There's a Trick of the Light I'm Learning to Do

This is a collection of songs I wrote and recorded in January - March, 2020 while on sabbatical from ministry. They each deal with a different aspect or expression of the Gospel. Click on the image above to listen.

Three Hands Clapping

This is my latest recording project (released May 27, 2019). It is a double album of 22 songs, which very roughly track the story of my life... a sort of musical autobiography, so to speak. Click the album image to listen.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Readings, 2020

Readings, 2020
Paradise Lost, John Milton

Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson

The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson

Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado

Halos and Avatars, Craig Detweiller, ed.

Fool's Talk, Os Guinness

Brendan, Frederick Buechner

The Screwtape Letters

Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis

The Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis

Becoming Whole, Brian Finkert and Kelly Kapic

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis

Voyage to Venus, C. S. Lewis

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis

random reads

A (Belated) Christmas Homily

This is a Christmas reflection I shared at our Christmas Eve communion service the other night.  I hope it's edifying and helpful today, as you clean up the wrappings and box up the left-overs of the night before.  Christmas blessings, everyone.


It’s actually just a quirk of history that we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, of all the days of the year. I don’t want to sound like I’m spilling the beans about Santa Claus to a bunch of first graders or anything, but the fact is: no one knows for sure when Jesus was officially born. There are competing theories for the exact birthday, but most historians agree that December 25 is actually an unlikely candidate.

The quirk of history that made this day the big day was back in 336 AD, when a guy named Pope Julius I decreed that December 25th should be the official feast day for the birth of Christ. He wrote it with a big red sharpie marker on the church’s calendar, and it’s been there ever since. (At this point, most historians note that December 25th is close to the winter solstice (on December 21), and that back in 336 AD, the Romans already had a tradition of feasting and celebration around the winter solstice—a party in the dead of winter known as the “Saturnalia.” So it’s likely Mr. Julius I was just co-opting a pagan thing and sort of sanctifying it—redeeming it—for our Lord Jesus Christ.)

Most historians also note that they didn’t really have sharpie markers back in 336 AD.

But be that as it may, I don’t think it’s an accident that we celebrate the birth of Jesus in December, in the dead of winter, so close to the longest night—the darkest day—the coldest season—of the year. It’s a quirk of history, to be sure, but it’s no accident.

Because in some ways, “the winter” is actually a pretty good metaphor for thinking about what Jesus came into the world to save us from: winter—coldness—the cold. It’s a pretty good way of describing what the birth of Jesus was supposed to change for us. I mean: if I told you that Jesus came to warm what had grown spiritually cold in our world, you’d get it, wouldn’t you?

Because we use this language all the time. If I told you that things had “grown cold” between me and a good friend, you’d know what I meant. If someone told you that her lover—her husband—her son—was giving her the “cold shoulder,” you’d get the point. If someone told you that his family or his circle of friends had left him “out in the cold,” you’d know how isolated and betrayed he felt.

When Jesus warns us that in the last days the “increase of wickedness” will cause the love of many to “grow cold” you know he’s talking about something very serious and very dark, there. That’s “dead of winter” kind of talk.

Although, to be honest, the Bible doesn’t use “winter” language to describe this kind of thing too often—that line from Jesus I just mentioned is the only place I can think of. But that’s because just the Bible wasn’t written in Canada—where next to Hockey, waxing poetical about the cold is our national pastime.

If the Bible were written in Canada, and it wanted to talk, let’s say: about the way human sin makes a mess of relationships and alienates us from each other and makes authentic human interaction difficult and strained, it would probably point to that husband giving that wife the cold shoulder, or that kid whose family was keeping him out in the cold or that friendship that had grown cold. And it would say: sin sucks the warmth out of life like that. Worse than a winter wind on the prairies.

Or let’s say it wanted to explain how sin had made us God’s enemies and he was after reconciliation with us, it would probably say something like: our hearts had grown cold towards God.

And if it wanted to describe life without God, life turned away from God, life alienated from God. It would probably (if it were written in Canada, anyways), it would probably talk about it in terms of a spiritual winter—you know: the bitter cold on the longest night of the year, where it hurts to breathe it in and it hangs like a cloud in front of your eyes, and you just can’t feel anymore?

Or maybe it would simply remind us of how Jesus said it: in the last days, he said, the love of many to “grow cold.”

So I don’t think it’s an accident that we commemorate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ here, in the cold of winter, like this. Because, whatever else this birth is about, it is about God entering (if I can put it this way) entering the spiritual winter of our lives. To save us. From the spiritual cold-shoulders (so to speak), from being left out in the cold (if you follow me), from the bitter cold of life without God.

There’s an old, old Christmas Prophecy written half a millennium before the First Noel, where one of God’s ancient prophets says it like this: But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.

(Of course, I can’t resist pointing out that most of us do indeed frolic like "well-fed" calves on Christmas Day.) But more to the point: this Christmas Prophecy said that when the Messiah comes, it will be like the Sunrise of Spring, after a long, cold winter. The sun will rise for us, it said: with healing in its rays and warmth for what had grown cold and life for what had gone dead.

One of the old Chrismas Carols picks up on this image. You may have sung it before. It goes: “Hail the heaven born prince of peace. Hail the Sun of Righetousness. Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.” Does that ring any holiday bells for you?

So this is Christmas.

And this week—as we celebrate the birth of the one who entered into the spiritual winter of our lives like this, I suppose it would be altogether fitting to dwell on this question for a moment: What has grown spiritually cold in your life lately?—this Christmas season?—this year?

In your life with God, what’s cooled off? In your life with God’s people, what’s grown cold? In your relationships, in your devotional life, in your heart, in your soul, what is at risk of frost bite?

What do you need the Sun of Righteousness to warm for you?

Because it’s no accident that we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus here, in heart of winter. Because God’s promise to us is this: if we will invite him in to those places of “spiritual winter” in our lives, we will experience the life-giving warmth of the love of God; for us a Spring Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.

May God warm us like that, each one of us.

Merry Christmas from terra incognita

Merry Christmas everybody.  I hope everyone's Christmas Eve celebrations went swimmingly and I hope the expression "swimmingly" means "awesome!"

Every year at the FreeWay I try to do a special recording of music as a Christmas present to our church family.  Last year it was my record "bridges" (see sidebar);  this year I went back through  some old songs I'd written over the years and did some brand new arrangements and recordings of them. I call the CD "echoes." This is both a reference to the fact that the songs themselves are "echoes" of my songwriting past, but also to the fact that there are musical "echoes" of hymns, songs or poems sprinkled throughout the album. Listen closely and you'll hear them.

Anyways, if I didn't get a chance to give you a copy of the CD in person,  I've posted a link below.  You can click on it to "unwrap" the present.  Happy listening. Happy Christmas.  Happy New Year.  And I'll blog with again soon.

When the Logic of Secular Liberalism Devours its Own Tail

This spring CBC Radio covered an emerging controversy related to the practice of gender-selective abortions among some communities in Canada.  Recent statistics have shown that some cultural groups in Canada have disproportionately high rates of male birth, and everyone's strong suspicion is that utrasounds are being used to determine the sex of an unborn fetus, and the girls are being aborted.

This report is indicative of the kind of coverage the story received:

The story has rumbled still, now; at least I haven’t heard anything for months, but here’s the cynical question I just can’t shake: if we live in a society that long ago accepted it as a fundamental tenet of women’s rights that no woman should be required to carry an unwanted baby to term, then on what reasonable grounds can we now protest gender-selective abortions, just because the baby's sex happens to be the reason it's unwanted? Put more rhetorically: why is “I don’t want a girl” suddenly an inappropriate reason to terminate a pregnancy when “I don’t want a disabled child” or “we’re just not ready to be parents” have been acceptable reasons for years?

In my view it is bitterly ironic and highly hypocritical that the CBC is worrying this particular bone so self-righteously, when in all other regards it has been such a biased advocate of legalized abortion that it can probably take some (though by no means all) of the credit for the ease with which gender-selective abortions are obtained, and for the moral apathy our culture has towards the entire issue. And it’s telling that in all CBC coverage of this story, not once did I hear anyone connect the dots between the issue of gender selection and the deep moral questions surrounding abortion generally (not once, for instance, did anyone suggest restricting or regulating abortion as a solution; the best they could do was a flimsy proposal to withhold ultrasound results).

But I also see a glimmer of hope at the bottom of this well of irony. Because if people still experience visceral indignation when they learn that some fetuses are being terminated simply because they’re unwanted (the reason notwithstanding) then it suggests that there are still some starting points left for Christians who believe in the sanctity of all life, to talk reasonably and calmly about why there is more at stake than personal choice when it comes to the question of abortion.

Ministry in the Depths

Lectio Divina is a spiritual discipline that I would recommend to any Christian who wants to develop a listening ear for God's voice in the world.  The term is Latin for "Sacred Reading" and it's a way of reading the Scriptures where you meditate closely on a single story, or image, or verse.  The idea is to choose a text and read it prayerfully, over and over and over again, allowing God to speak through it as it settles from your mind, through your heart and into your spirit. 

A quick example:  a few years ago I was working through some self-doubt and self-image issues in my Christian life, and as I wrestled with this junk, I realized that a lot of it boiled down to fear: fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of death (in the most abstract sense).  It was at that point that God reminded me of 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear."  So I spent a while in lectio divina on this passage, rolling it over and over in my mind.  Perfect love drives out fear-- how does God love me and how do I know it?  Perfect love-- what is it about my experience of love right now that is imperfect?  Perfect love drives out fear-- what is the nature of my fears and how could God's love drive it out?  And so on.  As these words started to sink in, with their various shades of meaning and levels of emphasis, I actually began to experience the love of God driving out those fears in me.

The reason I'm telling you all this today, though, is because a while ago I was working through some stuff related to my understanding of my purpose as a pastor.  I was praying about it one day, and God reminded me of the story in Luke 5, where Jesus calls his first disciples.  If you recall, he meets Peter, James and John  in a sailboat, washing their nets after a failed night of fishing.  Jesus gets into the boat with them and tells them to let down their nets into the deep water (5:4).  Peter is skeptical, but at Jesus' word he does so, and the subsequent catch they draw in is so miraculous it sinks Peter to his knees with an awed awareness of his own sin, even as the boat begins to sink with the weight of the fish.  (And of course, it's after this catch of literal fish that Jesus calls them to become spiritual fishermen, suggesting, it seems, that this miracle is only a taste of what he will accomplish through them as his disciples).

As I spent some time in lectio divina on this passage, it was that phrase in 5:4 that bobbed to the surface for me:  "put out into the deep water and let down your nets." 

It struck me that Peter and the rest only experience the miraculous presence of the Kingdom of God (as signified by the catch of fish) after they put their nets into the deep water.  And it struck me next that sometimes churches are content to do ministry in the shallows--not to go too deep in their encounter with the Word, or the emotional risk of their ministry, or their engagement with God's world.  It can be tempting, I think, to keep things spiritually superficial--on the surface--safe.

But as those two observations struck me, I heard there God's call to put down the nets "into the deep water" in my own work as a pastor.  With that call came his challenge that it's only there, in the deep water of ministry, that a church will ever answer it's call to become "fishers of men."  Because it's only there, it seems-- going deep with people, spiritually speaking--that the life-transforming miracles of the Kingdom can occur.

When the Devil went down to Ephesus

first appeared on the conneXion Aug 21, 2012

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time in Acts these days, and feeling like it's a book I’ve read a dozen times but never seen before. One of the episodes I find particularly fascinating is the account of Paul’s visit to Ephesus.

If you recall: the Holy Spirit arrives in Ephesus and in its wake we see stuff happening that would make the best of Frank Peretti look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. The Seven Sons of Sceva are beat black and blue by a demon-possessed man (19:14); dabblers in the occult perform public burnings of their paraphernalia (19:19); the silversmiths of a pagan goddess incite the mobs to riot (19:28). I mean: the Gospel’s beating the bushes and the demons are scattering like so many startled sparrows.

But Frank Peretti aside—and this is a point that I’ve never seen Frank Peretti address, or Screwtape, or Dr. Faustus for that matter—whatever else they're about, the Ephesian exorcisms are about issuing God's challenge to the oppressive economic structures that promote systemic evil.

For instance: it’s an assumption on my part, but not an outrageous one, that the Seven Sons of Sceva have set themselves up as Exorcists for Hire, and this is why their interview with the devil goes so painfully wrong (the fact that Sceva is styling himself as a ‘chief priest’ in Ephesus is highly suspect). Bob Larson leaps to mind, here.

And this isn’t an assumption but just a plain reading of the text: the economic value of the books burned in Acts 19:19 works out to about 136 years wages (say 6 million dollars?). A lot of Ephesians have sunk a lot of money into occult junk over the years.

And most telling of all: the reason Demetrius and his colleagues start a riot is because they’ve seen the economic writing on the wall:  if people abandon Artemis for Jesus, they’ll no longer need the silver images that are their stock and trade. I don’t suppose a good racket has ever died without a fight, and this must have been a lucrative racket:  Ephesus, you understand, was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient World.

I’m pointing this all out because if you want to take the Book of Acts seriously, you can’t escape the conclusion that confronting the demonic is on the Church’s to-do list. But if I were to write a “theology of exorcisms” based on the Book of Acts, one of the first chapters, I think, would deal with oppressive economic structures, the “powers and principalities” that manipulate and dehumanize people in ways that seem so normal to us—even necessary—but are best understood as “demonic.” And then I would try to draw lines between what’s happening in Acts 19 and the Church’s call to both name and provide alternatives to these ways of doing business. Economic systems are by nature spiritual, I’d say, and economic structures are demonic when they make money ultimate and people a means to an end.

And then I’d brace myself.

But I’d also point out that in Acts 16 we see the same thing happening. Paul performs an exorcism (16:18), freeing a girl from demonic possession. But it’s not just a demon that's being excised here.  It's also the economic exploitation this girl's been suffering at the hands of her pimps. Because when the men who made their living off her “prophetic utterances” find out that their “hope of profit is gone," Acts says, that’s when the metaphorical excrement hits the proverbial air-circulation device.

By Acts’ reckoning, it seems: helping the vulnerable escape economic exploitation—girls the sex trade, say—or women the porn industry—or children the sweatshop—or workers the tyranny of the bottom line—or shop-a-holics the clutches of Mastercard—by Acts reckoning, at least, these are all ministries of exorcism with the potential to raise hell.

Preaching Jonah (Part II)

Here is another excerpt from the series on Jonah back in September.  This sermon was on Chapter 2, in which, among other things I coined the term "ichtyodeglutition" (the technical term for being swallowed by a fish-- it has a million uses).  Below's an excerpt and you can click here for the whole thing.

No former English Teacher can resist analysing a good poem, and I gotta say: for all its being written by a drowning man in the belly of a fish, this prayer in Chapter 2 ranks among the most carefully crafted poems in the whole Bible. In the poetry biz, we’d call Jonah Chapter 2 a “Hebrew Chiasm.”

A Chias-what? you say? Well, funny you should ask, because a chiasm is a form of poetry where all the ideas are sort of arranged in an “x” shape, where the second half of the poem is like a mirror-opposite of the first half (the word Chiasm itself just means “X”).

Let me demonstrate with this quote here: “Never let a kiss fool you, or a fool kiss you.” Now. That’s not from the Bible (but it is good advice). And it’s memorable because the ideas are arranged in sort of an “X” shape. Do you see it: You’ve got fool, then kiss, then kiss, then fool. Like an “X”.

Does that make sense?

Or how about this one: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Have you heard that one before? Did you ever notice it was sort of written in an “x” shape? Your country, you, then ask, then you, and your country.

Well if this is making sense to you than let me just say that these “x”-shaped thingies (that’s actually the technical word for them)—these x-shaped thingies are all over the place in the Bible. Especially the Hebrew Prophets, like Jonah, they used chiasms all the time. And usually when the prophets started talking in chiasms, they put the key idea right at the dead centre of the x.

Take Jonah’s prayer here, for example. In verse 17, it says a great fish swallowed Jonah, right? And then he starts to pray. In verse 2, he says, “in my distress I called to the Lord”—and note that he uses the special Hebrew name for God there. And then he says, “I called for help and you heard my cry” (though the actual word there is the Hebrew word for “voice”—you heard my voice is what Jonah says, literally.) Okay, but then in verse 4 he talks about how, even though he was expelled from God’s sight, he will look to the Lord’s Holy Temple. And in verse 5 he says that stuff about how the waters engulfed him—though literally he says something like “The waters surrounded my soul” “Soul” is the actual word there.

So we’ve got: the Lord, my voice, his Holy Temple, my soul. You with me?

Well: then we have verse 6: “I went down to the roots of the mountains—but you, O Lord, you brought my life up from the pit.” Put your finger on it: I sank down ... but you, O Lord, brought me up.

Now, keep your finger there, and watch this. In verse 7, Jonah says “When my life—and the word he uses, again, is soul—he says: when my soul was ebbing away, I remembered you O Lord. And my prayer rose (where?) to your Holy Temple. Do you see what’s happening? Maybe it would help if I pointed out that in verse 9, when he says “with a song of thanksgiving I will sacrifice to you,” the word he literally uses there is: “Voice.” “With the voice of thanksgiving,” is what it says in Hebrew. And notice that the very last words of his prayer use the special Hebrew name for God, just like he did in the very... first ... words.

“Salvation is of the Lord.” And after that: the great fish vomited Jonah up.

Do you see what I see? We have a perfect “x” shape here. I mean, look: the fish swallowed Jonah, then: the Lord, my voice, your Temple, my soul ... verse 6 ... and then my soul, your temple, my voice, the Lord. And then the fish vomited Jonah up.

Do you hear that? “I sank down to the roots of the Mountain. And you, O Lord brought my life up from the pit.” That’s the heart-beat of Jonah’s prayer. The dead centre of this chiasm.