywhere.

And then to think that God might actually want to reveal himself to us through the book of creation, just as he would through the Bible, well that’s a powerful thought.

But how do you do it? How does a person learn how to discern, see and hear God in her life? Say she really does believe all of these truths about a very big and very involved God, what practical steps can she take to better tune in to this Amazing Reality? How does a person listen to God’s Spirit as it hovers over the face of this earth?

I remember sitting on the bank of the Glenmore Reservoir on a hot August afternoon. There was a strong, warm westerly wind blowing across the water that day, straight into my face. It was beautiful. That rushing wind reminded me of God’s Spirit, blowing over the face of the earth, no one really sure where it came from or where it’s going. I remember feeling that wind and asking, “How am I going to learn to discern your Spirit more God? Where am I going to find the wisdom, the insight? I want to see you more! How do I do that?” Then I looked out over the reservoir and noticed the small waves that the wind was creating on the water’s surface. They told me, more precisely, of the wind’s intensity and direction. While they didn’t tell me everything I needed to know, they did offer some revelation. They told me that God’s movements can be better discerned when they rub up against our material realities. When the other worldly Spirit of God interacts with and animates our very worldly earthly matter (be that H2O, sub-atomic matter, or a jazz musician), the deeper mysteries of the spirit are revealed. God turns his face toward us and lifts his veil; his direction and nature become a bit more clear.

Thinking back on that windy day, I have to wonder what might have happened if I had chosen to dive into that reservoir that day? Would I have then known God even more, discerned his truth at an even deeper level? It seems to me that much of the discernment endeavour is a process, a journey where we’re continually stepping forward, and stepping into. You’re never really there, you never fully arrive. You see one door open, you walk though it, and then you see something more.

This past weekend I learned something new about discernment. It happened six or seven doors into the process.

Six months ago I had this thought about using J. S. Bach as the text for a series of sermons. In my world you get a thought like this and the first thing you wonder is, “Is this you God?” (And no, I’m not looking for an audible voice here! But I am trying to figure out if God is leading in this direction or not.) In order to answer the question I usually begin by putting the idea on the back burner and waiting. If this really is a God thing I’ll know; it’ll come back. A couple of weeks later I’m in Toronto at a meeting and someone sticks an article under my nose about some church in Vancouver that has been preaching Bach. I read the piece with some interest and decide to go ahead with the idea for our church (external circumstantial affirmation is great for the discernment process). Seeing as I know nothing about classical music I solicit a whole bunch of discerning support; two classically trained musician members of the church (confessed Bachaholics), a professor from Kings University in Edmonton, and two other professors from both Calvin College and Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
(Over the years I’ve learned that you need to exegete creational texts in community… it’s the only way you’ll have the horsepower to do all the research required.)

Anyways, you start all of these research dialogues, and you read a few books and pretty soon you start to get a sense of direction about how to proceed with preaching Bach. People say things in the course of your discourse and something inside you quickens; at those moments it feels like God is highlighting a concept or phrase. You take note. And often you find God’s leading in the repetition. Two people recommend Cal Stappert’s book on Bach – a book that I’d purchased two years ago – three make reference to the composers’ Mass in B Minor as an important study area. You download the piece from Itunes and you studiously listen in.

And then, as you’re studying one part of that Mass in B minor, you learn something about how Bach worked; how in particular he used certain musical forms to communicate unique theological truths. In the middle of this Mass in B Minor there’s a section called the Credo; dealing with the Nicene Creed. In the middle of that creed there’s the section dealing with the nature of Jesus Christ, with the complex concept of his coming from God while still being God; “God of God, Light of light, true God of true God…” It’s a pretty mysterious idea, Jesus and the Father, both being God – one God! Bach handles it brilliantly. Illumining the creed he chooses to create an aria, two female voices, one strong (representing the Father), one softer(representing Christ), beautifully singing in and through and around each other. (Google “perichoresis” and see what this dance is all about!). And then interwoven into this movement are the violins – Was this Bach’s way of foreshadowing that third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit?

The piece is filled with a mysterious kind of beauty and truth. Via intermingled voices, in song, the meaning of ‘two in oneness’ of God is most meaningfully communicated. As I stood there preaching this point, just before playing an audio clip, I adlibbed, “As you listen to and experience this piece, understand that Bach is showing us what God’s twoness feels like...”

Six or seven doors into the discernment process, I am gifted with two profound understandings. First and foremost, I get to know the glory of what God feels like in this particular part of his nature, and second, I come to understanding that our human feelings, our affections, our intangible gut responses to the things of God are perhaps the most appropriate means by which one can understand and engage the mystery of the Divine. Here, mystery meets mystery. ‘What words cannot express (human emotions, affections, intuitions)’ better illumine ‘What words cannot express (the very mysterious nature of God).’

Very cool. And, in this case, Bach’s music is the powerful, mystical tool for bringing about this God glorifying transaction. Music captures what cannot be put into words. Music opens the door to beauty, enabling us to engage and harmonize with it. And in a sense, Bach’s musical lesson is analogous of how the discernment process works. Yeah we need the foundational reason of our theological traditions (creeds, theologies, etc) in order to begin to listen for God’s words, but we also need to remember the rhyme that carries so much of God’s tune; the songs, the notes, the affections.

Over the past few years I’ve been growing in my understanding of what this means. Increasingly I’ve come to believe that how we feel about things (the heart that we take to things) has great bearing on our ability to accurately discern God’s truth there. It’s not just a rational exercise.

I remember a time where I almost walked away from a message on Freddie Mercury (famous and now deceased lead singer of the band Queen – he died of AIDS). While I’d always loved the band, there came a point in researching Mercury’s life where I said, “Man, this guy is just too much, too messed up, too sinful to preach.” I’d just read about how he’d bedded hundreds of men, and how he would basically sleep with anyone/anytime. I can still remember the struggle, sitting in my sermon writing chair, “I think I have to walk away from this one…” And then, just before making that decision, I remembered something from my past; a not so nice intimate detail from a not so nice intimate part of my life. I recalled the power of God’s grace at that time, the depth of his love in forgiving me. And then, at that very moment, I felt a love for the person of Freddie Mercury; a human being, made by God, in the image of God, loved by God.

God certainly didn’t love all the things that shattered the singer’s life, but he did love that singer’s life! And if God loved him, then certainly I could. The moment I did that, my sermon came together. The moment I loved this part of God’s creation – humbly loved it – it was then that I was able to discern God’s goodness and truth in that place.

“The goal of our Christian life is to love God and neighbour. If discernment is not done with love and for love, then it is misapplied. ‘The true discerner must be charitable… such a person knows well his or her weakness and sinfulness and capacity for self deception. Thus he or she will be very slow to judge others harshly because they happen to see things differently.” (Thomas Green, SJ in Cowie, Heather paper on discernment)

Think about it. Do you ever see goodness and truth in the things you despise? Not very often. How much more do these traits come out when you bring a charitable and loving heart to another person or thing? It seems to me that the moment I love something I am enabled to see far more good than I might ever see otherwise. There’s something about expecting to see truth, beauty, goodness that enable you to see actually see it. Sometimes the expectation even brings it out. This must be the way God looks at us.

Another affection/feeling that aids the discernment process is gratitude. Once you love something that is made by God, it’s not much of a shift to then be thankful for that something.

“[John] Calvin also called for engagement in discerning the things of the world to be done in gratitude; for the good gifts of the Spirit present in the world, and for the fact that God is about the task of redeeming them and making them new.”
Douglas Harink, Professor, Redeemer University


The Apostle Paul taught, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-21

Gratitude takes the discerning benefits of love and charity even further. Not only are you loving something out of your own heart, but you’re now doing that loving within the context of a thankfulness toward God (the giver of all good things). Being thankful for the ‘goodness that love lets you see’ connects that goodness to its Source. By making that connection that goodness receives God’s creational imprimatur. It’s like you get to hear God saying, “This is mine, this belongs to me. I made it in the first place. I’ve loved it ever since. I’ve never lost of sight of the original creational goodness that I built into it, and I never will. In fact, right now I’m making all things new. (Rev 21:5)”

Gratitude helps you realize that this is how God feels about his creation. Feeling how he feels enhances your worldview even more.

Over the past few years my wife has been journeying into this whole creational way of preaching along with the rest of the congregation. Every once in a while she articulates a new understanding that she’s come to in terms of what this is all about. After the second week of our Bach series she spoke about how the messages were really helping her love this composer’s music; love him more and love God more (she really didn’t know anything about Bach before we preached the series). The same thing happened for her when we preached on Architecture, science, and business. These were not topics that really interested her. But as she came to see them as God’s topics her perceptions changed; her heart changed. God spoke and she heard.

There is so much to love and to be thankful for in God’s world. There’s so much that’s speaking out and revealing his nature and truth. Dr. Neal Plantinga once said that this fact gives us more to be Christian with, more to love God with. I would add that it also give us a whole lot more to listen to.



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flag fun

Dec 04, 2006


Took some family on a road trip to Banff today. 15 minutes before we got there someone (I won't say who) had to stop for a pee break. Seeing as I had my camera with me, I figured this was a good chance for a 2 minute photo shoot. I decided to focus in on the huge Canadian flag that was dancing in the cold chinook wind. It was like the two of them were playing together. At times the sun would break though the clouds and highlight the flag against the grey sky (I guess it didn't want to miss out on the fun!). As I snapped away I found myself laughing.










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Which way to go

Nov 29, 2006


I spent most of this past Monday and Tuesday hanging around with a group of new church pastors from western Canada (ie: leaders of new church starts in the region). The meetings were great, the people amiable, and the context quite familiar; only this time I didn’t feel like I was a part of it. For the first time ever, while hanging around with a group of “church planters,” I didn’t feel like I was one of them. Quite strange.

I feel like something has changed and is continuing to shift inside of me. I’m wondering if it has something to do with my calling in life.

For the past 3 or 4 months I’ve been questioning my place in God’s scheme of things. “What do you want me to do? Who do you want me to be? What am I supposed to be focusing on in the next few years?” While I’ve always been the kind of person to ask these kinds of existential questions, this recent spate of querying seems unique in its intensity.

This afternoon I brought those questions to a prayer meeting at the church. Our spiritual director began by reading from the Gospel of John, chapter one, verses 35-42.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john%201:35-42;&version=31

It was a meditative kind of reading where she would read the words while the rest of the group closed our eyes and imagined being there… putting ourselves inside of the story… seeing, sensing, feeling, tasting the text. Kinda mystic. My kind of spiritual reading. The idea was to let yourself be one of the characters in the narrative; you choose the character, and then view the passage through those eyes.

As soon as she started reading I found myself drawn to the John the Baptist character; the guy who, in the first two verses, is left sitting there when his two disciples leave him to follow Christ. At first I resonated with the fact that he recognized Jesus for who he was when he saw him walk by. Then, as those two student/disciples left, I related once more. I had this deep sense of, “Why am I being left behind? Why am I not moving on to that next thing… that more exciting thing?” Then our reader/leader read the next verse; the one where Jesus, hearing someone coming up behind him, turns around and asks those two disciples, ‘What do you want?’

I can still see that moment in my mind. Christ looking at and talking to them, but then, for a mere moment – looking over their shoulders – making eye contact with me. And that moment of contact was just filled with instruction, with guidance, with wisdom. It was deeply imbued with the words, ‘Just wait John,’ …saturated with a sense of, ‘Stay put.’ Not in a rejecting kind of way, not at all, but more in a gentle, quieting, it’s not time kind of tone. You know how eye contact can do that? Be filled with more content than you’d think possible or expect? It was one of those moments.

I guess my answer, for now, is wait.



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Spirituality Surging

Nov 27, 2006


“Dramas about the supernatural all the rage on TV”
Marc Allan, Washington Post

“…it seems to us that people are looking for some sense that there’s more out there than we know about - and hopefully good.”
John Gray, Creator of TV show Ghost Whisperer

We want God and we can’t seem to get away from this fact. No matter how hard we try, no matter which direction we run, that ‘searching for something more’ homing device – planted in each of us - just keeps on doing it’s thing. The recent proliferation of all things spiritual in pop culture is obvious evidence of this reality (watch any TV show, it’s there!). An article that I read this morning attributes this existential viewing trend to our increased levels of fear in a post 9/11 world. Perhaps...
I imagine that there are also a lot of other forces, both good and bad, providentially at play in this deep spiritual movement.

I’m currently reading a book entitled, ‘A Whole New Mind’, by best selling author Daniel H. Pink. It’s all about how he thinks that right brainers are going to end up ruling the future. (my lobular intuitions tell me that this guy must be some kind of prophet!; ) Anyways, Pink makes a compelling argument that those with a BFA (Bachelor of Fine arts) are going to outrank those with an MBA in the years ahead. He attributes this assertion to the western societal shifts of abundance, Asia and automation. Our abundance will lead us to the search for meaning and beauty that always follows the meeting of our more basic needs. Asia, and it’s ability to now do so much of our number crunching, call centering, and engineering will now be the outsourcing destination for much of this hemisphere’s left brain activities. And automation – technology’s ability to do more and more logical, linear, left brain analysis - will collectively create the need for people who see the bigger picture; who can synthesize the larger scene – creative right brainer types!

Interesting hypothesis, especially in terms of its spiritual implications. The whole time Pink is making his argument for a BFA led future, I’m thinking that the trends that he’s elucidating are indicative of a God creating the right context for a spiritual renewal; the ultimate big picture event!



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Chapter Four - feedback

Nov 18, 2006


A good friend had these comments on my last chapter on 'how it happens.' What do you think?

"John, I’ve enjoyed reading your first three chapters for “The Book”. But I have to tell you I think this last chapter – How it works, comes up short. Perhaps I’m returning to my rationalistic, reductionist engineering roots – but hey if you’re going to have a chapter called “how it works” – you should leave the reader with an understanding of how it works. I came away thinking it’s all just magical and mysterious..."
- “that he was still mysteriously in control of things”
- “And maybe, just maybe, He is the mysterious force for good in behind our ever present evil”
- “And maybe, just maybe, God timed it all the way he did, so that we could find hope in a difficult time.”
- “That’s how the process works; mysterious epiphanies that happen to you”

Your “I don’t think we have any idea” statement at the end left me thinking – I don’t think you have any idea. (Sorry – I don’t mean to be insulting – only frustrated – I really want to know how this thing works.)

I think I get the second last paragraph:

The Spirit of Christ is afoot in our world. Aslan is on the move. And when that Spirit touches our eyes, unplugs our ears, softens our rock hard hearts, we see, hear and know! We experience an unimaginable reality, someone so poignantly and beautifully present.

Experiencing an “unimaginable reality” has happened to me and I think (hope) to most people who are followers of Jesus Christ during worship, when reading the Bible, during precious family times and even times when God speaks through nature. But that doesn’t mean that I see how this is present in a movie like CRASH, a discussion with an oil company CEO or even a Bach symphony. These are human endeavors. To think that “God planted a story inside of a story inside of a story, at just the right time, just for us” is hard to grasp. And then, to have the “unimaginable reality” experience from this, I struggle. But I don’t give up.

So allow me to start with something you quoted that seems more tangible to me and see if I can make it back to where you ended.

This is my Father's world.
O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.

Unfortunately the wrong does seem “oft so strong”. The racism in CRASH, the exploitation that drives industry, and the evil portrayed in Lord of the Rings. The wrong is so tangible you can almost taste it. And yet this child like song is telling me not to forget that God is still the ruler. This is still my Father’s world. Why is there, yet, this connection between God and a world that seems to have so much evil it?

I agree with your blog that the doctrine of providence is likely in the centre of all this. Providentially, I came across a pretty dry lecture on Calvin’s institutes given by Dr. David Calhoun. This is his definition:

God’s providence is His watchful, effective, active, ceaseless, total, detailed, personal, loving and wise governing of this world.

That God is directing the world in a loving detailed way certainly brings us great comfort. Calhoun suggests that providence leads to:

- gratitude of mind for the things that have worked out well.
- patience in adversity.
- incredible freedom from worry about the future

(He suggests dividing a paper in three parts and writing down events in your life that have worked out well, have been troubling and are worrisome. Reflect on how God’s providence has helped and is helping.)

The doctrine of providence means that God is at work in every facet of human and non-human existence. This is my father’s world, right down to the last detail past, present and future. I’m ok with God caring about the sparrow and to be honest I wish He took a little more interest in the hairs on my head. But what about this participating in or perhaps even directing a lot of evil stuff.

This is what Calhoun calls the “Problem of Providence”. We must simultaneously hold two points of view. First, nothing is done without God’s will, not even that which is against God’s will. But also, God is not the author of sin and mankind is responsible. Said another way: God is omnipotent (he directs everything) and God is good (he forbids sin) . How do we put this together?

The point that God can use evil to do good, helps in this understanding. As Luther puts it - God can use a crooked stick to draw a straight line. Still, as the song says “the wrong seems oft so strong.” John Calvin asks the question does God have two wills? Calvin says no there is a single simple will. He also says it is hidden. Here is his advice to us mere mortals:

“when we do not grasp how God wills to take place what he forbids to be done, let us recall our mental incapacity, and at the same time consider that the light in which God dwells is not without reason called unapproachable, because it is overspread with darkness"

He brings us to the point of mystery and does not answer the question. Crap, you and John Calvin seem to have more in common than your first name. But again, not to give up, let’s take a look at what we have so far.

The doctrine of providence explains how and why God is involved in every aspect of life. It is through God’s providence that He shows up in Lord of the Rings, CRASH, Van Gough’s art and a CEO’s office. Providence sings “this is my father’s world” and answers the question why “God is the ruler, yet” even “though the wrong seems oft so strong”. Providence allows the unimaginable reality of an omnipotent and good God to exist at the same time.

When I take your words John, the doctrine of a 16th century theologian and the analysis of a somewhat boring professor, I think we come closer to having some pretty good answers for “how it works”. And even though there is still huge mystery, I am somehow more satisfied.




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Haggard Christianity

Nov 15, 2006


I wrote this last week Monday, shortly after US evangelist Ted Haggard had his fall.

As a preacher, I’m just coming out of the, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ phase of my response to the Reverend Ted Haggard sex/drug scandal.

I can still remember a story a pastor and friend once told; of a very unsettling experience he had in a Seminary class. The professor started the session by pointing to a learner in the front row, left side, and saying, “One…” Then, pointing toward each of the students in each of the rows, he methodically continued, “Two, three, four, five, six, seven, YOU!...” He repeated the process until every student was enumerated. He then went on to say, “Statistics show that one in eight of you will end up being deposed from the ministry due to a moral failure.” Everyone shifted in their seats...

Looking into my pastor/friend’s eyes, as he relayed this story, I felt a genuine sense of vulnerability. In that moment he was reflecting a very authentic and honest self awareness, and I could see that he yearned for me to take the lesson to heart.

I have. I have to…because I don’t have it all together all of the time.

I’m not perfect; nowhere near. More often than not I fall short and miss the mark. At times I find myself doing what I don’t want to do, and leaving the things that I want to do, undone. Despite my sincerest efforts for holiness, I find myself wholly fallible.

Martin Luther once described the Christian life as one where a person is both totally a sinner and totally a saint; at the same time. I find this concept mysteriously true. The life of faith is, in some sense, paradoxical. And like all truths that are bound up in paradoxes, their mysterious power lies in the maintaining of a healthy tension.

The moment we grab onto our sainthood too heavily, and forget that other paradoxical pole, we set ourselves up for a fall.

Ted Haggard’s teacher taught this lesson many times; “Two guys enter a temple to pray - a tax collector and a religious leader. The religious leader self righteously strokes himself, “I’m a pretty good guy, let me count the ways!” The tax collector, with ruthless honesty, confesses, “Have mercy on me God”.

Which one had it right? According to Jesus, the humble one did.

Humility, honesty, and authenticity; these are the values that enable a person to graciously (and more safely) live in the paradox of faith.

The way I see the Haggard thing playing out, these values got lost. And a big part of the responsibility for that loss lies with the larger religious system that he was caught up in. In a sense, I think religious fundamentalism pushed Haggard to the edge.

How? By losing Luther’s tension, a camp mentality was allowed to flourish. We’re the good guys here inside the church – they’re the bad guys there outside in the world. We’ve got it together and they don’t.

While few would ever shout this credo out loud, it’s there and it’s dangerous. And when we allow it to grow, it becomes cancerous. We end up becoming very performance oriented; increasingly concerned with how things look. Soon we lose touch with our own depraved humanity, and quite deceptively begin to believe that we really are good, and that we’re the ones that made that happen. The pressure is then on; we need to keep our goodness going, only none of us really can succeed at that. The result is plasticity, faking it, hypocrisy.

In a recent quote Haggard said, “I am a deceiver and a liar.”

Sadly, for both the man and his family, circumstances have proven that true. One has to wonder if the story might have played out differently if this pastor had admitted these propensities earlier; long before he ever acted them out.

We’re all messed up. We all fall short.

I, for one, hope and pray that Ted Haggard’s huge reality check yields a whole lot of honest self reflection and humility for each and all of us. For God’s sake and for Ted’s.



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Space and design

Nov 09, 2006


Ok, I need some more sermon research help for this weekend's message. A famous Architect named Christopher Alexander starts his landmark book, "The Timeless Way of Being," with these words;

“There is one timeless way of building. It is thousands of years old, and the same today as it has always been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the centre of this way. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way. And, as you will see, this way will lead anyone who looks for it to buildings which are themselves as ancient in their form, as the trees and hills, and as our faces are.”

And here's where I need your help. In two or three sentences, describe that time when you were in a physical place that was just so right, so true, so alive, so whole, free and eternal. Try to capture why it was that way in your description (in three sentences!!!) (you can send me an image if you've got one... johnvs@newhopechurch.ca )

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.

Space and design
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 09 2006 @ 01:15 PM PST
My Window Seat

The chair by the cabin window looks west towards the foothills. The low hanging clouds burst over the hill, darting this way and that, while up above, so far above, a sun dog is playing for what seems like an eternity. And for that same eternity, sitting in my window seat, I too am at peace in a turbulent world.

Rob

Space and design
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 09 2006 @ 02:02 PM PST
I’m about 10 years old, lying in a snow cave that has been carved in my back yard…a remarkable two room shelter with a tunnel so tight I can barely make my way through. It is earthy and cold, safe and magical… a portal into a world of wild childhood imaginings, a perfect hand made palace...I could hide out here forever!

Space and design
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 09 2006 @ 06:38 PM PST
Visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge when I was 15. I wandered off the trail and lay down on the soft green moss, smelling the green cedar scent in the warmth, staring up through the green cedars at the green coloured rays of sunshine coming through the tree tops. I could feel, smell and see green - God was completely there and I felt his presence. It was incredibly peaceful and serene. Today if I feel stressed I remember that moment, and try to feel, smell and see it all again.

Space and design
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 10 2006 @ 11:22 AM PST
Alone in a secluded campsite in the Redwood forest California I was profoundly moved as an incredible sense of the presence of God overwhelmed me; the very same feeling as I had felt standing in L'Oratoire de St Joseph in Montreal. Towering arches, hushed acoustics, dappled sunlight, an immense portion of the peace and presence of God himself. The structure of both spaces demanded I lift my eyes up and in doing so I was deeply touched and sat entrenched in silent worship.

Space and design
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, November 11 2006 @ 06:26 AM PST
Gideon Strauss writes:

I recall an early afternoon meal shared with my daughters on a cool late summer’s day some years
ago, in Bryant Park next to the building of the main branch of the New York Public Library. As we
ate in this former needle park, we watched children ride the carousel, working folk sitting on the
green park chairs with their brown paper bag lunches, a fashion shoot taking place in one of the
park’s corners, and, suffusing the scene, the dapple of sunlight rippling through the tall, reedy,
breeze-blown plane trees. One of my daughters turned to me and said, “This is how I imagine the
New Jerusalem.”

http://www.wrf.ca/pdfs/sgu/StainedGlass%20-%205%20-%20Urban%20Village%20Vanguard.pdf

Space and design
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, November 11 2006 @ 09:09 AM PST
I once visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal and was awe struck by the most beautiful stained glass pictures and exquisite marbled architecture. I found a quiet solitude and reverence in that place-the art and depiction of the saints and Jesus was inspirational. I lit a candle and prayed in the silence to an amazing God that gifts us with such special places of worship.



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CBC Radio 1010 Calgary - Disability and the Divine

Nov 08, 2006


John joined in on CBC Radio's Wild Rose forum for a discussion on disabilities.


>>Listen to the show (28 min. mp3 audio)


>>See all related audio and video






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Chapter Four - How it works

Nov 08, 2006


Tuesday morning I’m flying back from a two day conference in Washington State and wondering why the heck we’re spending all this time talking about this idea; this new kind of preaching that’s playing out at New Hope. All I want to do it do it.

A couple of theological PhD, professorial types were there, along a whole bunch of front line preachers - each wanting to speak in a relevant way to their congregations - and, of course, there were two of us ‘preaching culture’ practitioners from Calgary.

The format of the event followed the usual protocol...
the practitioners tell a few stories illustrating how this idea has been playing out recently (show a few movie clips, summarize a few sermons, listen to a few media clips), then the questions start (“yeah but”… “I’m not sure about this…”, “I love this way of thinking…” , “But what about?”...), and then we break into small groups to continue the dialogue (usually with the focus of trying to together learn how to actually write this kind of sermon), and then, at 4:00 pm., we gather and summarize the day (“hey that was good, we should talk some more”).

And the whole time we’re talking about it, I’m thinking, “I’ve got 400 pages to read before Sunday – on Architecture. After reading those 400 pages I’ve got to write a message.” In moments like those I yearn for the days when this stuff was just happening, quite unintentionally, very providentially, and without a whole lot of self justification. Hey, I’m not saying that all of the theological discussion is bad; it’s not, it’s both grounding and enhancing. But it can distract from the bigger thing; the fact that God is moving in our world right now and, if we have eyes to see, we can actually see it. Let me see, “I can spend my time talking about how we can see God, or I can spend time actually seeing God…. Hmmmm… what shall I choose?” (Perhaps they’re not mutually exclusive!)

So how exactly does it work? How do these messages come together? Where does it all start?

Whenever I try to answer the existential - So why am I here again? – question, I always seem to end up with the same answer. “In relation to my specific calling as a preacher and church leader, at it’s core I’m here to say, ‘This is that!’ Yeah, that’s why I think God has put me here.”

Let me explain what that means. No, let me illustrate what that means.

I’m sitting in a theatre, watching the first Lord of the Rings film and I have a double epiphany. The first one occurs when the Wizard Gandalf and the Hobbit Frodo are lost in the imprisoning bowels of the evil Mines of Moria. Wicked forces surround them, despair is in the air and Frodo bemoans the fact that he’s been saddled with this ring. Evil is on their tails, everything seems hopeless, and he, a mere Halfling, is seemingly unable to do anything about it. In this despairing moment the wise Gandalf then says, “There are other forces at work in this world Frodo besides the will of evil... Bilbo was meant to find the ring… in which case, you also, were meant to have it... and that is an encouraging thought.” It was one of the most numinous moments in the film, for everyone in that theatre. But for me, a person who has this huge belief in the sovereignty of God, who’s life has been transformed by the reality and theological concept of providence… for me, those words were saturated with the promise of God; with the powerful truth of his very real presence!

Recall that this film came out just after 9/11. Evil was all around us and we were afraid, losing hope. Then we hear Gandalf’s words of hope; the story within the story speaking God’s truth; that there are other forces at work in this world besides the will of evil.

As Gandalf repeated the word, ‘meant,’ I kept asking, “Meant by whom? Meant by whom?” And in that magic, very alive moment, I knew for certain that our world belonged to God, that he was still mysteriously in control of things, and that his kingdom force was very much still at work. The Spirit of God, of Jesus Christ was in the theatre at that moment, moving among the worshipping throng.

And as Tolkien’s tale unfolded, the beautiful soundtrack of Peter Jackson’s film, not so subtly, played in the backgound. That’s where epiphany two happened. The song sounded so familiar to me, so comforting. “I know this song,” I thought. And then it hit me, that the first seven notes of the Lord of the Rings theme song were the same first seven notes of an old hymn that I sang in church as a child;

This is my Father's world

1. This is my Father’s world
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.

2. This is my Father's world,
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their maker's praise.
This is my Father's world:
he shines in all that's fair;
in the rustling grass I hear him pass;
he speaks to me everywhere.

3. This is my Father's world.
O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!

“O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the ruler yet?”… Like, are you kidding me? This entire film’s premise is based on the providential presence of God in a good vs. evil world. That old hymn is all about the same truths; God is present, at work, and revealing himself all over this world. He truly does shine in all that’s fair; including a powerful story like the Lord of the Rings.

And maybe, just maybe, He is the mysterious force for good in behind our ever present evil, a God who at one time, 60 or so years ago, inspired a man of faith named J. R. R. Tolkien to write a story, and who later brought together a director and writers, in the right digital media time, to make the movie; a God who also inspires song writers to write their scores; for both ancient hymns and Hollywood films. And maybe, just maybe, God timed it all the way he did, so that we could find hope in a difficult time. God planted a story inside of a story inside of a story, at just the right time, just for us.

That is how the process worked. That’s how God’s Spirit went about inspiring us to preach the Lord of the Rings. That is one of the central truth’s that, we thought, God wanted to convey via this Hollywood text.

This is that. The Lord of the Rings story, in so many ways, is filled with the same truths of the biblical story. It was like God put it there on purpose, for a reason; this powerful pointer to an even bigger tale.

That’s how the process works; mysterious epiphanies that happen to you. Same thing happened in the movie CRASH, in reading about the life of 150 year old seeker Vincent Van Gogh, in plumbing the depths of Quantum Physics, in meeting with an Oilsands CEO in a Calgary office building, in listening to a Bach cantata, in watching a fashion designer describe his latest creation, in riding a bike across Canada, in whatever, wherever, whenever.

The Spirit of Christ is afoot in our world. Aslan is on the move. And when that Spirit touches our eyes, unplugs our ears, softens our rock hard hearts, we see, hear and know! We experience an unimaginable reality, someone so poignantly and beautifully present.

I don’t think we have any idea.



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Environmental Depression

Nov 07, 2006


An editorial I wrote was published in the Herald this morning. Not a whole lot of bible quoting per se (except for one veiled reference), and yet a very important faith topic.

Here's the piece...
So what is it about that recently released British report on global warming that’s getting everybody’s attention? (the one that says that we better do something soon or this is going to lead to an economic depression)

Noticing the big splash the story made on the CBC news last night, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What does it say about us when it takes the potential of a negative bottom line to finally wake us up to environmental reality?”

We can watch startling satellite shots of the polar ice cap melting, see flowers blooming in Great Britain in October, observe desert expansion and glacial recession, witness unprecedented California flames and shrug, but the moment there are dollars involved; the moment our precious GDP risks getting dented - the alarm bells sound.

Makes me think that those UK report writers were really on the ball, using the ‘You can pay me know, or you can pay me later’ strategy. You’ve got to hit people where they think it’s going to hurt; the back pocket.

For the past 5 years I’ve become increasingly uneasy with the western world’s rationale for environmental inaction – basically the thinking goes something like this; “We’re not going to make any changes that might negatively impact our economy… or our interests… or our competitiveness.” And we all nod our heads in agreement as though some eternal truism has just been voiced.

The implicit assumption behind a statement like this is that money is the number one priority... the ultimate arbiter… the bottom line. Why in the world would we ever do something that costs us anything?

Despite all of our enlightened (“we baby boomers have now grown up and evolved beyond our materialistic money is everything”) sentiments, it appears that we really haven’t changed much at all. Like Woody Allen once said, “We want what we want.” And apparently we still want it.

Ah greed - it really is a deadly little sin.

And then I hear another CBC report on China’s rationale for staying their vibrant, environmentally ravaging, economic course, “Why should we implement costly controls when the US refuses to do so?” A perverse kind of reverse nimbyism is at play it seems; “If they’re going to do it in their back yard, why can’t we do it in ours?”

You can hardly fault the Chinese for wanting to have their day in the increasingly warm, global economic sun. Unlike western nations, this is a relatively new thing for them, allowing large portions of their populace to move from abject poverty to some kind of middle class. In a way we’ve got to give that to them. Either way, we can’t use their potential prosperity (and its attendant ecological footprint) as the basis for our inaction. We’ve got to lead and take some kind of first step.

Studies have shown that countries must reach certain per capita income levels before they are able to consider the sacrifice of environmental controls. This makes sense. People need to be well fed, clothed and housed before they’ll pay more for transportation, food, or consumer goods. As western nations, we’re already there and maybe that means we need to make the first move; sacrificially! Perhaps we need to lay down our economic lives for our friends; and for our children.

We’ll risk falling behind. But that concern may not become reality. What about all those reports of companies who’ve made the right environmental decision and ended up being surprised by the economic benefits?

And don’t forget that this kind of investment will surely yield huge ecological returns. And even if it doesn’t - even if the global warming gig we’re now experiencing really is the result of some larger climatological pattern – surely it can’t be a bad thing for our generation to leave this planet the way we found it.

More fresh air is bound to be in all of our best interests. Even the economy might breathe a bit easier. We’ll also be the most competitive when it comes to possessing a global conscience.



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snow

Oct 30, 2006


While walking the reservoir today I stood silently along the side of one of the paths and just soaked in the silence. A Black Capped Chickadee made a beeline for me, missing me by 12 inches and landing on a bush two feet behind me. He then did a return trip past my other side. It felt like God was hugging me. What a day.





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