Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Catching Up!

Well, I am back at it. Back at school, that is. I'm still nibbling away at a Master's degree, and it feels like a race against time. I say that because the more 'mature' I become, the greater the struggle to focus on the topic, or to organize a topic. I prefer to think that this happens because I have too many things going on in my head, rather than call it an age thing. At the same time I feel like it is getting more and more important for me to learn. I'm 57, but I still feel like I am just getting started. (Does that feeling ever go away?)

I am driven to learn for several reasons. I think meeting the Lord someday might have something to do with it. I want to discover what is really true and I want to be at rest for the right reasons. I hate the thought of resting on an illusion. Illusory hope works temporarily but it does me no good in the valley. It really isn't about the need for certainty. It goes deeper than that, I think. It almost feels like something organic. To discover those reasons, I feel the need to, at least mentally, extricate myself from my evangelical culture and reach back into history. I'm reading a lot of the Church Fathers, and I am actually reading Roman Catholic Catechism. After all, if I call myself a Protestant, I need to be correctly informed just what it is I am protesting.

I discovered that my former criticisms of the Catholic church were rather shallow, and some of them were straw men. I am just as convinced an evangelical as I always was, but I feel like I can discuss the issues with a bit more credibility now and a bit more irenically.

From October to December I took a theology course that looked at the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement started by men like Charles Colson, J. I. Packer, John Neuhaus and other well know leaders in both denominations. It was very enlightening to read the documents and discuss them together in class. Perhaps I will post some of that work on the blog if there are any requests.

One clear impression was made by all that reading. The scholars involved sure try hard to find language that will accommodate both sides, and one would almost have to be a lawyer to pick up what IS being said, and what IS NOT being said. After all is said and done, the movement does not seem to be turning into anything official. And the unofficial word is that at least one of the major movers on the Catholic side of the discussion admits that a lot less was achieved than what might appear on all that paper.

Having taken that course, my one take-away is this: I still want to know how I can meaningfully connect with churches in our area with whom I do NOT disagree doctrinally or practically. Shouldn't it AT LEAST begin there? Jesus' prayer in John 17 for the unity of his disciples was not meant to remain a mysterious unity that is not to be manifested until we are changed into His likeness. He told us that our unity (which is to be patterned after the unity of the Father and Son) will have tremendous apologetic value.. “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

This haunts me. We reject the throne of Rome but we elevate and exalt individualism instead of Jesus. And I feel alone in these thoughts. Ecumenism is such a dirty word in evangelical circles. The evangelical church is plagued with protectionism. No one talks about it because most of our churches call transfers from one church to another growth. It is one of those elephants in the living room. We rejoice to see new faces at our worship services, but few people ask, “Are the lost and hurting being reached with the message of hope?” (I say this, recognizing that other churches have benefited from people transferring OUT of our congregations into theirs. It's all zero-gain or loss for the body of Christ).

Yet, what would this unity that Christ had in mind look like? Surely it means more than getting together for a joint Good Friday service. And it cannot mean the kind of unity that is often attempted with ministerial associations where meetings are prefaced with “Let's ignore what divides us.” Okay, it isn't stated quite that bluntly. But that is essentially what is meant.

I think one place to start would be to find churches who want to be missional for the sake of the kingdom rather than for their own survival. The thought already makes me weak in the knees. It is a daunting task. I know about board meetings, committee meetings and congregational meetings. I know how difficult it is to share a vision that requires a kind of big gulp faith. And to persuade a group of leaders to take that big gulp step of faith with you is not easy.

That's why it has to start with prayer. What would God have us to as a group of churches that cannot be done unless we do it together? What “big, hairy, audacious goals” would He have undertake, not for the sake of being audacious, but for the sake of the big God whom we serve? What needs doing in our city that would both meet a practical need and at the same time cause people to say, “There is a God after all!”

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Incomprehensible Event

While watching the news today, the commentator was reporting on a tragic event in the U.S. A fire had claimed the lives of 9 firefighters. These firemen had wives, children, siblings, parents and other loved ones. The loss and the grief that surrounds this event is immeasurable.

The news commentator said something interesting and telling. She referred to the event as something incomprehensible. My ears perked up. Incomprehensible? Why incomprehensible? The fire was sad, tragic, heart-rending, but it is totally comprehensible. It’s pure physics. Everything about the fire and the deaths of these men is indeed comprehensible.

“Ahh, but wait a minute,” you say. She is not talking about physics. She is talking about the ‘why’ question. Why did this have to happen? The assumption behind it is that there is some purpose to the lives of these men, the fulfillment of which lies in some transcendent being’s control.

We cannot escape it, can we? No matter how hard we purge our secular institutions of religion, we smuggle the terms in anyway. An event like this can ONLY be incomprehensible if there is a transcendent purpose to life. If life is nothing more than a long chain of genetic accidents and only the strong survive, and if that belief comes naturally, then the last thing you might say about this horrific accident is that it is incomprehensible.

It is very telling that it’s incomprehensibility is one of the first things that naturally occurs to us. Dawkins would say it’s the result of a meme; a kind of virus of the mind. I say that if it’s genetic, God created it. Who knows? Maybe atheism is the meme?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

My Vegetable Oil Days and My Flirt with Postmodern Journalism

My Flirt with Postmodernism

My experiment with a vegetable-oil powered diesel car was a one-year adventure. I had bought a VW Passat diesel, and installed the necessary equipment to enable it to actually run on used (but filtered) vegetable oil. I was getting my used oil from places like The Mandarin Restaraunt.

Interested people would stop and ask me questions about my renewable (and recycled) fuel. A friend of mine (a ministry colleague) heard about the vegetable oil process and actually used the filtration process as an illustration in a talk he was giving to his congregation. Before we take communion, he said, we need to ensure that “the dirt is filtered out”, and he used my process of filtering out used vegetable oil through a pair of denim blue jeans as an analogy.

One of the people listening to him that day was a student of journalism at Ryerson. The story piqued her interest and she got my contact information from him, and gave me a call.

“Do you mind if I come over and do an interview with you,” she asked?

“Not at all,” I responded. Before the week was out, she showed up with another classmate and professional camera equipment. It took a couple of hours, but I showed her how it was done, and she plied me with many questions. It was my 15 minutes of fame, I thought.

A few weeks later, I got a call from CBC Radio. They had heard of my greasy ways, and wanted to interview me for some Saturday morning entertainment program. Once again, I agreed to be interviewed, but this would not be a student who is learning to do interviews. This would now be the real thing. I was going to be heard by 500,000 people, she told me. “Wonderful,” I thought. Maybe I could even slip in the location of our church or something similarly surreptitious and get some free advertising.

“We’ll call you back,” she said. She did, within a week.

“We have it all ready,” She said. “The dialogue is written out. Now, you have to understand that we’ve spiced it up a little. And we have fictionalized it in order to make it more entertaining.”

“Wait a minute,” I was still trying to process the phrase ‘the dialogue is all written out’ and when she used the word ‘fictionalized’ I started getting dizzy. I saw my second 15 minutes of fame slipping through my grasping fingers.

“I don’t understand, you’ve scripted a dialogue? You’ve written out what I am going to say,” I ask incredulously?

Without skipping a beat, as if they do this every day, she said, “Yep.” (Implied, “Did this plebe actually think we were going to let him speak his own mind on national radio! How naïve!”)

Another question, because it finally occurred to me what she meant by ‘fictionalized’. “Umm, excuse me, but are you saying that I will have to say things that are actually not true about myself?”

“Yes.” She was on the phone, but I could hear her blank stare. And I am thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this. She knows I am a preacher, and she wants me to go on the airwaves to tell things about myself that are untrue.”

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t think I can do this. Thank you for thinking of me though.” I had to say something to bring closure to this embarrassing affair while I hung up the phone.

Being totally unnerved, I emailed a journalist acquaintance of mine, and explained what happened to me. “Is this normal operating procedure in your industry?”

He assured me that it was unethical and no, it was not normal.

My experience has left me doubtful though. Now, every time I turn on the radio, I wonder….. can I believe what I hear?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Glory, The Rest of the Story

A couple of posts ago, I wrote a story about an experience and an answer to prayer at Fairhavens. I told about a family I met that had gone through some seveere difficulties. Last Friday, I met this family and asked them to look the story over for accuracy, etc. The mother went home, read the story, and sent me the rest of the story. The daughter has gone to be with the Lord now, but my, what a story that took place behind the scenes. I will post what she wrote, unedited comments in between my post; her comments will be italicized.

Finally have found the time to sit down and comment. First of all, I did a cut and paste of your article to comment on specific things.. so now.. the rest of the story.
All week we had guests there from a group home that took care of individuals with special needs; people who were pretty seriously challenged from a developmental point of view. Sometimes they would behave in ways that were not wrong, but just kind of socially awkward
One of them walked up to me during the course of that day, stuck out his hand with a big grin on his face, shook my hand and with difficulty and a brilliantly shining face said, “I believe in Jesus. Do you?”
And God whispered in my ear, “Do you see the glory?”

That was the Christian Horizons group. They are such special people. Some of them came from Christian Horizons group homes, some live with family and come for the holiday, I work in a Christian Horizons group home just north of Oshawa. Such a privelege to be working for a Christian organization that provides supports (homes and day programs) for more developmentally challenged people than any other organization in Canada. They are mainly in Ontario but in the last few years God had been expanding their ministry into third world countries.
I sat down at a table where I met a small girl. She was in a motorized wheelchair.

She walked by herself until early in 2004 when she started to have problems. She had gotten the wheelchair the year previously because she was having dizzy spells.... several months after she got it they discovered the dizziness was caused by high seizure drug levels. In March of 2004 she was in hospital and rehab for about 12 weeks because of severe pain in lower back and she had lost her appetite, fat stores and muscle mass. The dietican worked hard with her trying to increase her appetite but nothing worked. On a really good day she got 400 calories from food... and half of those would be from chocolate. A psychiratist was called in.. they thought that maybe she had a death wish. He was sure that she definitely wanted to live. The feeding tube was finally put in, totally against her wishes. No cause for the pain was found until March 2005 when she was losing feeling in the right leg, using her walker but still falling a lot and losing bladder and bowel control. It was then that a large spinal glioblastoma was found and removed two days later. They couldn't get it all.(not sure I have the right name, but it is normally found in brain and always fatal. Three months of radiation sometimes gives an extra 3 months.. Deb wanted nothing to do with it) She was given 1 - 3 years but I think that timing is more accurate from counting from the time she first had the symptoms a year before surgery.

Looked to be about 11 or 12 years old. Probably weighed all of 70 pounds. Her mother was sitting there as well. I forget the diagnosis of this girl.. but she wasn’t expected to live past her 16th birthday, and she is 29.

Good guess on the weight. She was actually around 60 lbs when she left hospital in May. She was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis when she was a baby. It is a geneitc disease passed on by one parent. I was born with it and had a 50% chance of passing it on but was not told anything about it when I was diagnosed except that it was a cosmetic problem and could be dealt with by having the growths removed. Neurofibromatosis affects a lot of people but can cause no problems or many... no knowing how it will manefest itself.
Deb had very slow development, scoliosis diagnosed at 10 months, problems with attention in school, seizures finally diagnosed around age 12 (after three or more years of misdiagnosis) brain tumors diagnosed at 14. She had many spinal surgeries throughout the years, starting when she was almost 6 until she was 18. She had three brain surgeries to remove tumors in different parts of the brain over a six year span, the first one when she was 14
She was never actually given any life expendancy. One doctor filled out a form for us for something she needed (can't remember but probably her disability pension) and handed it to me and pointed out that it was not sealed. (He had talked his way through the entire form until one question and then he had looked up at me and went back to filling it I assumed that he wanted me to read it) On the line that said "Prognosis" he had filled in "eventually fatal"

She can’t eat. She uses a feeding tube. She can’t control a number of her bodily functions. But she thrives on the life of Jesus, and her face shone. And God whispered in my ear: “Do you See the glory?”

She was able to enjoy a few bites by mouth of finely chopped or pureed food but not anywhere near enough to keep her alive. She had no control over bowel and bladder, her legs were paralzed. After the surgery they were unable to get her off the ventiator so a "temporary trach" was put in. It was felt that the shorter pathway to the lungs would help with the breathing so that she would be able to breath on her own. That worked but then they couldn't get her off the oxygen. Removing the trach was no longer an option. For several days efforts were made to teach her how to block the trach so she could talk but she was successful saying only a word or two a few times. They checked and found out that one of her vocal cords was damaged. So she no longer talked..(talking had been her passion.. she could talk your ear off with stories about this and that). though occassionally someone would hear a faint "bye"..or "hi". I think that only some very special friends at camp had that honour.

Our dream had been to spend summer at camp as we always had and I was determined it would happen..... but how... our trailer is very small and very hard to even pass someone in it.. How in the world would we carry her through the narrow doorway and get her safely on the nearby bed? We investigated getting another trailer but that was out of our means.
We did not have to worry. What is it the bible tells us about God answering before we even ask???
John Frieson, his wife and youngest child and Sheila came from camp to visit when Deb got out of hospital John told us that the camp was giving us a motel room and meals for the first two weeks of camp. What a surprise and total blessing. That would give us time to see how camp life was going to work and to see how we could adapt things to get Deb into our trailer. We did not have to worry about that either! We were offered the add- a -room of a friends trailer for the rest of the summer. The teenage boys using it were willing to give it up and sleep outside in a tent. Those friends were absolutely indispensible when it came to getting Deb in and out of bed three or four times a day.

The next concern was all the equipement.
5 tall oxygen tanks to be sure there would be enough for a week at a time.
compressor that really heats up space
feeding machine (small and very portable)
Diapers for the summer
Wet wipes
Feeding tube food for the summer
medications..seizure and pain
Syringes for feeding tubes
She would need her wedge for the bed for feeding times, once we had the offer of the add-a-room Terry went home and brought up her hospital bed.
cleaning supplies for the trach which had to be cleaned daily.
suction tubes for the trach (needing suctions several times a day, new tube each time)
suctioning machine
two portable oxygen tanks
The list goes on and on.

I took a whole carload up of consumable supplies and filled the top two bunks in the trailer a few days ahead of time. Then my brother filled his trunk, back seat and front passenger seat and helped us get up there. We had the loan of a van and had ramps to get Deb in her wheelchair into the van. All the back passenger seats were removed and all her equipment went with us, with the exception of the large oxygen tanks, the supply company delivered them directly to the camp and came each week to refill them. We kept two in the add-a-room and two on the deck. we had the fifth one in the chapel in case her portable ones needed filling after chapel was over each day.

Our whole family thought we were crazy... we would be so far from help if something went wrong. But we were fairly sure this was what she would want. She had not smiled for weeks. On the way to camp she stayed awake most of the way (normally slept a lot) and smiled a bit. You should have seen her at the barbeque that night. As people came to say high to her she beamed from ear to ear. My brother sat there with his mouth gapping open, He couldn't believe it. He said he was going home and telling the whole family that we had made the right decision for sure 'This is where she BELONGS!!!!"

We had nursing staff 5 nights a week and would go back to our own trailer to sleep, two way radio by our side.
One night she almost died..... that is another story i will tell you if you are interested but I am running out of time right now.

I meet her father. He walks with great difficulty. He tells me he has Cerebral Palsy, but still works as a custodian at a school.

He does have a limp and on a few rare occassion has had a severe flairup of arthitis in his hips which makes walking hard but not a lot of problems with walking normally. The Cerebral Palsy was not even diagnosed until he took a tumble and injured his shoulder. He was born very premature (they say just over a lb) so it is certainly a miracle that he even lived.

As we talk about the things of the Lord, his face shines, and as he shared his life story with me, one heartache after another spills out. His financial situation is lousy because of the never ending health care needs he faces. Finally he tells me his wife was now diagnosed with the same diagnosis the daughter in the wheel chair had,

I do have the same neurofibromatosis but not at all the same prognosis as Deb. Neurofibromatosis has caused very few problems in my life other than little tumours on the skin and a suspicion now and then that there could be nerve involvement in one elbow.

but his greatest grief, get this, his greatest grief is that his oldest daughter is not walking with the Lord. His oldest daughter is the only physically healthy one of the family.

The tears are overflowing his eyes as he is telling me this. His face is glowing with the love of Christ, because his tears are not tears of sorrow and grief, they are tears of love for the Lord as he talks about how the Lord has sustained him,
God indeed in the ONLY reason we were able to go through this time with such peace. He carried us and sent so many carring people to help in the practical things. Home care had provided the nurses 10 hours/ 5 nights a week.. most came from an hour or more away. They also provided a PSW 7 days a week for two hours each day for her bedbath. She had two different ones but one came the majority of the time. Deb had had this same PSW the previous year. I asked her if she knew anyone who could do laundry for me (we had some support money we were allowed to spend on whatever needs she had) She came back the next day and said she would do it... she was already working 50 to 60 hours a week. Every day I had at least one huge basket . Some days when she was really busy her husband would do it.
the Lord whispers in my ear, “Do you see the glory?”
It shines so brightly I don't know how anyone could miss it!!!!

I met people that week whose circumstances are terrible; whose health problems would put many of us into despair; whose financial lives are nonexistent.
And hands down, they displayed evidence of an abundant life that many others whose lives appeared to be pleasant and “normal” didn’t have.
And I have learned another lesson about what the abundant life really means.
Amen and amen!!!!

Thank you so much for sharing your site with us... and for your story. I means so much to know that Deb's life touched so many people... and it continues to do so even in her death.
Terry and Darlene

Thanks so much for opening up your life, Darlene and Terry. Many of us cannot imagine going through what you have faced. But you are a vivid reminder of the power of God's grace.

Friday, April 20, 2007

God and Dentists

One day as I was sitting in the dentist chair, C.S. Lewis reminded me again of an apt analogy. He says that humans have a tendency to treat God like a dentist. We only go to Him when it hurts.

As a youngster, I also remember discovering the potency of a couple of aspirins when I had a toothache. It was easier taking two aspirins for the symptom than it was going to the dentist for the root cause (no pun intended, really!) Anything to kill the pain, anything to put off the inevitable encounter with needle and drill. But inevitable it was.

It makes me wonder how it makes dentists feel, knowing that they are the last people on the planet we want to see; at least not in that context.

I often wonder too, how God must feel when we treat Him as a crisis manager, but not as One whose involvement in every area of our lives is regarded as absolutely essential. If I had a nickel for every time I heard some agnostic blame God for the pain of evil, I could make a real difference for orphans in Haiti. Have you noticed that each time a disaster occurs, we ask about God's whereabouts, but seldom do we stop to give God the credit when things are going well?

Blaming God for evil is like blaming the dentist for my extraction (I know, the analogy breaks down, so don't stretch it too far). I might have prevented today's painful extraction by being diligent 25 years ago with some preventative action.

In similar ways, a lot of crises in our lives can be prevented by maintaining and nurturing a positive relationship with God during the good times. There is a warning in Deuteronomy that was given to the Jews as they waited on the east side of the Jordan River. God said to them through their leader Moses, "When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you- a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant- then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Deut 6:10-12).

The obvious lesson is this. When things go well, we tend to forget God. We forget to give credit where it's due. And as soon as we experience a downturn, our instinctive reaction is to look up and ask Him why. What odd creatures we are.

Imagine that someone comes to your door one day to give you $50. At first you are extremely suspicious, but finally you accept it, after you satisfy yourself there are no strings attached. The same person comes by the next day, with another $50. This happens every day for the next 30 days. On the 31st day, your benefactor doesn't show up. How would you react? Some people would shrug their shoulders and say, "I knew it wouldn't last."

Others would experience anger and disillusionment. Still others would have counted on this money to such an extent that they are now in trouble, because they maxed out their credit card due to the generosity of the stranger. Happily, some would be genuinely grateful for what it was when it lasted.

Believe it or not, that's how many folks treat God. Let someone experience His grace for a few days, and when the storms come, suddenly God's the villain!

The only way out of this cycle is to view God as the most important Being in our lives. He is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. He created mankind (you and me) in order to be His image bearers (according to Genesis 1). Nothing can be as important as getting to know this God. And He regarded getting to know us as so important that He created a wide open door of access to himself. He wants us to use that access, not just when we have a "toothache". Excuse me, it's time for another Advil

Friday, April 13, 2007

Do You See the Glory?

Some time ago, I was at a family conference at a Christan Retreat Center. I don't remember the particulars, but while there I found myself interacting one day with a believer who had obviously been impacted by the 'Toronto Blessing'. He seemed to be somewhat disappointed that I was not experiencing or promoting a more dynamic view of Christianity. I am more of an introvert and you have to look closely to see me smiling. It's how I'm wired. I'm just not all that excitable.

He had obviously been a part of the Airport Vineyard thing, where people have dramatic PHYSICAL manifestations of what they believe to be the Holy Spirit. He wanted to influence me in that direction, and insisted that we were totally missing out, because obviously, we aren’t experiencing any of THAT glory.

The rest of that day, I asked the Lord to show me where the glory is. If (as Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 3) this ministry that we have is MORE glorious than the glory the likes of which Moses experienced, I didn't see it.

All week we had guests there from a group home that took care of individuals with special needs; people who were pretty seriously challenged from a developmental point of view. Sometimes they would behave in ways that were not wrong, but just kind of socially awkward.

One of them walked up to me during the course of that day, stuck out his hand with a big grin on his face, shook my hand and with difficulty and a brilliantly shining face said, “I believe in Jesus. Do you?”

And God whispered in my ear, “Do you see the glory?”

I sat down at a table where I met a small girl. She was in a motorized wheelchair. Looked to be about 11 or 12 years old. Probably weighed all of 70 pounds. Her mother was sitting there as well. I forget the diagnosis of this girl.. but she wasn’t expected to live past her 16th birthday, and she is 29.

She can’t eat. She uses a feeding tube. She can’t control a number of her bodily functions. But she thrives on the life of Jesus, and her face shone. And God whispered in my ear: “Do you See the glory?”

I meet her father. He walks with great difficulty. He tells me he has Cerebral Palsy, but still works as a custodian. (I have learned since that worked at a nursing home and then at a drug company, doing custodial work. Several years ago the plant doctor decided that the job was too hard on him physically and recommended that he be put on a disability pension). As we talk about the things of the Lord, his face shines, and as he shared his life story with me, one heartache after another spills out. His financial situation is lousy because of the never ending health care needs he faces. Finally he tells me his wife was now diagnosed with the same diagnosis the daughter in the wheel chair had, but his greatest grief, get this, his greatest grief is that his oldest daughter is not walking with the Lord. His oldest daughter is the only physically healthy one of the family.

The tears are overflowing his eyes as he is telling me this. His face is glowing with the love of Christ, because his tears are not tears of sorrow and grief, they are tears of love for the Lord as he talks about how the Lord has sustained him, the Lord whispers in my ear, “Do you see the glory?”

I met people that week whose circumstances are terrible; whose health problems would put many of us into despair; whose financial lives are nonexistent.

And hands down, they displayed evidence of an abundant life that many others whose lives appeared to be pleasant and “normal” didn’t have.

And I have learned another lesson about what the abundant life really means.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Paradoxes of Faith

(I will begin to republish some older articles that I thought had been lost long ago but are still quite relevant!)

In a religious forum discussion, one of the participants raised the issue of paradoxes in the Bible. Apparently Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, uses the story of Abraham and Isaac as an irrational paradox that invites us to respond with a faith that leaves reason out of the equation. Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac, his son of promise in his old age. The claim being made with this story is that the Christian faith is something that should NOT be given a rational basis at all; that our faith is (and ought to be) a blind leap of faith. The assertion is that Christians should not waste so much energy attempting to 'prove' anything about their faith, because faith and reason are antithetical. "If you can prove it, it can't be faith", seems to be a prevailing sentiment, particularly among the postmodern crowds. Mark Twain apparently said, "Faith is believing something you know ain't so!"

I am reminded of a story that I personally heard from Dr. John White, a physician and psychiatrist who spent his early years as a missionary in Bolivia. He was stationed in an isolated region of the country, and had no access to modern medical equipment or help. One day, his young toddler son was playing outside when he tripped and fell on his face, striking his chin on a rock on the ground. His chin was split open, and he required immediate medical attention. But his father the physician had no anesthetic equipment or drugs with him. However, he realized that unless he acted immediately, infection would certainly set in. There was no time to wait for a plane to come and fly him out of the jungle to a modern hospital. That would have taken days to arrange. With loving care, they laid the screaming child on the table. First they cleaned the wound. That was painful enough, but then came the hard part. The father would now have to stitch up the gaping wound, without benefit of any painkillers. Now imagine the father as he begins to stitch up the child, all the while causing the child more pain than he has ever known in his life. Mother and assistants all hold the child down so the procedure can be done safely. The child's eyes look up frantically at the face of the father from whom he has only ever known love and acceptance, but now the child's eyes are full of abject terror as he feels nothing but unbelievable pain from the hands of his 'loving' dad.

At this very moment, the reassuring "I love you" from father and mother falls on deaf ears. How can this be love by any definition of the word? As Dr. White shared this story, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, as he invited us to imagine not only how the child felt, but how the father felt at that point. This is a great paradox from the child's point of view. More than that; it was a contradiction in the mind of the child, and no amount of reasoning would satisfy. In reality from an adult point of view, the father's actions were anything but irrational. The paradox is resolved from the adult point of view. The parent knows that at this point, love demands that the child's medical condition needs to be looked after in the most expeditious way, even if that way means pain and misunderstanding on the part of the child. Love at this point is NOT caving in to the screaming, superficial demandingness of the child, who is only interested in avoidance of pain and restoration of comfort. God often allows our faith to be tested in this way. Sometimes things happen to us the likes of which leave us wondering about the rationality of our God and our faith. As we try to figure things out, we need to remember that after all, our God did say, "My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts." He did not say his thoughts were irrational. They are simply beyond ours. Otherwise God would merely be one of us. Think about it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More on the "Lost Tomb" Circus

From the email bag..

Dear Professors and other Bloggers

I’d like to report something of potentially great interest with respect to assessing the Jesus tomb theory offered by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino (and, by extension, James Tabor).

Many scholars have demonstrated the glaring weaknesses of this theory with respect to the inscriptions, the names themselves, the shaky logic, etc. And despite the clear, coherent response to the statistical framework and analysis offered by my friend Randy Ingermanson, the public continues to be bludgeoned with the “improbability” of it all. Well, it appears that having the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Matthew, and Martha (“Mara”) on ossuaries at one location isn’t as improbable as Jacobovici, Pellegrino, and Tabor would have the world believe.

I want to draw your attention—and the attention of scholars and interested parties who read your blog—to a SECOND site that has all those names. In 1953-1955, Bellarmino Bagatti excavated the site of Dominus Flevit (“The Lord wept”) on the Mount of Olives. The excavation uncovered a necropolis and over 40 inscribed ossuaries – including the names of Mary, Martha, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus. These ossuaries are not, as far as I can tell, in Rahmani’s catalogue. I’m guessing the reason is that they are not the property of the Israel Antiquities Authority (see Rahmani’s Preface). The necropolis was apparently used ca. 136 BC to 300 AD. Here is a link that discusses the site. A few scanned pages of Bagatti’s excavation report (written in Italian) can be found here as well.

I’ll be tracking down this report (and perhaps buying an Italian dictionary). I found this information last night (actually 2:00am) while working on my portion of a lengthy response to the Jesus tomb theory (to be co-authored with Randy Ingermanson). I didn’t want to wait until that was done to alert scholars to this so we can collectively look at this data. It appears that the statistical odds touted in such assured terms have taken a sound beating – fifty years ago.

There’s one more really intriguing thing about the Dominus Flevit site. It is referenced by Jacobovici with respect to his argument about the cross symbol’s antiquity, and Bagatti’s book is in his bibliography. And yet he and Charlie Pellegrino somehow overlooked the fact that ossuaries were found at that site with all the names accounted for. One can only guess whether the omission was due to careless scholarship or an effort to deceive the public.

Mike Heiser, PhD
Academic Editor, Logos Bible Software

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Whom Are We to Worship?

Several times in my ministry through the years I have had a person say to me something like, "Nowhere does the Bible tell us to worship the Son directly. We are to worship the Father in the name of the Son." It would ring true with me in my earlier years, because I had always felt a discomfort in addressing Jesus directly. I still haven't understood that feeling, but it was the same feeling that I had when I began to pray in English instead of my mother tongue (German).
But others I have talked to have confessed to that same discomfort.

It may be that because I have always been taught to pray to the Father in the name of the Son, it felt like I was crossing a line. Perhaps it's the same line I crossed when I first stopped using King James pronouns in addressing God in my prayers.

But psychological reasons aside, I can think of some legitimate reasons for this teaching.

Jesus prescribed prayer for his disciples in a certain way. He said:
Matthew 6:9-11 9 "This, then, is how you should pray: "'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread..." and so forth.

We are also instructed in several Scriptures to direct our gratitude and praise to God.

For example: Colossians 3:17 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Ephesians 5:19-20 Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The obvious question then becomes: Did Jesus intend for us to always only to pray exclusively to the Father? I don't think so.

Although there are several verses telling us who to address in prayer, we do have some examples of worship and prayer to Jesus that are not protested.

So here are the questions I brought to the biblical text:

1. Do we have any examples of humans in the New Testament praying to Jesus and worshiping Him?

Yes, we do. And the Lord Jesus does not object. He accepts their praise.

a. He was worshiped in his infancy.

Matthew 2:2 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

Matthew 2:11 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

b. He was worshiped in His adult life.
John 9:37-38 37 Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." 38 Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.

Matthew 14:30-33 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

c. He was worshiped in His post-resurrection state.

Matthew 28:8-10 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Matthew 28:16-17 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Luke 24:51-53 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

2. Are we instructed anywhere to worship Jesus? Not exactly. Not directly, that is.

a. But angels are instructed to worship Him.
Hebrews 1:5-6 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"? 6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."

b. We ARE instructed to pray to Him.
John 14:13-14 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

c. And we will certainly be worshiping Him in the future. If what happens in the following description is not worship of Christ, then you can call me a heretic.

Revelation 5:11-12 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"

Whatever the final answer, I prefer to err on the side of honouring the Son as I honour the Father. After all, Jesus said in John 5:23
He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.

If you disagree, I would like to hear your reasons. But then I might just pull out some heavyweights, like John Owens and a few other Puritans who would likely really be concerned that this is even a question that is up for discussion!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Do They Read Blogs in Heaven?

How does this happen? The first few years of my spiritual re-awakening were also 'years I spent in vanity and pride'. In my case, when I sing that well known hymn, I am singing about the time AFTER I connected with my Saviour, not before.

I have always looked at my late teens as a turn-a-round point in my life. It was the late sixties. Everyone was on a search of some sort. That's the time I felt that God turned my life around. It had been going nowhere; yet I knew that there was a purpose to life. I had just been too laid back to go after it.

I was a miner in Thompson, Manitoba, and through a series of circumstances, I dedicated my life to the pursuit of God. I met another guy my age who was an authentic example for me. I saw up close that it was possible for someone like me to live for Him.

Yet, I had this radical and impulsive streak. (It was the age of radicalism, remember?) I joined a small group of Christians which was meeting in a home and decided, under its influence, that every other denomination and organized church was somehow substandard. These people claimed that they were the closest thing to a New Testament church that existed. I believed them. No other church seemed to care about a biblical ecclesiology.

We were the elect, the chosen people. We were the ones who did things the New Testament way. We broke bread every Sunday, our ladies wore head coverings (although they wore the pants at home!) and the Holy Spirit led our meetings; there was no presiding officer or pastor. Everything was to be spontaneous and when people asked us what we called ourselves, well, we were just plain Christians. We dared not call ourselves Plymouth Brethren! That's what other people called us. We wanted to be the people who 'gathered to the name of Jesus Christ'.

At the young age of 19, I had become a Pharisee.

I left the small church that I had first attended (although they needed all the help they could get in that mining town). I told the pastor why I was leaving, and I told him how wrong it was to do church the way they were doing church. I left, not regarding the pain and grief I caused in my family or friends.

I lived with my brother and sister in law. I told them how wrong they were.

And I visited with another pastor, and told him how wrong he was. The man's name was George Nelner (His name will come up again). He didn't try to argue much with me. I had my pet verses and I knew how to use them, and I felt very smug as I left his office, because once again it was confirmed in my mind just how right I was and how wrong the whole ecclesiastical system was. (Why it never dawned on me how arrogant I had become, I will never know. I think it had something to do with the illusions that happen when there is a timber in one's eye; see Matthew 7)

Fast forward. I moved from Thompson back to Winnipeg, began fellowshipping with those brethren who were responsible for the effort in Thompson. There was a lot of good Bible teaching there. A lot of people there truly loved the Lord. But there was also an elephant in their living room that no one had the nerve to point out. Group denial is a powerful thing. There were times in those meetings when I had a stirring deep within that said, "This is spiritual pride and it stinks."

I had spiritually distanced myself from my friends and had alienated some of my family with my smug self righteousness. They knew me best, and they did not buy my self-righteous act for a minute; yet they had patience with me; my father most of all. I think my father knew that I just needed time to grow. And with time, I did. I think I know what it must be like coming out of a cult. I was summoned to a meeting one evening. It was with the elders (they really did seem austere and ancient). They read out of the book of Revelation, the passage that tells of the church of Philadelphia. It was the one church that did not receive any criticism from the Lord. Here are the words they read:

"See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars-- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Revelation 3:8-11

They looked at me and asked, "Do you deny that we are the church Jesus was talking about?"

"Yes," I said, "I deny that this is the Philadelphian church."

The next Sunday I was 'read out of the meeting'. Excommunicated.

I walked out of the Gospel Hall that day, dazed but free.

I was free from a systemic kind of pride that overshadowed these groups of people. But pride as a property of our individual natures doesn't surrender that easily. Although this was a good beginning the Lord had to teach me a few lessons yet.

Fast forward another few years. My sister (who is only a year older than I am) had a series of very difficult circumstances that I will not detail in a public blog. She had also experienced the judgmentalism of some Baptist deacons who had shamed her without knowing her circumstances. Through their actions they made it very difficult for her to ever darken the door of a church again. Many Christians understand this dynamic. There are many 'walking wounded' whose church should have been their safe place. Unfortunately the church can also be a place where the deepest wounds occur.

My sister moved from Toronto to Calgary with her two children. There, with a lot of uncertainty, she, with her children and her partner sought out a church, and I was happy to hear that they had found a place where they were accepted and loved. Not long after that I was invited to their wedding.

The man who officiated the wedding and had become their pastor was none other than George Nelner. I am so grateful that my sister did not find a church led by someone with an attitude that I had displayed to George Nelner that day in Thompson. The grace that this man exuded was evident in his speech and his actions. He personified the words that Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery (John 8). "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin."

Oh yes. George Nelner died this last month. He's gone to his heavenly home. I heard news of this, and it began to stir some of these memories in me. I wish that I could have done a better job of apologizing for being such an arrogant twit in his office so many years ago. I should have thanked him for being so gracious to my sister and brother in law. I can only hope they read blogs in heaven. George, this is me, making things right.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Jesus’ Tomb: What’s all the Fu$$ about?

We are coming up on Easter. Every year, like clockwork, another conspiracy theory hits the media that seeks to cast doubt upon the claims of Jesus Christ. Last year it was the DaVinci Code. In years prior, the Jesus Seminar annually published their latest doubts about Christ. This year, it’s a blockbuster. They claim to have found the bones of Christ. None other than famed producer of ‘The Titanic’ who proclaimed to be ‘the king of the world’ James Cameron, is producing the film with the Discovery Channel behind him.

If you happen to run across anyone who actually believes the documentary that will be airing shortly, please keep these facts handy. (I cobbled these points together quickly from a perusal of various news agencies and blogs).

Ten Top Reasons This Can’t be the Jesus We Know

1. Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth, not Jerusalem. They would likely not have been buried in Jerusalem.
2. It is very doubtful Joseph and Mary had a tomb. They were poor peasants. Normally poor peasants don't get these kinds of tombs.
3. The names, Mary, Joseph AND Jesus (read Joshua) were as common as our names Tom, Dick and Jane. One scholar says that in Jesus’ day, over 40% of the women were named Mary or some derivative of it. Among the about 1,000 ossuaries from biblical times unearthed in Jerusalem, six carry the inscription ''Yeshua,'' or Jesus. Of those, two are engraved with the words ''Jesus, son of Joseph.''
4. The archaeological establishment is labeling this claim as ‘bunk’.
5. The DNA evidence can only tell them if those who are represented in these ossuaries are related to one another.
6. There was a swirl of controversy surrounding the ossuary supposedly containing the bones of James. It is now considered a modern forgery. It was purported in this new documentary to have been stolen from this tomb. Yet it has been considered a forgery, putting the authenticity of this whole group of ossuaries in doubt.
7. Esteemed academics like William Dever says, “Specialists have known about these ossuaries for years. The fact that it's been ignored tells you something. It would be amusing if it didn't mislead so many people."
8. Another blogger asks this question. “How likely is it that the early Christians built and sustained a tomb of Jesus if they — at the same time — were declaring his resurrection and ascension, and were undergoing persecution for the following him? What this tomb requires is a long-term preservation of the remains of the members of Jesus’ so-called family. Unlikely to the extreme.”
9. Hollywood. Need we $ay more?
10. And the final reason this can’t be Jesus’ tomb… He is risen!!

For further reading:
Ben Witherington
Bock's Blog
James White
Andreas Kostenberger