Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sinner to Saint

We live with this constant battle between doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing.
Christian theology calls the wrong thing, sin.

This evil, this brokeness, this sin nestles deep inside of each of us, threatening to lash out and destroy all that is precious to us.

Sin accumulates at a compound rate, often drawing others into its orbit.

We use rational arguments and legal prohibitions to place restraints around sin.

It is a paradox of human history that rapid technological and cultural advances can take place in tandem with advances in human depravity.
Shadows follow the light.

We often fight evil through physical, structural, political and legal means.
But it's not enough.
There is no law strong enough to penetrate into the human heart.

Liberation from sin and evil is achieved when Jesus Christ enters into your life and expels the darkness within.
Once this initial liberation takes place, the Holy Spirit of God begins to alter, reform and renew the resources of heart, mind and soul.

And we begin the journey to becoming saints.
Becoming a saint is the true destiny of every human being and we will live lives of perpetual frustration if we are not advancing toward that goal.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Love One Another

Jesus Christ said the two most important things that human beings can do is love God and love on another.

Nothing else comes close to these two commands.

In fact, if we fulfill these two commands, we fulfill every command.

The clue to loving one another is found in something that the apostle Paul wrote to a group of Christians.

He wrote:

"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

The love of one another comes into its full manifestation when we see another human being burdened by something, and we come along and carry that burden for them.

We take the pain off of them and place it on ourselves.

This type of self- sacrifice is the fullest evolution of love.

But, it also runs completely counter to our culture that has placed self on the altar.

It is only when the self is emptied of selfishness and greed that the love Jesus spoke of becomes manifest in our lives.

And that is hard. But it also leads to true joy.

Joy and fulfillment will remain ever elusive in a culture bent on living only for its own pleasures.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Run and Look!

My final point of my Easter Cornell message was "Run and Look".

Jesus has risen from the dead.
The women visit the tomb - it is empty.
Jesus' dead body is not there.
They go back and tell the disciples.

And (this is in the Bible!), the men respond like this:

"they did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense."

Most people today probably think Christianity might be interesting, maybe gives us some good morals to live by.
But, they resist the supernatural elements of the faith.
There are too many things that seem impossible to believe … like men coming back from the dead.

It seems like …. nonsense.

What is fascinating is that the first century followers of Jesus had the exact same initial reaction that many of us do: nonsense, impossible!

Despite the nonsensical words, one of the disciples, Peter runs to the tomb to see what has happened.

He sees the strips of linen that had previously been used to hold fast the corpse of Jesus - they are now lying there, useless.

And the text says:

"he went away wondering to himself what had happened"

As we analyze Christianity, we might have the same reaction: "What has happened?"

The truth is, the first century followers of Jesus were all initially skeptics as well.
But, their skepticism did not persist.

And the question is, how?
How do these men transform from skeptical and fearful to courageous architects of a new faith?
How does murderous Saul the Pharisee become Paul the apostle?

People become followers of Jesus Christ by encountering the risen Jesus Christ.
Christiainity takes us beyond doctrinal agreement or moral piety.
Christianity is Jesus Christ.

And this is my point - be like Peter - run, look, study for yourself.
Don't take my words for it, or your friends or family.
Discover it personally.
Ezra Cornell wrote the motto of Cornell University:
"I would found an institution where any person could find any instruction in any study."

How can you consider yourself an educated person if you remain ignorant of the most famous and influential person who ever lived?
Are you even able to articulate the beliefs of Christianity?
Look at the influence Christianity has had on the arts, literature, government theory and political systems - and yet many of us are completely ignorant of it.

The first believers investigated the claims and then encountered Christ personally.

Life is difficult.
Life is struggle.
But, our vision of the future exerts great power over our daily circumstances.

There is a Christian writer and speaker named Joni Erickson Tada. As a teenager, Joni dove into a lake, misjudging the depth, she cracked her spine and became an instant paraplegic.
One day she was at a Christian conference where the speaker invited everyone to bow down in prayer.
Sitting upright in her wheel chair, her disability became obvious to all.

Joni began to weep. Not tears of sorrow, but of joy.

She writes:

"I with shriveled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees and no feeling from the shoulders down, will one day have a new body, light, bright and clothed in righteousness - powerful and dazzling. Can you imagine what hope the resurrection gives someone who is spinal-cord injured like me?"

If we learn anything from the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ it is that no condition is permanent.
Death leads us into life.
The human condition is not fixed.
If you are sad here, in the final resurrection of all things you will only know joy.
If you are lonely here, in the final resurrection you will know perfect love

The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that ultimate meaning, purpose and joy can be encountered and experienced now and forever.

Jesus Christ said that he came to give us abundant life.

I pray everyone reading these words discovers the reality of that promise.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Living Among the Dead

My second point of my Easter/Cornell talk was "The Living Among the Dead.
In Luke's account of the resurrection, the women come to the tomb and are met by two angels. One of the angels asks this penetrating question:

"Why are you looking for the living among the dead?"

This is a stunning question that gets under the skin of what it means to be a human being.

Ours is a culture seeking out life from that which cannot get life.

Material goods, career advancement, "success", even a happy family ultimately leave us incomplete.

No one has captured this existential angst better than CS Lewis:

Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best .possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us. Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right one.

There is a strange sadness when we obtain that which we have been striving towards. 
A disconcerting emptiness.
We are seeking the living among the dead.

Immaterial, earthly things cannot touch the deep places in our souls.
A career no matter how successful has an end date.
Loving relationships all go through seasons of challenge.
Material possessions do nothing to meet spiritual needs.

There is a deep, insatiable hunger inside of you and inside of me that NOTHING IN THIS WORLD can ever ultimately satisfy.

We are seeking the living among the dead.

C.S. Lewis helps us once again:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, then; is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

You have a soul.
There is a spiritual reality to your life that only God can fill.
Stop looking for the living among the dead.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Easter 2014

I will never forget this past Easter.
The day started with an early breakfast at my church (7 AM). I joked that I wasn't sure even Jesus rose from the grave before 7 AM.
The breakfast was followed by 2 church services. I read scripture in the first one and prayed int he second one.
I left the second service early to go to Cornell University.
Every Easter all the Christian clubs on campus organize an event called "Easter on the Quad". This is a service of worship, testimony and a presentation of the gospel.
I was invited to give the message this year.

So, Felicia and the 3 kids and I headed up to the University. It was a beautiful sunny day.
There appeared to be about 100 students preparing for the event, setting up chairs, hooking up the sound system, a worship team was practicing.

I introduced myself to a couple of the organizers. I then told them I was going to play catch with my son until the start time got closer. Adam and I headed over to a piece of green and worked on his throwing. (He is in his 4th year of playing baseball).

After our impromptu baseball practice, we grabbed some seats near the front.
The event started with excellent (and very loud) worship music by a student led band. Their worship set included a fairly respectable rap by one of the guitar players.

A student shared her testimony which was very good.

And then I took the stage. I spoke from Luke 24.
(By the time I spoke the crowd had swelled to 700 which was encouraging).

My points were:
1. The fact of the resurrection
2. The living among the dead
3. Run and Look

My first point centered on a couple of apologetic arguments for the fact of the empty tomb. I said the best explanation for the empty tomb was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
2 reasons - the transformation of the disciples from men in hiding to men who boldly proclaimed the gospel and ending up as martyrs. I used an illustration from Charles Colson (Richard Nixon's hatchet man during Watergate). After his conversion Colson shared the following:

"I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

People die for a lie all the time. But, people do not die for a lie WHEN THEY KNOW ITS A LIE. It makes no sense to suffer and die for what you know is a deception. And yet that is what everyone of the disciples did.

Second reason - the acceptance and spread of Christianity in that particular culture. 1st Century Judaism was the last group of people who would accept the incarnation of God into a man and a bodily, physical resurrection of a human being. Yet, this belief caught on among a group of people whose worldview would naturally restrict against it.
So - just as most people today resist supernatural phenomena on the grounds of a scientific/naturalistic worldview - so people living in the 1st C. also had a worldview that would have made this belief impossible.
And yet … it was accepted and spread.
The only reason had to be adequate proof of the risen Christ.

I'll share the other 2 points in the coming days.

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Creed

Some time ago a friend on Facebook asked me to explain what I believe as a Christian.

This is what I wrote:

I believe in God. I believe there is a Divine Being greater than the natural world who contains within himself all the properties of love and power.

All that exists was created by him and for him.

Human beings were created by God. We were created with the freedom to follow or reject him.

Following God means believing what he has revealed about himself, and then acting on that data.

Rejecting God means using our own lives and thoughts as the datum by which we live.

I believe that the “evidence” of God comes to us in three ways.

Creation itself leads me to believe in a Creator. When I look at the complexity, the intricacy and the sheer vastness of the created order – I simply cannot accept the idea that time+chance+matter somehow simply spat  out everything from spinning planets to carpenter bees.

It’s too unbelievable to believe that it all … just happened.

It is more probable to believe there was a Creator behind it all.

Secondly, the Bible as a book is a source of revelation of the reality of God. I do believe it was inspired by God, like no other literary document has been. Reading and studying the Bible, I see a progression of revelation:

The Bible gives me a clear description of the state of humanity and the nature of God – and how the 2 can be reconciled.

Finally, the person of Jesus Christ. When I was in high-school – this is what finally brought me back to my faith, after I went through a period of trying to figure out what I was going to believe about life.

No other worldview has Jesus. Jesus to me is the pinnacle of what a fully evolved human being should be (Read Matthew 5-7 in the Bible – and see the life that is described there).

I also believe in the historicity of Jesus, his crucifixion and his resurrection. I don’t really have time to give you all the arguments for it, but can suggest some good resources if you are interested.

I guess there would be one final proof – that is my own life. I have seen the reality of the power and presence of God in my own life. God has changed me from being a selfish, angry person to someone who is becoming more and more concerned for the well being of others. I know I still have a long way to go – but I my character has been changed radically over the last few years – and I can only attribute that to the activity of the Spirit of God in my life.

I believe that as humans we have rejected God. That rejection has a price – our sin carries with it a punishment.
But, God instead of inflicting that punishment on us, he sent his son Jesus Christ to die in our place. On the cross Jesus absorbed all the punishment we deserved.
When we come to terms with that – when we accept that reality, when we ask God to forgive us of our sins – he forgives us, and he empowers us to live the type of life, we know in our hearts we are to live.

Christianity is a life where we move out of our own self centerdness and out into serving and loving others. Any expression of Christianity that is not marked by humility, love and service has moved away from what Jesus intended. (And sadly, much of the modern expressions of Christianity have become more interested in power and coercion than in love and service – but don’t let those facades turn you off of the real thing).

I have found that the reality that God is with me, guiding me, saving me, picking me up when I fall and forgiving me, to be the only way to live life with any kind of hope for the future.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Noah - Movie Review and Comment on "Christian" art

We are currently under a deluge of faith based films.
I wouldn't call it a religious revival.
More like Hollywood coming to the obvious realization that there are a lot of religious people in America who will pay money to go watch religious based films.
Let me see if I can list all the religious films released or about to be released:

Son of God
God's Not Dead
Heaven is For Real
Exodus: Gods and Kings

I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones that came to mind right away.
Out of these I have already seen Son of God and Noah.
The only other one I will probably see is Exodus.

Son of god was a fairly well done film on the life of Jesus. It was marketed heavily to churches and churches responded by buying out entire theaters and doing follow up bible studies and sermon series based on the film. (Our church did this).

I think attempts were made to do the same thing with Noah. But there was not that strong of a response.
And after seeing the film its easy to see why.

I think Darren Aronofsky is a very skilled film maker. I liked his last 2 films: The Wrestler and Black Swan. Both dealt with individuals pushing their bodies to the limits of their capabilities. Motivated by inner identity insecurities.

So, Aronofsky, a professed non-believer goes out and makes this epic big budget film.
And the result - mixed.

There is no question this movie is based on the biblical account. It opens with creation and the genealogical line towards Noah.
But, there are so many odd additions that it is difficult to recommend this film as being solely Christian.

Yeah, Noah believes God.
God speaks to him.
He builds an ark.
The flood comes.
Noah and family survive.

So - the central plot line is there.
It's the additions that might trip some people up.

I saw the movie with Felicia. Our initial thought was that it was depressing and stupid,
But …. on further reflection I have come to conclude that this is an excellent movie.
Probably - the best film based on a Bible story I've ever seen.
And the reason is because there is a complexity and inner turmoil given to Noah that eludes most religious characters in films - often they are very wooden and 2 dimensional.
Without giving too much away, Noah struggles with his call - he's not sure if he is hearing God correctly.
And even when he is given his job - he is a bit confused on why he is doing this.
There is a very moving scene where he feels like a failure. Someone explains to him why he was chosen and why he made the right choice. That conversation in that scene will stay with me for a long long time.
Noah did something for me that no other Bible movie has ever done. As soon as we got home, I cracked open the Bible and read the Noah narrative. The film also caused me to reflect on how hard this must have been for Noah to do.
And that Noah was  a human, with the same insecurities and self doubts that we all struggle with.

I think the criticism coming from certain Christians is coming from people who demand that "Christian" art adhere to very strict parameters. It was interesting to notice the number of people who got upset when the Son of God film moved "off script" and inserted dialogue that is not recorded in scripture.

We have to remember these are not documentaries, these are works of art made by creative people who are ….. CREATING. 
Give them some freedom. (Although - to be honest - Son of God came across more as evangelistic tool than work of art - indeed it was used as such.)

I find most "Christian" art and literature dull and surprisingly uninspiring.
Are we making art or tracts?

So …. Noah was good. Go see it. You might be troubled by the darkness that Aronofsky portrays, or by the incredibly fantastical elements he has inserted.
But, please remember this is art, not a Hebrew commentary on Genesis 6-8.

And maybe it will do to you what it did for me. It reminded me that

God will NEVER AGAIN curse the ground because of man,
even though every inclination of our hearts is evil.
NEVER AGAIN will he destroy all living creatures.

One Year Down

3 New Ithacans

On March 25 2013, Felicia, Adam, Sophia, James and I got into our beloved Honda Odyssey and started off on our own odyssey towards Ithaca New York.
Funnily Homer also headed off to Ithaca on his own Odyssey!
Ours had far less perils and dangers.

We arrived on April 2 2013.
So one year has passed.
Our first year as displaced West Coast Canadians now living in a well known college town in upstate New York.

How's it been?
Well, I'm glad I asked.

Spring was a nice time arrive as the town is thawing out of winter.
We were able to take advantage of many of the scenic state parks and hiking trails. Although not as beautiful as the land we left behind, it was still quite nice to be able to escape into nature when we felt like it.

The summer was a nice slow ease into understanding the culture of Ithaca as well as observing the ministry patterns of the new church I was called to serve.
Bethel Grove Bible Church is a small-medium sized church - around 350 on a Sunday AM.
It has an extremely strong connection with both Cornell University and Ithaca College.
This is one of the primary reasons I pursued this position.

The summer was fairly easy as ministry slows down with not many students around.

We managed to go camping and also visit my brother, his wife and newborn daughter in Boston.

And then we hit fall with our feet on the ground running. Ministry picked up quite quickly as we welcomed all the students back.
One of the major things I tackled was organizing and leading our small group ministry.
We took up a model from Randy Frazee's book "The Connecting Church" which is a geographically based model.
Up until this point there were a number of groups that were primarily built around stage of life (married, women's, singles, etc).
So, as was expected, its quite slow when making any kind of organizational change.
Some embraced it wholeheartedly.
Others resisted strongly.
Most were politely ambivalent, not too bothered one way or the other.
But we went for it and slowly the church is starting to embrace this model as a way of both creating community and reaching our community for Christ.

Along with leading this ministry, I co-taught a marriage class with a couple with whom we have become very close friends.
Felicia and I joined a small group.
I preached a couple of times.
I started to offer pastoral counsel to a few men in the church.

We went to NYC for a week - that was a blast!
We took a few day trips up to Syracuse and Rochester (not bad - but not too terribly exciting).

We went through our first American thanksgiving and Christmas which was fun.

In the new year I undertook a fairly large scale project of renting out a movie theater for a special pre-release screening of the "Son of God" movie.
We followed up the movie with small groups and a sermon series.
It was a pretty good success - we sold out the theater of 200 seats with about 40% of the people being guests of church members.
We also launched 12 groups that focused on the life of Jesus for 4 weeks.
I also preached at both services for 4 weeks.

This just wrapped up last week, so I am recovering from an extra busy season of ministry.

All in all, I would have to say this has been a good move for me and the family. Ithaca is a very charming town to live in.
The access to Cornell is very nice.
We are a half days drive from every major city on the East Coast, so when we need a big city fix we can usually get away for a weekend.

The church is very very good - very healthy and made up of very mature and godly elders.

Now let's see what the next year brings.