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.

The Book of Philippians (9)

Here's our next sermon on the Book of Philippians.

Philippians 4:1-9 "Practicing for Joy"


Prayers for Illumination

In my last post I mentioned prayers for illumination that I've prayed (after reading the scripture and before the sermon) that are based on, or "riffs on" specific Bible verses. The example I gave there was:

Your word, O Lord, is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Help us to see clearly by it today, we pray. Amen.


For the record, and in case you're a preacher and the idea of "praying the word" before "preaching the word" intrigues you, I thought I'd post a few more "prayers for illumination" I've prayed in the past at the FreeWay:

God, your word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword; we pray that it would be so here today as we turn to it now.  Amen.

God, we know that all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. We pray that it would be so for us this morning as we look to it now. Amen.

God, just like the rain comes down from heaven and doesn't return to heaven without watering the earth and making it fruitful, so is your word which comes out from your mouth:it doesn't return to you empty but accomplishes your purposes for it. May it water our hearts today and make them fruitful for you. Amen.

God, the Psalmist said:  how sweet is your word to my mouth, sweeter than honey from the comb.  Amen. May it be so here: give us an unquenchable taste for your word, here today.  A sweet-tooth for the things of God, we pray. 

God, we know that the man or woman without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  We ask, Lord, that this would not be true of us today.  Give us your Spirit, so that we may understand and accept your Word and what it would say to us here.  Amen.

Praying the Word

If ever you've spent time with someone who's new to this "Faith thing," one of the questions that will often come up is: "How do you pray?" The most common response to a question like this is something along the lines of: "Praying is just talking to God, and you can talk to God just like you're talking to me now. Just talk to him." I fully understand the motive behind this kind of response. It helps people understand that the Christian God is real, and personal, and that he takes us as we are, and that he is so active in our everyday life that we can speak to him in everyday language.

I get all that and I think it is important.

But to be honest, I've always found something a bit unsatisfying about this answer. Because, really, you can't talk to God, just like you talk to a flesh-and-blood human being, and in asking the question, the "newbie" is recognizing that there is something sacred, something sacramental, something other about prayer, and I don't know that it's especially helpful to disavow them of this belief. Prayer is a sacred act and, while it's true that Jesus is always perfecting our prayers in heaven, no matter how imperfect they may be on earth, growing Christians should be maturing in their prayer life, too.

So I've been thinking about all this lately, and one of the things I keep coming back to is how seldom you hear Christians- especially "lifers"-- using the words of the scriptures to form the content of their prayers. This is, I'm becoming more and more convinced, the "lost art" of Christian prayer. Speaking the words of Scripture back to God, and letting them form the content of our prayers.

Some concrete examples may help. Let's say, for instance, I'm praying for someone in crisis. In the past my prayer might have sounded something like: Lord, we just want to pray for so-and-so that you would just help so-and-so and just give them peace about such-and-such.

These days, as I try to let the words of the scripture form the content of my prayers, I pray something like: Lord, you tell us not to be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, to present our request to you. And you promised that when we do, that your peace, which transcends understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. So that's what we're doing now: we pray for so-and-so, that the peace of Christ which transcends understanding would guard their hearts and minds...

Okay, that's maybe a wordy example, but let's say I'm praying for someone who is having trouble making some life decision. In the past I might have prayed something like: "Lord, we pray for so-and-so, that you would just help them know what they're to do about such-and-such."

These days, as I try to let the Scriptures form the content of my prayers, I find myself praying things like: Lord, you told us that if anyone lacked wisdom, they should ask you because you give generously to all without finding fault. And that's what we're doing for so-and-so, Lord: please give so-and-so wisdom about such-and-such generously, without finding fault, just like you promised to do....

A final example: when preaching, I always try to pray a short prayer for illumination between the reading of the scripture and the sermon itself. In the past these have been impromptu, wordy, drawn out and vague. These days, as I let the words of Scripture form the content of my prayers, I pray something like:  Your word, O Lord, is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Help us to see clearly by it today. Amen.

I could go on, because such is the breadth and depth of the Scripture's themes, that there really is no life experience we might go through that it doesn't address, and give us words to address God with in return. And that's what's happening, really, when we use the Scriptures as the content for our prayers: we're addressing God's own self with God's own words; we're entering the throne room of heaven with heaven's own "language" (so to speak) on our lips. And that's something sacred, I think.

(A final corollary of praying the scriptures I've noticed: to pray like this, I need to know what the scriptures say. To have memorized them, or, at the very least, to have internalized the gist of them so that they are on my lips, and ready to speak back to God in any given circumstance. I'm not a traditionalist, per se, and I've never decried the fact that "we don't emphasize scripture memorization anymore," like I've heard some old-timers do, but there's something to this. If I'm going to speak God's word back to him in my prayers, I need to have a heart saturated with it. And this won't happen without conscious discipline and intentional effort.)

The Book of Philippians (8)

We're still working through Philippians at the FreeWay. Here's the 8th installment in our series.

Philippians 3:12-21. Eyes on the Prize