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.

Paul in Philippi

Acts 16:25-34  Jailhouse Rock

A Priestly Inheritance, A City of Refuge

I've been thinking a lot these days about the levitcal cities of refuge described at the end of the Book of Numbers (chpt 35).

In case it's been a while since you waded through the Book of Numbers, let me refresh your memory. It's right at the end of the desert wanderings, and the new generation of Israel is about to enter the Promised Land, Israel's ancient inheritance. So the Lord gives Moses instructions about the boundaries of Canaan, and some general directives on divvying up the land to the 12 tribes. Namely: they are to assign the land by lot to the nine and a half tribes of Israel entering Canaan (keeping in mind that two and a half tribes have already received their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan).

But then Numbers 35 reminds us that the tribe of Levi isn't going to be getting an allotment in Canaan because, as 18:20 has already indicated, Aaron (and by extension, the whole tribe of Levi with him) will have no inheritance in the land. Instead, the Lord himself is going to be the priestly tribe's inheritance among the Israelites. Rather than receiving a portion of the land, Levi is to receive simply "towns to live in from the inheritance of the [other] Israelites." These towns are scattered evenly throughout the Promised Land, seeding (in effect) a priestly presence in-and-among the whole people of God.

You can read in Joshua 20:1-9 how this command is carried out, but what strikes me here is that the Lord specifically identifies six of the Levitical towns as "cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee." The idea is quite simple: in the case of murder, tribal codes of the sort especially prevalent among a nomadic society like Moses' Israel would require a blood relative to maintain tribal honour by avenging a murdered family member (see Genesis 34 for dark evidence that such codes were well known among nomadic Israelite society).

But such tribal customs and the violent blood feuds they inevitably perpetuate are deeply at odds with a civil society like the one Israel will become, as she stands at the threshold of the Promised Land and looks ahead to her future. In civil society, justice must be carried out by an impartial assembly according to a standard code of law; retaliation and vigilantianism has no place in a society governed by God's Shalom.

So God sets aside six of the Levitical towns as cities of refuge-- cities of asylum to which an accused killer can flee until he has stood trial and his case has been heard; and cities of shalom, where the innocent can escape the tribal custom of honour killings.

Now, I don't want to read too much into this, but here's what I can't get off my mind today: the priestly tribe had no inheritance in the land other than a special place in the Lord's plan to mediate his Shalom to the people. And with this inheritance came the cities of refuge; and with them came a calling to be a people among whom the accused found shelter, where the guilty found asylum and the harried found refuge until God's Shalom had obtained in their lives (in this case in the form of a fair and imparital trial).

And you can't reflect on all this very long before you remember that 1 Peter 2:5-9 specifically identifies followers of Jesus Christ as the priesthood of believers that the tribe of Levi prefigured and foreshadowed in the Old Testament. And if it's true, what Peter says about Christians there, and it's true what Numbers says about the inheritance of the preistly tribe here, then it would mean that in Christ we have inherited a calling to be "cities of refuge."  Our communities are to be places where the accused, the guilty and the harried can find shelter so that the Shalom of God can obtain in their lives (in this case in the form of the unmerited, all-gracious justification of God through faith in Christ); what's more, this calling specifically and directly precludes any material inheritance "in the land" (i.e. the comfort, wealth, privlege and security that such an inheritance would have meant for an ancient Israelite).

And the obvious questions are staring me in the face:  am I part of a community of faith that has traded in the wealth and security of its "inheritance in the land" for the privlege of being a "city of refuge" like this?  And harder still:  Am I willing to belong to such a community of faith?  And hardest of all:  what's my role in helping my church be the city of refuge that God in Numbers 35 is calling it to be?

A Stumper of a Sign

Last night I was reading from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, and I finally stopped to try and figure out something that has stumped me for many years. In 14:22, after a long discourse on the role and meaning of "speaking in tongues," Paul goes on to say: "Tongues, then are a sign not for believers, but for unbelievers."

For the record, I am not a "charismatic" nor a "cessationist" per se, but the stump for me is just this: in what way is speaking in tongues a sign for unbelievers?  A sign of what?  And how, exactly does speaking in unintelligible languages function as said sign?  And the stump gets stumpier, because in verse 23-25, Paul goes on to describe a scenario (ostensibly as evidence that tongues are indeed a sign for unbelievers) where the "sign" of tongues actually draws the scorn of unbelievers, and it's the sign of prophesy (which according to v. 22 is meant as a sign for believers) that convicts unbelievers and elicits from them a response of faith.

I've been stumped over this for a long time:  Paul says tongues are a sign for unbelievers, and then (it seems) he goes on to say that tongues do not bring unbelievers to faith at all, rather prophesy does.

But yesterday, I noticed that the "therefore" clause of v. 22 actually connects Paul's argument to the prophesy from Isaiah he quotes in v. 21:  "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me."  And when you look up Isaiah 28 in context, you see that it records God's indictment against Israel for its religious apostasy and corruption, and his announcement of pending judgement in the form of Assyrian invasion (the "men of strange tongues" in question are the Assyrians, and the "strange tongues" in question is a reference to the language of the Assyrian invaders).

In Isaiah, then, Assyrians speaking in "incomprehensible languages" as they invade is a sign to unbelieving Israel that they are indeed guilty of corruption and apostasy (as charged) and that God's verdict against them is just.  And, of course, Isaiah's Israel failed to feel the portent of this ominous sign, and, in verse 14 are accused of being blind scoffers who, in their unbelief, are unable to heed God's Word.

In this context the Assyrian invasion (and by metonymy, Assyria's "strange tongues") is an incomprehensible sign to unbelieving Israel of God's judgment on their disobedience.

Flash forward now some 750 years, after the death and resurrection of Jesus has recapitulated and fulfilled the story of judgment, exile and return for the people of God that Isaiah is telling here, after the gift of the Holy Spirit that Isaiah promised has been poured out lavishly on the reconstituted "Israel of God" (i.e. any and all who confess the crucified and resurrected Christ as Lord).  Now Paul's claim that "tongues" are a sign to unbelievers makes perfect sense.

Obviously the charismata of tongues is a sign to unbelievers that God has punished and forgiven Israel's sin once and for all in the cross of Christ, because the promised "sign of tongues" (prefigured by the Assyrian invasion) now obtains in the Community of Faith that confesses this crucified Christ as Lord; and, further, it's a sign to unbelievers that such communities of Faith actually now comprise the reconstituted people of God, because the "sign" of Assyrian invasion that Assyria's "strange tongues" once announced to apostate Israel is now being announced (through the charismata of tongues) in the Spirit-filled Christian community; and further still, just like the Assyrian invasion once showed the world that Israel's sin has indeed been judged, so too the gift of tongues is a sign (albeit an incomprehensible one) to us that our sins have been judged through the cross of Christ.

And for those who disbelieve this inexpressibly good news, the sign of tongues not only remains inpenetrable, but actually points them out as unbelievers by their inability to understand or accept the phenomenon of tongues for what it is.

So no wonder that unbelievers in 1 Corinthians 14:23 scoff at what is, to them, an incomprehensible sign.  The unbelievers in Isaiah 28:14 before them scoffed at the signs of judgment Isaiah promised, too.  And I can't help but think of Babel's architects before them all as Paul's point slowly sinks in on me:  the confusion of incomprehensible tongues is a sign to unbelievers that their unbelief stands judged by almighty God.

A Sermon for a Baptism

Acts 8:26-40.  Here's Water

On the Road with Paul

I am preparing for a series on the Book of Philippians in the fall, and thought that to set the stage for it, I'd spend a bit of time in the Book of Acts, looking at Paul's story, his ministry and mission (hence the last two sermons posted here at terra incognita).  This Sunday's sermon was a look at the famous Damascus Road Experience.

Acts 9:1-19.  Called