Monday, October 16, 2017

Galatians 6:14-16

At the end of his short letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul writes:
As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.
Galatians 6:14-16 NLT
For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life! All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God—his chosen people. Peace and mercy on them!
Galatians 6:14-16 MSG

In these concluding sentences Paul declares that in Christ, because of Christ, through Christ, something brand new has and is happening. We have been transformed... we are the new people of God. Paul is saying (at least in part) that because of the cross (which is shorthand for the cross-resurrection-ascension) both Jews and Gentiles are the people of God - there is no more distinction based on ethnicity, class, sexuality, because the basis of inclusion in the people of God is not what we have done or hope to do, but what the triune God has done and is doing.

All those Old Testament laws were temporary not meant to be permanent
We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
Galatians 4:3-7 NLT

We are welcomed as God's own children, not as slaves or citizens. And so Paul says 
now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.
Galatians 4:9-12 NLT

If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, if you are child of God, loved by Father-Son-Spirit, then live that way. Live in the freedom and joy and release of that love, not trying to earn or conjure up some sort of religious experience. The old way is dead and crucified. You are a new person in Christ. And if we are new people in Christ, then,
  • we are free to worship (beyond our personal preferences); 
  • we are free to serve (beyond our comfort zones); 
  • we are free to bless other (beyond our selfish tendencies);
  • we are free to be who God sets us free to be.
The goal or purpose of being the people of God, is not simply for our own sake, but for others who are not in Christ. The promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12...
I will make you into a great nation.
I will bless you and make you famous,
and you will be a blessing to others.
I will bless those who bless you
and curse those who treat you with contempt.
All the families on earth will be blessed through you.
Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

was that all peoples would be blessed... and this would happen through God's people being a blessing to other peoples, ultimately being fulfilled in the radical forgiveness extended through God's love in Christ.


The Bible is the compost pile that provides material for new life. I do not use this figure as an irreverent metaphor to suggest that the Bible is “garbage.” Rather, I use it to suggest that the Bible itself is not the actual place of new growth. Our present life, when we undertake new growth, is often inadequate, arid, or even barren. It needs to be enriched, and for that enrichment, we go back to the deposits of old growth that have been discarded, but that continue to ferment and may contain resources for a way to new life.
Walter Brueggemann, "Texts Under Negotiation" p 61-62

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

mystery... awe & humility

“…advances in knowledge throw up problems that require rethinking the tradition… one of the tasks of theologians is to explore and restate central doctrines in the light of developments in human knowledge.
The doctrine of creation is now rethought in the light of what is taken to be the case in respect to cosmology or evolution or genetics but nevertheless it is still a doctrine of creation when it affirms that the universe and its life as we know them depend for their existence on a divine Creator.”
~Andrew T. Lincoln, Born of a Virgin?:
Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible,
Tradition, and Theology

“In light of our current understanding of the cosmos, the creedal claim 'I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth' is not diminished but magnified beyond comprehension.

“There are billions upon billions of galaxies in our universe, each containing billions upon billions of stars. We cannot remotely comprehend these numbers…  
“And at the other end of the spectrum we have subatomic particles – as if atoms weren’t small enough - and string theory…
“What claim can we have to speak for him (God), to think his thoughts are our thoughts? Who do we think we are, anyway?
“Here’s another thing that unsettles me into silence. According to the Christian tradition, this God who does literally incomprehensible things, is also willing to get very small – to line up next to us, to know us, even love us (as the Bible says again and again).
“If there really is a God like this – a God who understands and controls things so big my calculator has to use a letter to get it across, who is also a God who walked among a tiny tribe of ancient people called Israelites, who allowed them to write about him in their tiny ancient ways, and who subjected himself to suffering and death (what we work so hard to avoid), well…
“I think we’re talking mystery here, people.
“A God who does both. There are no words for this sort of thing….
“One God responsible for the unfathomably large, who is also near us…
“To take this all in, as far as I am concerned, is above our mortal pay grade. Those of us who believe this kind of God exists should feel put in our place, pretty much walking around with that “I can’t believe what I just saw” look in our eye.
“The Bible calls this humility and awe, which, as hard as it is to pull off, is at least something we can understand.”

~Pete Enns

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


I have a friend, who lives in Uganda, but who travels regularly into the Congo to bring encouragement to believers there. Congo, right now, is a very dangerous place. The media very seldom report on what is happening in that country. Violence seems to be the primary way of running the country. 

President Joseph Kabila was supposed to step down on 19 December 2016. But despite opposition and international condemnation, he has refused to relinquish power. It now looks like the election rescheduled for 2017 will not happen. Kabila is now talking about constitutional changes that will allow him to be President for Life. Whenever that has happened in Africa, it has not been good for the people or the nation as a whole - only for the President, his family, and closest advisors (who are obviously "yes" men).

Understanding the source of conflict in the Congo (formerly Zaire) is not all that difficult. There are two main factors.
  1. The mineral wealth of the country.
    Congo is a rich country, almost limitless water, from the world's second-largest river, the Congo; it's climate and rich soil make it fertile; and, beneath the soil are abundant deposits of copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, uranium, coltan, and oil - just some of the resources that should make it one of the world's richest countries. For many years, it provided the world's largest supply of rubber for bicycle and automobile tires, as well electrical insulation.

    Instead, those resources have led to incredible abuses: forcing tribal groups off the land, without adequate compensation; destructive mining techniques; government, rebels, and others (from outside the country) involved in the conflicts taking the majority of the profits; outside countries and companies, including Canada, have made whatever deals necessary to get access to the resources, with little regard for the people.
  2. Congo's history.
    It was common, not too long ago, to blame the woes of an underdeveloped or developing country on the lack of leadership of the government - some even saying it was a clear sign that black people are not made to lead. But look at the history. Almost everything bad that we see happening in Congo (and sadly, some of the atrocities are repeated in too many places) happened under Western control.

    King Leopold II of Belgium, basically treated what he called the Congo Free State (although it was anything but free) as his personal property. Nearly all the infrastructure projects, such as roads and railways, were built so that assets could be removed from the county. During the time of rubber sales, the army was called in, to cut off the limbs of people who didn't make quota.

    As in many places, western freedoms were defended with Congo's resources while native Congolese were denied the right to vote, or form unions and political associations. They were denied anything beyond the most basic of education, which suited the mine owners just fine.

    But as a result, when independence came, in 1960, there were no home-grown experts who could run the country. Of the 5,000 government jobs, pre-independence, just t
    hree (3) were held by Congolese and there was not a single Congolese lawyer, doctor, economist or engineer. Within weeks of Independence, the majority of Belgians left the country. leaving behind a predictable disaster.

    As chaos threatened to engulf the region. The Cold War superpowers moved in to prevent the other gaining the upper hand. The Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba, was horrifically beaten and executed by Western-backed rebels. A military strongman, Joseph-Desire Mobutu, who had a few years before been a sergeant in the colonial police force, took over. He became a tyrant. In 1972 he changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, meaning "the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake".
    The West (mostly the USA) tolerated him as long as the minerals flowed and the Congo was kept out of the Soviet orbit. Which has often been the way - the West doesn't really care about the people - all we care about is getting stuff. And so, the West installs and removes dictators and tyrants, based on selfish economic benefits.
The future does not look much better. Congolese leaders are following the example set before them by the Belgians and the French and the Americans. Millions have been killed in the last 20 years: many as a direct result of the many wars; many more as the result of the war-induced famine and rape of the land.

In recent years China is pushing its way into many places in Africa. They offer infrastructure projects and funding for government projects, but, they end up controlling the projects; they offer little in skills training, preferring to bring in their own people; leaders (again many of whom are extremely short-sighted) are selling the future of their country for immediate financial gain.

Joseph Conrad's statement is still true:
"The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary: men alone are quite capable of every wickedness." ~Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes
Anyone who says they have a simple answer to resolve the issues in Congo, or in many other places, doesn't know or understand the Congo. I'm thankful for people like my friend who makes repeated trips into the Congo to help strengthen and encourage the church in holistic ways. Pray for the people of the Congo. Be aware of what is happening in our world beyond the headlines of the mainstream media. Respond, as God directs to give to credible organizations already on the ground.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

non western authors & books

We in the west have a narrow view of the world and the gospel - so what are some books & authors from other countries that we should read?
Here are some of the books & authors I have read, listed by country


The Kite Runner

Introducing Liberation TheologyLeonardo Boff & Clodovis Boff, 1987


Things Fall ApartChinua Achebe,1958


A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and SalvationGustavo GutiĆ©rrez, 1973

Festo Kivengere, 1977


Dead Aid – Why Aid is Not WorkingDambisa Moyo, 2010

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

book review: Inside the Mental

author: Kay Parley
title: Inside the Mental: Silence, Stigma, Psychiatry, and LSD
publisher: University of Regina Press
year: 2016

Kay Parley writes as both a patient at Weyburn Mental Hospital, in Weyburn Saskatchewan, and as a psychiatric nurse at that same hospital. This small (both in size and length) book reflects on her family upbringing, her own breakdowns and her journey to become a nurse working with patients at the same hospital.

As a child growing up, both her grandfather and her father were long term patients at Weyburn Mental Hospital. In fact, she never met her grandfather until she became a patient herself. And she had no contact with her father, after he was admitted, until sometime after she was admitted.

Kay writes both about what was good at the hospital and what was not so good.

Inside the Mental, doesn't take long to read, but is a good look back at the emerging fields of group therapy, the developing ethics of psychiatry, the beginning of patient rights, and her role in the groundbreaking experiments with LSD.


"Truth is, in our world, undergoing a terrific battle to maintain its existence. It shines brightly at times but many clouds obscure it. It is being ravished, prostituted, and distorted but it is fighting bravely and the battle ebbs and flows."
~Dr Winchell, in a note to Kay Parley, when she was in the Weyburn (Saskatchewan) Mental Hospital, (Kay Parley, "Inside the Mental: Silence, Stigma, Psychiatry, and LSD", 2016) 

Monday, June 12, 2017

book review: When Breath Becomes Air

title: Paul Kalanithi
author: When Breath Becomes Air
publisher: Random House
year: 2016

"I was pursuing medicine to bear witness to the twinned mysteries of death, its experiential and biological manifestations: at once deeply personal and utterly impersonal."

Paul Kalanithi was, by all accounts, an excellent neurosurgeon, with the potential of being a true guiding force in medicine and science. He spent most of his early adult life seeking knowledge on multiple fronts, from literature and science to philosophy and ethics. When he finally decided to pursue a career in neurology, he wasn't just content to be a doctor—he wanted to understand and identify with his patients fully, to help them and their families adjust to whatever their new reality would be following a diagnosis, an accident, a surgery.

At the age of 36, Paul Kalanithi, with a BA and MA in English Literature, a BA in Human Biology, an MPhil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, and was completing his residency in Neurological Surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in Neuroscience was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. 

The transition from doctor to patient is not easy for anyone. While he and his internist wife Lucy are prepared for the worst, Paul's oncologist has hope, and doesn't allow him to wallow in his diagnosis. If he wants to stop being a neurologist, she tells him, it has to be because he doesn't want to continue or wants to pursue something else—his cancer won't stop him.

As he struggles with thoughts of his future, however long that might be, he ponders how to fill that time. Should he continue working in a field that has so richly given back to him, and given him the chance to touch so many lives? What gives a life value, and how can that value be measured? 
What obligations does he owe his family, his friends, his wife, his infant daughter?

"At those critical junctures, the question is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living."

When Breath Becomes Air is an intellectual and deeply emotional memoir, written by a young man with so much promise, so much heart, so much empathy. It is both a reflection on coming face-to-face with one's own mortality and a commentary on the responsibility doctors have to help their patients and their families through that same reflection, whether it happens with some warning or suddenly. It is also a love story, of a man and his wife, a man and the child he will never truly know, and a man and his career.

We know from the very start of Abraham Verghese's introduction to the book that Paul lost his battle with cancer, yet the end of his life, and the epilogue written by Paul's wife still feel like sucker punches. You mourn a man you probably never knew, but you feel truly blessed he chose as one of his final acts to share his life, his death, and his thoughts with the world, because we are all better for them.

"'The thing about lung cancer is that it's not exotic,' Paul wrote in an email to his best friend, Robin. 'It's just tragic enough and just imaginable enough. [The reader] can get into these shoes, walk a bit and say, 'So that's what it looks like from here...sooner or later I'll be back here in my own shoes.' That's what I'm aiming for, I think. Not the sensationalism of dying, and not exhortations to gather rosebuds, but: Here's what lies up ahead on the road.' Of course, he did more than just describe the terrain. He traversed it bravely."

This is a beautiful book, truly a work of art that I won't soon forget. I book I recommend to anyone working in any aspect of the medical profession. Thank you to the Kalanithi family for this opportunity to catch a glimpse into Paul' journey. 

Saturday, June 03, 2017

shalom - U2

U2 played a gospel song on Jimmy Kimmel the other night: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” I like this version, because everyone joins in. Someone mentioned to me that they didn't think it was a gospel song because it expressed so much longing. But, that's exactly why it's a gospel song. We live in the now but not yet of the Kingdom.

We never find all that we are looking for in this life... we are always longing for a deeper experience of God's love and grace, we desire the fullness of God's shalom to break in to the broken places - in our lives, in our cities, in our world. 

Wouldn't it be great to have U2 lead the choir in singing this longing song like they do here.

The author of Hebrews writes: "But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them" Hebrews 11:16.

We long for, we dream of, we hope for, we work for shalom - God's fullness, the flourishing of the city - the new heaven and the new earth.

Here's an official concert version... with even more people joining in the singing.

And one more, from 2011 when my daughter & I saw U2 at the Roger's Centre


Thursday, May 25, 2017

movie review: Queen of Katwe

The Queen of Katwe is a teenage girl, living in the lowest rung of Ugandan slum poverty who against all odds becomes a Woman Candidate Master in chess. The child of a Kampala slum dares never dares dream of being involved in a Hollywood ending, never mind it being her true story. Phiona Mutesi is a real life Disney story and that story deserves telling and is told well.
The Queen of Katwe has few white actors and some 80 Ugandans - mostly kids with no acting experience. Having spent a few weeks in Uganda earlier this year, and with OCC being involved with the Neema Children's Choir, I was looking forward to this movie.
I was not disappointed. We are transported to a slum in Kampala, Uganda: the way words are used, the bustle of Kampalan life, the bleakness of the poor in the slums and the near impossibility to better themselves is all laid out.
Then, into such hopelessness, there are those who give their lives to improve the lives of others. David Oyelowo’s character (he recently played Dr King in Selma) sacrifices his own betterment to improve the children that he teaches chess and other sports to... as does his wife.
Chess is such a fascinating game to play among Ugandan children or any other African child. With little play time at a young age and education done in a rote manner, chess, that uses problem solving and imagination, is more than a game. It teaches about life and how to deal with the knocks and be creative about how to dream beyond the situation. 

It's a film well worth seeing - in fact we will probably show it at OCC as part of raising awareness of life and ministry in East Africa.

Ascension Day

Ascension Day is one of those days on the church calendar that most of us don't know what to do with. We know that the Apostle's Creed says:
He ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father almighty;
But we sometimes get some odd views of what it means for Jesus to ascend. Part of that is because we try to read 21st century science back into the 1st century. The author of Acts (Luke) had no notion of light years, of outer space, of the things that are part of our understanding of the cosmos. As someone has put it: 
The ascension is harder to believe in than the resurrection.
Keith Ward, in his book, The Big Questions in Science and Religion:
We now know that, if [Jesus] began ascending two thousand years ago, he would not yet have left the Milky Way (unless he attained warp speed).
James D. G. Dunn’s article on “Myth” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: 
To demythologize the ascension is not to deny that Jesus “went to heaven”; it is simply to find a way of expressing this in language which takes it out of the realm of current or future space research.
The new NIV Faithline Study Bible has an graphic of the ancient Hebrew worldview of cosmology. I think we sometimes try too hard to make the ancient Hebrews (and therefore the Old Testament) to literal. I wonder, if maybe they were better at metaphor than we sometimes are.

Ascension day is a perfect day to remind ourselves that literalism is not only problematic, but impossible. Even if someone insists on maintaining the literal truth of the claim in Acts that Jesus literally went up into heaven, they cannot maintain the worldview of the 1st century Christians which provided the context for the affirmation. Those early believers knew nothing of light-years, distant galaxies or interstellar space without oxygen. And it is not possible, either through some act of will or by faith, to ignore or forget everything that has been learned since then and believe as they did. 

There are many people who claim that they are Biblical literalists. But there are no actual Biblical literalists. Because even the precise words of the Bible, taken literally, mean something different today than they did almost 2,000 years ago.

Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, writes:
The damage done to our practical faith in Christ and in his government-at-hand by confusing heaven with a place in distant or outer space, or even beyond space, is incalculable. Of course God is there too. But instead of heaven and God also being always present with us, as Jesus shows them to be, we invariably take them to be located far away and, most likely, at a much later time – not here and not now. And we should then be surprised to feel ourselves alone?
Larry Norman, in U.F.O., sang, 
And if there's life on other planetsThen I'm sure that He must knowAnd He's been there once alreadyAnd has died to save their souls

Monday, May 08, 2017

book review: (re)union

title: (re)union the GOOD NEWS of JESUS for SINNERS, SAINTS and SEEKERS
author: Bruxy Cavey
year: 2017
publisher: Herald Press

Bruxy Cavey wants a Christianity that looks like Jesus. A Christianity that is know for who it is for more than what it is against. If you boil this book down to a single thought or phrase it is this: the gospel, the good news, is Jesus.

Bruxy, opens by highlighting the irreligious aspect of the gospel - the gospel does way with religion. Jesus himself said, as he prayed (John 17:3) "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent." Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus - none of the stuff that we sometimes substitute for that relationship.

Throughout the pages of this book, Bruxy unpacks aspects of the gospel - the good news.

The gospel in one word: Jesus.
The gospel in three words: Jesus is Lord.
The gospel in thirty words: Jesus is God with us, come to show us God's love, save us from sin, set up God's Kingdom, and, shut down religion, so we can share in God's life.

(re)union is a book written by a man who obviously loves Jesus and who presents a careful examination of what the gospel is all about - Jesus. It's a book well worth reading. It's about His kingdom with us and in us through His Holy Spirit. This is a book for seekers and sinners and especially saints who have lost their way in religion and want to find Jesus again.

Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received a free copy of this book as part of the NetGallery Review Program
in exchange for my honest review. The thoughts expressed here are my own.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

book review: Orillia's Civil War

titleOrillia's Civil War
authorDavid Town 
year: 2016
publisher: self-published

David Town has written a great summary of the history of Orillia 1832-1836, highlighting the "battles" between the 1st nations people, the Family Compact government, the settlers and the church. It's a story that, unfortunately, has been told in so many places, not only here in Canada, but around the world. 

As in many cases, the tensions revolve around land and power. In Orillia's case, the increasing reduction (and in some cases, illegal possession) of land sold to the Chippewa / Ojibwa, at below market prices. Town provides a detailed summary of the conflict between the four groups. All four groups hated at least one of the other groups. 

As I read the account, of the government failing to act or acting only for personal gain; of settlers, under the protection of the government, illegally occupying native land, ignoring treaties; of 1st nations people being so mistreated that they gave into the poor land deals that were offered; and, of church power battles - I felt anger at the way the people who were here long before we were, were mistreated.

The "civil war" for the land on which Orillia is located, lasted only five years, 1832-36. But final resolution of the original treaty agreement of land between Orillia and Coldwater did not happen until 2011.

I purchased "Orillia's Civil War" from Manticore Books, Orillia, which incidentally is where the Methodist Mission house was built in 1831-32.