Ghost Notes

Ghost Notes
A collections of original songs I wrote in 2015, and recorded with the FreeWay Musical Collective. Click the album image to listen.

inversions

Recorded in 2014, these songs are sort of a chronicle of my journey through a pastoral burn-out last winter. They deal with themes of mental-health, spiritual burn-out and depression, but also with the inexorable presence of God in the midst of darkness. Click the album art to download.

soundings

soundings
click image to download
"soundings" is a collection of songs I recorded in September/October of 2013. Dealing with themes of hope, ache, trust and spiritual loss, the songs on this album express various facets of my journey with God.

bridges

bridges
Click to download.
"Bridges" is a collection of original songs I wrote in the summer of 2011, during a soul-searching trip I took out to Alberta; a sort of long twilight in the dark night of the soul. I share it here in hopes these musical reflections on my own spiritual journey might be an encouragement to others: the sun does rise, blood-red but beautiful.

echoes

echoes
Prayers, poems and songs (2005-2009). Click to download
"echoes" is a collection of songs I wrote during my time studying at Briercrest Seminary (2004-2009). It's called "echoes" partly because these songs are "echoes" of times spent with God from my songwriting past, but also because there are musical "echoes" of hymns, songs or poems sprinkled throughout the album. Listen closely and you'll hear them.

Accidentals

This collection of mostly blues/rock/folk inspired songs was recorded in the spring and summer of 2015. I call it "accidentals" because all of the songs on this project were tunes I have had kicking around in my notebooks for many years but had never found a "home" for on previous albums. You can click the image to download the whole album.

blogs I follow

random reads

Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The Shallows, Nicholas Carr
In this very readable, very thought provoking analysis of electronic communciations technology and its impact on our brains and culture, Nicholas Carr brings together media theory (think Marshall McLuhan), history (think Gutenberg) and neuroscience (think discoveries in brain plasticity) to show how computer technology is shaping us in ways of which we are only dimly aware. He argues that such technologies reduce our capacity for deep, creative and sustained linear thought (or at least have the potential to do so) and predispose us to the fragmented, the cursive and the superficial. Worth the read.

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit, Edith Humphrey
A fascinating and engaging introduction to spiritual theology-- or the theology of spirituality, as the case may be. This book is a very scholarly, devotional, christo-centric, ecumenical and trinitarian overview of what it means for Christians to live in the Spirit and with the Spirit within. Bracing and enlightening.

Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender

five smooth stones for pastoral work, Eugene Peterson

From Darkness to Light: How One Became a Christian in the Early Church, Anne Fields

Life in the Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell
Snell's Life in the Ancient Near East offers a social history of the ANE, tracing the earliest settlement of Mesopotamia, the development of agriculture, first cities, ancient economy and the emergence of empire. Bringing together a rich variety of data gleaned both from the archaeological record and extant historical texts, he tells the history of this cradle of civilization with a special eye for the "human" element - focusing on the forces and factors that would have directly affected the daily life of the various strata of society. Worth a read generally, but all the more for someone with a particular interest in the biblical stories that find their setting and draw their characters and themes from the same provenience.


The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard Davidson
Davidson's Old Testament theology of human sexuality is stunning in its achievement, challenging in its content, and edifying in its conclusions. Davidson addresses every-- and I do mean every-- Old Testament text that deals (even obliquely) with human sexuality, and, through detailed exegesis, careful synthesis, and deep interaction with the scholarly research, develops a detailed picture of the Old Testament's vision for redeemed human sexuality. 700 pages of Biblical scholarship at its best.


Eaarth, Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben's Eaarth, is a call for us to wake up smell the ecological coffee...while we can still brew it. Unlike his previous work, or any writing on ecology I've yet read, however, Eaarth does not argue that catastrophe is pending. Instead, he argues that catastrophe has arrived, and that our all talk about "going green to avert disaster," "and "saving the planet" is woefully obsolete. In ecological terms, the planet as we once knew it is gone, he argues, and rather than trying to "avert" disaster, we need to start figuring out how to live in the disaster that's happened. Key themes he identifies as important for life on planet Eaarth resonnated with me as profoundly Christian ways of being (disaster or no). We must stop assuming that "bigger" is better; we must acknowledge limits on economic and technological growth; we must get reacquainted with the land; we need eschew self-sufficency and nurture community.

Love Wins, Rob Bell
So fast and furious has the furor over this book been, that any review will inevitably feel redundant or tardy. Given the crowd on the band wagon by now, I actually had no intention of hopping on myself, but my kids got it for me for Father's Day. About 15 pages in, I realized that I could probably finish it in on good push, so I got it over with. My thoughts: probably the most over-hyped book I ever read; I loved it and found it frustratingly under-developed at the same time; while he raises some important issues, his handling of them reads like a yoda-meets-Tom-Wright account of salvation; nothing C. S. Lewis hasn't already said more clearly and more cleverly; I'm glad he wrote it, and I'm glad the Evangelical world has errupted over it the way it has, and I hope a much more spirited and generous and optimistic understanding of soteriology and eschatology will infuse the evangelical church's mission as a result.

Rediscovering Paul, David Capes et. al.
Rediscovering Paul is a hepful overview of Paul's life, times and theology. While at times I felt it might have gone deeper, or expressed its ideas more clearly, it provides some interesting and inspiring insights into the man behind the letters. Among these is its discussion of the communal aspect of first century letter writing, and the influence of one's community on one's personal sense of identity, and how those issues might have played out in Paul's writings. Another challenging issue that it tackles is the whole process of letter writing in the Greco-Roman world, especially as regards the role a scribe often played in shaping the text, smoothing out the langugae or providing stock phrases, etc.


Lavondyss, Robert Holdstock
If you've read George MacDonald's Lilith, then think of Lavondyss as sort of a Lilith-for-Non-Christians. It's the convoluted labyrinth of a story about a young girl called Tallis and her adventures in a magical wood that brings the Jungian archetypes buried deep in our subconscious to life. Dense with questions about Jungian psychology, and the spiritually-thin-places of the world, and death and myth and magic and story, it's pretty tough slugging at times, but thought provoking and challenging. At times I felt like I was reading the Narnia book C. S. Lewis might have written if he had pursued the "stab of northerness" in directions other than the Christian Faith where he found it eternally satisfied.

Jesus and Money, Ben Witherington III
My friend John Vlainic once ranked Ben Witheringon as one of the strongest Biblical scholars in the Wesleyan tradtion working today. This thin but powerful volume is evidence to support such an accolade. I opened it expecting (judging by the cover) either a how-to book on Christian finances, or (judging by the other books I've read on Christ and Money) a hodge-podge of Bible verses taken out of context and mushed together as proof texts about the tithe. I got neither; instead, Ben Witherington walks slowly, thoughtful and exegetically through the breadth of Biblical teaching, with special sensitivity to the cultural context of the various texts, the tension between Old and New Testament teaching on the topic, and the differences between modern and ancient economies. If I were to recommend one book to develop a biblical theology of money, it would be this one.

The Gravedigger File, Os Guinness
My first taste of Os Guinness, and, if you don't mind a mangled metaphor, it went down like a bracing pint of... well... Guinness. Grave Digger file is sort of a "Screwtape Letters" project on a church-wide scale. In concept, the book is a series of "training files" for an undercover agent attempting to undermine and ultimately sabotage the Western Church, delivered from the pen of a seasoned saboteur to a young agent recently assigned to Los Angeles. In plot, the young agent ultimately defects, and delivers the "Gravedigger File" into the hands of a Christian, urging him to alert the Church to the operation. It is bursting with "things that make you go hmmm..." and deserves a second, careful read with pen in hand, ready to mine it for its scintillating and eminently quotable lines.

Some Summer Specials

Things will be quiet for the next few weeks here at terra incognita, as I take a bit of a summer break from blogging. Conventional wisdom says that guests will stop visiting for supper if there's nothing on the table for them when they do, so I thought I'd put together a little menu of some of the "daily specials" we've served at terra incognita over the last number of months, to whet your appetite until I'm back online.


I'll be back some time before the end of July, but in the mean time, might I suggest...

1. These thoughts on the Triumphal Entry

2. This reflection on Sabbath and Rest

3. My home-made video game, served with a reflection on faith, longing and gaming

4. Some thoughts on youth, served with a review of Wal-Town as a starter

5. A love letter to Saskatchewan

6. Reflections on joy and grief in the community of Faith

7. A very funny comedy routine by Brian Regan, with some reflections about listening on the side

And for those with a bit more theological appetite, I've also put together a couple of "main course" items, namely a few papers on bible, theology and/or ministry that I've had kicking around on my hard drive for a while and thought they might be worth making available online.

1. A paper on art, aesthetics and church ministry


2. A theological/historical study on baptism


3. A research project on drama and Christian Worship


4. A paper on the temple theme in the Gospel of John


5. A theological study on Worship and the Mediation of Christ


And for dessert, here's a very simple guitar arrangement of the hymn, "Holy Holy Holy" that I recorded a while ago for an altogether different blog post idea that never came to be. It's been on the shelf for a while now, and I didn't want it to go to waste, so I thought I'd offer it here.



Enjoy, and I'll talk to you again in a few weeks.

Thoughts on Prayer (3)

Here's my third sermon in the series on prayer I've been doing at the FreeWay.

Romans 8:22-27: A Tale of Two Gardens


Thoughts on Prayer (part 2)

And here's sermon number 40, the second installment in our series on prayer:

Luke 11:9-13: The Perfect Father's Day Gift?

40 foci for preaching

When I was studying preaching, my homiletics prof, Blayne Banting, taught us about the importance of the sermon "focus." In biblical preaching (i.e. preaching that is focused specifically on a biblical text), the "focus" is that single sentence that distills, encapsulates, crystallizes and summarizes the message of both the text and the sermon. Ideally, everything in the sermon, in some way or another, feeds into or flows out of the focus, and anything that doesn't is shelved for another sermon. Hadden Robinson called it "the big idea"; Blayne Banting called it "the focus." In biblical preaching-- and Blayne Banting was quite clear about this-- the focus of the sermon must emerge from, and tie directly back to the focus of the text. Whatever the text says-- at its heart-- that's what your focus should say; the focus statement should be the result of careful prayer, thought, theological reflection and disciplined exegesis of the text.

The idea of a "homiletical focus" has been very important in my own development as a preacher, and I've found writing the focus statement to be one of the most arduous but invaluable and rewarding initial steps in my process of sermon prep. Sometimes the focus statement will go through up to 10 or more drafts before I finally have it clear.

Is it worth it, all this fuss about a 10-word sentence? I don't know, but I do know that a couple of weeks back, someone mentioned the first sermon I preached at the FreeWay, a year ago, and, without knowing any of this finicky stuff about "homiletical foci" she said: "I remember, you told us: we need resurrected eyes to see the resurrected Lord" (see item 1 on the list below).

So I preached my 40th sermon at the FreeWay this Sunday. I've mentioned
before how I'm not one to let biblical milestones like 3s or 12s or 40s pass by unnoticed, and so today I'm thinking back through the last 40 Sundays in the pulpit at the FreeWay (Daniel might call it 40 sevens, maybe?), and mulling over the first 40 foci of my preaching. I admit that some are better than others, but here's the last 40 things I've told the FreeWay about God and life together with him.

1. Luke 24:13-33: We need resurrected eyes to see the resurrected Lord.

2. 1 Kings 19:8-18: God's promises never have to go back to the beginning.

3. Luke 13:1-9: If it don't bear fruit, it's time to uproot.

4. Luke 14:15-24: God is determined to throw the greatest party in history.

5. Luke 16:1-9: Be a scandalous spendthrift of God's grace.

6. Luke 18:1-8: Kingdom come prayers never fall on deaf ears.
7. Genesis 11:1-9: No height of hurt is impossible in the community built on sameness.

8. Jeremiah 29:4-14: God has peace plans for his people.

9. Amos 5:8-26: God rejects empty religious show.

10. Galatians 5:13-15: True freedom is servanthood; and servanthood is true freedom.

11. Mark 1:14-15: God's revolution is happening now, turn around now and believe it.

12. John 3:1-15: God's Spirit is birthing believers into his kingdom.

13. Luke 9:28-35: This chosen one fulfills the history of God's life with his people.

14. Mark 10: 35-45: The king of God's kingdom rules as the servant of all.

15. Acts 1:3-11: In the meantime the Spirit holds us out to the world.

16. Psalm 45: He will reign forever and ever.

17. Luke 1:67-80: The promising God has visited us.

18. Isaiah 7:13-14: God is with you in the mess.

19. Matthew 1:1-17: The Christ's family tree is rooted in scandal and faithfulness.

20. Luke 2:22-36: This little baby is the God-hope we've been looking for.

21. Matthew 2:13-23: The Son of God will weep and wipe Rachel's tears.

22. Luke 2:41-51: We'll find this child of destiny in his father's things.

23. Luke 2:52: The Son of God grew God-wise, God-strong, God-loved.

24. Job 41: 1-11: God's faced the chaos on a scale we can't imagine.

25. Revelation 22:1-5: A day's coming when all manner of thing shall be well.

26. Psalm 1: There's no two ways about it with God.

27. Psalm 26: We walk right with God because his Christ walked blamelessly for us.

28. Psalm 29: The Lord is the real life-giver.

29. John 12:12-19: Death is defeated when the king of love rides into town.

30. Matthew 27:50-54: It really is a good Friday.

31. Mark 16:1-18: God rolled back the stone because we were helpless to move it on our own.

32. Colossians 2:11-13: Baptism is our heart-circumcision.

33. 1 Corinthians 15: 35-49: The God who creates is the God who resurrects.

34. Colossians 3:1-11: You've been raised from the dead: make your life extraordinary.

35. Isaiah 49:13-16: The Lord God out-mothers us all.

36. Hebrews 9:11-15: Jesus is our perfect High Priest.

37. Acts 2:1-13: The Spirit of God has begun the harvest.

38. Genesis 48:8-20: God doesn't choose the way the big-shot executive world chooses.

39. 1 Timothy 2:1-8: Pray for them all, starting at the top.

40. Luke 11:9-13: The Perfect Father will give his children the perfect gift.

Thoughts on Prayer (part 1)

1 Timothy 2:1-8
Everything, Everyone, and all you need to know about prayer

Hark the (Other) Herald

Each of the four gospel writers put something different on the lips of the crowds as Jesus rode his triumphant donkey into Jerusalem the week before Passover. For Matthew, it was a reference to his Davidic pedigree. With a hosanna. For Mark, it was a reference more broadly to the coming "Kingdom of our father David." With a hosanna. For John it was a reference to Jesus as simply "the king of Israel." With a hosanna. (And yet not so simply, inasmuch as for John, Yahweh himself is the only true King of Israel).

But for Luke there was no "hosanna." Instead, the crowd shouted: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord." And then they added: "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest."

Now if I were a stout harmonizer, I'd want to throw in one of Matthew's Davidic references or one of Mark's Hosannas here for good measure. But because I'm not anymore, something jumped out at me when I read Luke 19:38 the other day that I can't get out of my mind.

"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest" cheered the crowds; and I wonder: did they know they were echoing the very words of the angelic host that heralded Christ's birth so many chapters (and some 33 years) earlier, when he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and a celestial choir declared "Glory to God in the highest / and on the earth peace ... "? Whether they heard the echoes or not, Luke doesn't seem to want us to miss them: in the original Greek, the parallels are quite striking. 2:19 reads "Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace..." while 19:38 echoes back: "in heaven peace and glory in the highest" (almost as though they were open and close brackets respectively to the gospel narrative that has brought us to this point.)

But this is more than just a clever literary device. With its subtle echo of those of herald angels who sang glory to the newborn king back in 2:19, Luke's account of the Triumphal Entry here actually teaches us what it means to sing "God and sinners reconciled" in the fullest sense. Because as the God-Man, Jesus Christ always acts both as God before man, on God's side, and as man before God, on our side. Or as Paul put it, there is only one mediator between God and man; the man Christ Jesus.

So, when God-come-in-the-flesh was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, God made peace with humans-- in Jesus, the fully divine Messiah. Thus heavenly heralds filled the skies declaring peace on earth. But as the mediator between God and humanity, Jesus not only reconciles God to sinners, he also reconciles sinners to God. So when the true King of God's people rode humbly into the city of God's people to be enthroned as God's Prince of Peace, man made peace with God-- in Jesus, the fully human Messiah. Thus earthly heralds declared peace in heaven.

Jesus has reconciled heaven to earth; and he has reconciled earth to heaven. And in Jesus, and through faith in Jesus, we are invited to become ambassadors of that reconciliation in the fullest sense: declaring with radiant angels and dusty disciples alike that Jesus Christ has made perfect peace between Creator and creation.

Prayer for the Offering (3)

Not that I'm planning to make this a regular feature or anything, but with the blog-well running a bit dry these days, and feeling like, after all, a bit more theological reflection on the offering couldn't hurt the Evangelical tradition, I thought I'd post few more of the offeratory prayers that we've prayed at the FreeWay over the last few months:


God, behind this offering lies the busy world of our working life—the market, the classroom, the office, the shop, the home, the open road. You gave us this work to do and you were present with us in it all. So we ask your blessing on those places, now, and the people we work with: bosses, clients, colleagues, partners and peers. Can you make us lights of your grace and goodness towards them all?

And Jesus, can you spare us from creating a world where wealth accumulates, but our souls shrivel. Let this act of offering today remind us of what you taught us so beautifully: that if we gain the whole world but lose our souls, we`ve really profited nothing.

Because it`s in Your name and it`s for Your glory we pray. Amen.




God, we remember how your word says:
“The one who’s stingy with the seed at planting time will have a stingy harvest; And the one who’s generous with the seed at planting time, will have a bountiful harvest."
We want a bountiful harvest, God;
so can you help us to sow seed generously today?
Not just our money,
but our time, and our talents, and our spiritual gifts
our availability to each other and our encouragement of each other
our availability to you, and our commitment to your ministry in this world
our laughter with those who laugh, and our tears with those who mourn
our love for Jesus, and for his people, and for our enemies
forgiveness and compassion and reconciliation and peacemaking
God, can you make us generous sowers of these kinds of seeds today?
So that we’ll also reap these kinds things richly at the harvest?
And can you make our act of offering today that kind of a seed-sowing?
And a sign of the generosity that you’ve begun to sow in our hearts.
Make us into the bountiful people of Jesus, in whose name we pray.
Amen.