Dealing with Silence


I recently watched “Silence,” the latest Martin Scorsese film, based on the novel written by Shusaku Endo. It was a deeply troubling movie. The film portrays the fictional story of a 17th Century Jesuit Missionary from Portugal named Father Sebastian Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield) who sets sail for Japan in 1640, determined to help the brutally oppressed Christians of Japan. Christianity was first introduced to Japan by Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier in 1549 and for the next fifty years began to grow in influence and popularity while it was largely tolerated by the Japanese court. Problems between the Catholic church and the Japanese Emperors came to a head in 1587, when Shogun Hideyoshi ordered the expulsion of all Jesuit missionaries and then later crucified twenty-six Christians as a warning to any remaining believers. The Emperor would not tolerate further political interference from the Church. Later bans against the Jesuits failed to slow the church’s growth and the haphazard executions of believers only created more martyrs for the faith. Silence The arrival of English and Dutch Protestants who were antagonistic toward the Spanish and Portuguese speaking Catholics, along with the coming to power of Shogun Ieyasu created an explosion of violent persecution toward Christians.  In 1614, a second expulsion order was issued and this time, any missionaries still found in the country were brutally physically and psychologically tortured in an effort to get them to deny the faith. Silence, by Martin Scorsese Later, in 1632, the Catholic world was shocked to learn that Father Christovao Ferreira, (played by Liam Neeson in the movie) the leader of the underground Portuguese mission in Japan, had apostatized and was even collaborating with the Buddhist provincial governors.  This is the context in which the fictional story “Silence” is set. Rodrigues and a colleague travel to Japan to assist the Christians there, and hopefully learn the truth about their mentor Father Ferreira.

The first unsettling thing about the movie (and the book for that matter) is the whole struggle surrounding the question, “How can God allow such terrible suffering to happen?”  How can God be all-loving, and all-powerful and still allow the prayers of thousands of suffering Christians to go unanswered?  That same question is still one that haunts people today.  By the turn of the early 17th Century, there were almost half a million Christians in Japan but today only a vanishingly small percentage of the population would identify with any Christian faith. Where was God when the Christian faith was being  exterminated from Japan? Today there are many who ask, where is God as the Christian faith is being erased from places like Iraq and Syria by ISIS and other extremist groups?  It seems that God is either all-loving and not all that powerful, or that God is all-powerful and not all that loving.

This is where the movie gets its title from.  Christians suffer through horrible torture and desperately pray for deliverance and sometimes, what they get from God is silence. Most of us, at one time or another, have felt the pain of waiting on God’s response to our prayers.  It is not a “yes;”  it is not a “no;” it is silence.  How do we deal with God’s silence?

The Psalms are filled with David’s and other writer’s cries to God,

To you, Lord, I call;
you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. (Psalm 28:1-2)

Some of the darker psalms are filled with pained cries, some of them speaking out of darkness and horror. The Bible pulls no punches when it speaks of dealing with God’s silence.  We are often left bewildered at God’s actions-or his failed actions in the world.  The Scriptures give us one word of advice, and it is probably not what you want to hear. “Wait. ”

The book of Job is an ancient account of the collision of contemporary wisdom and godly instruction on the topic of suffering.  Job loses everything and his friends respond with the contemporary wisdom of the day:  ”Good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people.  If you are suffering, it is because you have committed sin.  Say your sorry and God will make good things happen again.” Job refuses to accept this picture of reality.  Life doesn’t work like that!  Through it all, Job suffers, but he does not despair.  He is not happy with his lot in life but he is not fatalistic about it either. He suffers bitterly but he doesn’t give up hope. In Job 13: 15 we read him reply “Though [God might] slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.” Here Job is saying that the world doesn’t make sense to him but God is still good.

Endo’s book and Scorsese’s film provides no cheap and easy comfort either (thought the film does give us a subtle glimmer of hope at the end).  History,  however does have something to say about the true legacy of the Portuguese mission to Japan.

Unfortunately, we now have letters written by Jesuits Alessandro Valignano and Francisco Cabral, who served in Japan in the late 16th century, which reveal that the missionary’s motivations were not entirely trustworthy. There were eager to spread the teachings of the Catholic church, but they were also active supporting the colonial interests of Portugal. In the late 16th century, many missionaries were actively involved in plots to overthrow the Emperor and establish Japan as a Portuguese colony.  Other missionaries were active in the slave trade, working with Japaneses Diamyos to capture and sell Japanese villagers around the world. (For more about the sad reality of the darker side of the missionary’s interests see this review of the film)

The more one reads about the wicked colonial interests of some (definitely not all) of the missionaries in Japan in the 16th century, the more familiar it sounds when we consider Western military interference in the Middle East.  Imagine what we will know about the American-Iraqi War effort a hundred years from now. Similarly, I also wonder what is really behind the current struggle in Syria. It could be that Syrian and Iraqi Christians have suffered bitterly more because of selfish Western political interference than because of anything else. Has God abandoned Christians in Bagdad, Mosul and Aleppo, or are we watching the consequences of governments sins over the past 30 years?  It becomes a much more complicated picture when you consider how we are sometimes implicated in our own suffering. If God had intervened and kept the Americans out of Iraq in the 1990s we would have rejoiced or would we have cried out “How long O Lord?  How long will evil people like Saddam Hussein be allowed to stay in power?”

Sometimes God is silent because we could not understand anything else.  Sometimes God is silent because we couldn’t bear to hear the truth. In times of struggle and great suffering we can trust two things.  Firstly that God is morally good in ways that we cannot fully understand, and secondly that God knows what it means to suffer.  God knows first hand what it means to suffer because he-in the form of Jesus Christ- has lived, and suffered injustice, and died as a human being himself.  God has also raised this same Jesus as a witness that there is life beyond the grave, not just silence.  God is silent, but not forever.


My Babies

by Julie Walker

Walker Boys

photo by Shannon Vine Photography

I don’t know how this happened. I feel like yesterday we had small children running around this house and today we have a house full of teenagers. Every single one of our children is a TEENAGER!! What has actually happened! This cannot be God’s plan. All those runny nose, messy eating, midnight wake-ups with sick kids, all those running kids to swimming or soccer, toy-infested-house moments, which I swore I would be thrilled to part with, are now gone! In fact, I can barely remember the exhausting parts of this time in my life. I can only recall the sweetness of the snuggles and the smells of the freshly-bathed babies and the “I love you Mommy” expressions of affection. I think it’s a trick that God plays on parents so that, on some future far distant day, when my kids ask me to babysit their babies I’ll say “of course I will!”


photo by Shannon Vine Photography

The last of our babies turned thirteen last summer.

Twin BabiesJuly 25, 2003 ended with a bang when our third son, brought a friend with him. They surprised us with their speedy arrival almost as much as they surprised us when we found out that there were two of them in the first place. Six months earlier, the routine ultrasound ended up being anything but routine. Let’s just say I’m glad I was lying down. It was at that moment that I realized that: A) God likes surprises, B) He had a lot of work to do on my control issues, and, C) I strongly suspect that He likes spoiling Noel more than me. Noel said when we were pregnant the first time that we should have four kids. He ominously pronounced that if I disagreed then we would just have twins during the last pregnancy. So ya, he’s spoiled.

The boys were born on a lovely summer night following a wonderful meal at the home of a terrific couple from church. I was kinda feeling some mild cramps but, being 37+ weeks pregnant with twins in the middle of the summer, I was not at all alarmed. Given that it takes me (historically) approximately 500 days to actually have my babies, I usually don’t get excited about cramps. Besides, I fully expected to be the only woman in recorded history to actually have to be induced when her twins refused to leave the womb. But God had a different plan.

God had the most perfect birth possible in mind for us. We were under doctors orders to arrive at the hospital with plenty of time to monitor the babies during labour to make sure they were both handling everything okay. I was also going to have an epidural just in case the babies weren’t happy and we had to do something quickly. This was not how I would have liked my delivery to go but, okay. So, the night of July 25th arrived with me wondering if maybe these cramps were actually something to worry about. I called our midwife and she informed us that the hospital we were going to deliver at was closed (no empty beds) and I would have to go to another area hospital. We made the decision to head to our local hospital where I worked as an obstetrical nurse to at least be assessed. I was still thinking that this whole thing was probably nothing and we would be sent home. By the time we got there I was pretty sure it was the real thing and indeed it was. Liam arrived within thirty minutes and Daniel just eight minutes after that. No hours of monitoring, no epidural and not even a lengthy labour and I ended up delivering surrounded by friends and colleagues.


photo by Shannon Vine Photography

As I think about how the boys came into the world, they demonstrated their own unique personalities right from the beginning. Liam arrived screaming and active right from the beginning. I think he was just as shocked to be born as we were to see him. He was crying so much that he flipped himself over right in front of the nurses who were trying to assess him. Daniel made his appearance in a more relaxed manner. He cried at birth but was quickly settled and didn’t seem to think this new environment required much more from him despite the fact that everyone else in the room wanted a little more of a response.

During this whole surprisingly short ordeal Noel had a look on his face that I have never seen before or since. He said he was just praying the whole time. Scared to death and also extremely excited. We were both glad when it was over. After a couple of days in the hospital being spoiled by my nurse friends, we went home to begin the adventure of Liam and Daniel.

They were loved immediately by their big brothers and were constantly being snuggled and petted. All our children have been snugly babies and Liam and Daniel just soaked it up. They loved to be together right from the beginning and spent hours and hours entertaining each other. They still are each other’s best friend. I hope they always remain this close.

I tend to always think of them together, almost as a unit which is not something I’m proud of. They are very different but they are also very similar and I have difficulty thinking of one without the other. Liam is emotional, sensitive, a deep thinker and a little bit of a worrier. Daniel is relaxed, a go-with-the-flow kinda guy, and a calmer of worries. Both boys are affectionate, kind, tenderhearted, hard-working and thoughtful. They love Jesus, their family, babies, and anything with fur. They have dealt with struggles at school with their usual good humour and have met every challenge with a good attitude.

This past year we made the decision to change schools to provide the boys with an environment which would better meet their needs. This was a huge change for kids in grade eight but they both agreed that they thought it would be good for them and they wanted to give it a shot. I was so proud of their maturity in choosing their learning over their friends. It’s been a difficult transition at times but they both agree that it was a good decision and they’ve already made up a lot of ground in their schooling. I’m so proud. We’ve always heard from their teachers that the boys work so hard and now all their effort is paying off.

BaptismLast March, the boys made a very important decision. They wanted to be baptized and make a life- long commitment to have Jesus as their saviour. Liam had been asking to be baptized for quite awhile and we weren’t sure if he really understood but every time we would discuss it he would have these very reflective, deep answers to any questions we would ask him. We finally asked ourselves why we would be holding him back and we couldn’t come up with a good answer. Often during our conversations Daniel wouldn’t say much but agree with Liam wholeheartedly. I said to him once that if he wasn’t ready than he could wait. Just because Liam wanted to be baptized didn’t mean that he had to as well. He looked at me like I had three heads and said he thought the same things Liam thinks it’s just that Liam always speaks first. Well, alright then. The two of them both could not imagine taking this step without the other. In fact they wanted to be baptized at the same time. So that’s what we did. I’m so grateful that despite our flaws and mistakes, all our boys have seen the love of Jesus and want to live a life committed to him. Sometimes I think we’re doing something right with this whole parenting thing.

These two turkeys have surprised me from the beginning. In some ways I want to keep them little and snugly and always with me but I also want to see who they become. I’m so proud of the way they meet life’s challenges, how they pray and trust God, and how they care for the less fortunate. They have been a true gift from God. What a blessing it is to be their mom. I have the same prayer for Liam and Daniel as I do for Devin and Jacob; that they will always find their worth in who they belong to and that they will become mighty men of God. Serving Him with their lives. All four make me proud, even as teenagers.

The Son of God and an Unwed Mother

Epiphany the adoration of the babeToday is the day of Epiphany, a surprisingly complex holiday that celebrates different things depending on what flavor of Christian you are. In Eastern Christianity, it is a day (usually 13 days later) celebrating the baptism of Jesus. In Western Christianity, it is a day celebrating the visit of the Magi, representing the revelation of God to the nations in the form of his Son (also known as Three Kings Day).

I know within my tribe (Churches of Christ) we don’t typically observe the Christian calendar that is celebrated in mainline churches and among Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox church and sometimes I think we miss out. It makes me wonder what calendar do we observe? Are we better off celebrating our consumer culture’s calendar which tells us what to buy for? (Rant over. Maybe I need to write a blog about that some other time)

It’s January 6th and many of us are putting our Christmas decorations away. If you live in the municipality where I live, you need to get your Christmas tree out to the curb by 7 am tomorrow or you will be taking care of it yourself. Christmas is fading back into the background we are getting back into our routines: Where are the kid’s backpacks and lunch bags? Who’s driving the kids to school on Monday? Then along comes a holiday that reminds us that the arrival of the Son of God is not something that everybody can just put back in a box.

A Very Relevant Christmas Volume 6

Relevant Magazine releases an album of Christmas music each year from contemporary Christian artists and this year’s album (Volume 6 download here) had an interesting song that stuck with me this year. It’s entitled “Unwed Mother” by the band Hoyle.

Give it a listen (click here to hear the song) and consider the unexpected ways Jesus’ arrival for you doesn’t fit back into the box it came in.

Unwed Mother by Hoyle
Here’s how it started,
An angel’s at your door
He’s at your bed
You know, he said,
“You’re going to have a boy. Don’t be scared.”

See how they noticed.
How the people talked. How they stared!
They said, “You know. You can take her home, but you can’t leave her there.”

Mary, are you out with your boys tonight?
Are you chasing the shadows or picking up numbers?
Mary, are you out with your boys tonight?

Go now be counted
To the place your father rests his head
You know, they said.
“There’s not a vacancy. Not a single bed.”
A holiday unto me!
A rugged hut and some feed.
A labored mother pushing and turning
Who to be counted? God with us. The son of man.

Mary, are you out with your boy tonight?
Are you watching your baby sleep? Guarding that mystery?
Mary, are you out with your boy tonight?
Are you seeing those angels sing? Hide him away from kings!
Mary, are you out with your boy tonight?
Are you watching those shepherd’s sheep? Watching those wise men teach?
Mary, are you out with your boy tonight?

Come, O Come Emmanuel. What a name! God with us.
You said, You would meet us here, but no one else expected this.
The son of God and an unwed mother
In a barn out there’s a Christmas brighter
So come now and bring all joy’s good tidings
In a barn see God’s good finding

Mary, are you out with your boy tonight?
Are you hearing those people sing? Seeing the gifts they bring?
Mary, are you out with your boy tonight?


Book Review: The Day the Revolution Began

The Day the Revolution BeganIn this book, N.T. Wright explores (in exhausting detail) what actually happened (spiritually, and theologically) when Jesus was nailed to the cross in the Spring of 33 CE. Wright observes that nobody on the Saturday after Good Friday was persuaded by the humiliating death of Jesus from Nazareth that a world-wide revolution had just been launched. And yet within less than 30 years, biblical writers and other contemporaries were writing about this event like it had cosmic significance. Why is that? What did they think had happened?

Early church writers thought two things had happened at the same time. First, that Jesus had won a great victory through his death and resurrection, a doctrine called “Christus Victor,” and secondly that this death was somehow in our place (p. 26). The Apostle Paul says that Jesus died “for our sins, according to the Scriptures,” (1 Cor 15:3) and Wright goes on to explore what Paul must have meant by that very compact statement.

In expanding what the Bible says about the suffering death of Jesus, Wright demonstrates convincingly that the Christian world has made a three-layered mistake (p. 147). First we have substituted “souls going to heaven” as the point of the gospel – something that the Scriptures do not focus on! Secondly we have substituted a qualifying examination of moral performance for the biblical notion of the human calling to be image-bearers in creation. Finally, on top of all that we have “paganized” our understanding of salvation. The idea that God has wrath that needs to land somewhere is a popular Greek idea, but it is not one that has a lot of support in the Scriptures.

If that last point surprises or worries you, then this is a book I highly recommend that you read. A book review will not sufficiently convince you of the bold claims that Wright makes but I hope it can pique your curiosity about the revolution in thinking that he is talking about in this book.

NT WrightWright explains that in our reading of the Bible, we have created a “works contract” (God wants good behavior so that we can go to heaven) and sin has come into the world and disqualified us from that (p. 74). We need Jesus to take our punishment and give us his gold standard “get out of hell free” card so that we can leave this evil world and go to heaven. That is similar to something that Plato taught, not something that the apostle Paul taught. The Bible on the other hand, says more about a “covenant of vocation”(p. 76). We were created to be image-bearers (Gen 1:26) and sin has come into the world and corrupted our calling. Our biggest problem is that we worship things rather than the maker of every thing. This “idolatry” (p. 85) has granted power to things in the world and we are, as a result, ruled by our pleasures and owned by our possessions.

Wright contends that Jesus’ death on a cross achieved something that urgently needed to be done and that couldn’t be done any other way. Jesus shed his blood to make a way to forgive our sin by launching a “new Exodus” from our captivity to the principalities and powers. We are set free from our slavery to stuff and our idols can be broken through our faith in the saving death of Jesus. That is why Jesus chose to die in the middle of Passover (the celebration of Exodus) rather than during Yom Kippur (the holy day of atonement).

As a result of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection we are free to implement the victory that Jesus won on the cross (p. 358). The darkest and strongest power in the world (the power of death) has been defeated and we can now be set free.

The last two chapters of the book (Chap 14: The Passover People, and Chap 15: The Powers and the Power of Love) describe how followers of Jesus today can live in that victory. Mission and Evangelism become integrated, they are no longer seen as a one-two punch for the church (a promotional strategy).

The Day the Revolution Began is a book that requires careful reading but it rewards the reader greatly with challenging insights from start to finish.


Humanity Washed Up on Shore


Pictures are said to be worth thousands of words but Nilüfer Demir’s picture of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, found dead on the coast of Turkey could be worth millions of words.  On Wednesday this week Alan, his brother and mother all drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean from Syria to Turkey.  Only his father survived. It is a heartbreaking tragedy.

Already, in less than 24 hours, a billion people have seen this image and it is having a seismic impact on at least two election campaigns (Canada and the US) and is changing millions of people’s understanding of the migrant crisis in Europe. Social media is a double edged sword and it’s potential (both positive and negative) can be seen in an issue like this:

On the positive side, we can already see how the public can be moved to act by a powerful image in a way that rhetoric and logical reasoning cannot motivate. UK Prime minister David Cameron has promised to take thousands more refugees and Canadian PM Stephen Harper has also promised more international aid. But how much are these promises worth? Canada promised earlier this year to take in 10 000 Syrian refugees, but only a fraction of that number have successfully navigated the bureaucratic red tape. Promises are one thing, but action is another.

On the negative side, nobody wants to see this family’s tragic loss get hijacked and used for political purposes. A human life, even a short one, deserves respect and dignity and family members have the right to choose how their picture is being used – but unfortunately in this case they certainly don’t. Shocking images and click-bait blog entries (not unlike this one) have a tendency to make us more aware tragedy, and yet at the same time less responsive.  When we see a picture as horrible as this one we are emotionally upset, we are outraged, but then a couple days later we have moved on to the next outrageous thing.  If we’re not careful, social media can train its users to be  less and less responsive to what they see and hear.

Social media can be used to create a lot of increased awareness, but does it really do anything else?  Brian Dunning, in a blog post, points to the example of the Kony 2012 campaign which raised $31 million dollars for a charity called Invisible Children.  The money donated after the first film’s release was used to create (wait for it…) another movie, aimed at creating even more awareness.  It’s now three years later and no one can point to conclusive evidence that making Joseph Kony ‘famous’ has made things any better for Uganda’s child soldiers. Bruce 09 04 2015 RGB

The world doesn’t need any more on-line outrage, what the world needs is more hospitality. The world also doesn’t need more money being donated, at least not just money.  Click here to see a list of  charitable organizations who are helping with settling refugees.  I won’t say that donating money is not helpful (it sure beats scrolling onto the next outrageous thing in your news feed) but we need to do more.  Canada has already made a promise to help Syrian refugees, and so far it  hasn’t happened.  If there was ever a time when we could make it happen it’s now – during an election campaign.  Contact your local MP and ask them why Canada has not assisted more Syrian refugees?

But there is more you can do.  Click here and learn how you or your church community can sponsor a refugee family and provide them with a place to land.

What Being a Leaf Fan Has Taught Me About Idol Worship


Seems like everyone’s a Leaf hater these days, and I mean HATE. It’s like everybody’s gotta tell me that the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. (Thanks, I’ll write that down somewhere) or tell me that the Leafs suck (no kidding). I know you’re all having some fun, but some folks need to check themselves here. If you get so jacked up telling me how much the Leafs suck that you’ve got spittle in your beard – listen, wipe up and have a tick tack would ya!

Being a Leaf fan is not a very rewarding vocation right now but whatever team you cheer for, you can tell a lot about a person by how they respond to their team’s success or failure.

For starters, sports fans, can we all agree that you had nothing to do with when your team last won a title. All you Patriot fans out there struttin’ around this week, ya you! – just pump the brakes for a second. You had less than nothing to do with winning last Sunday, you know that right? Your team was one yard from losing this thing and the only thing you did was see it happen.


Watching the Superbowl last weekend and not giving two hoots about who won the game was quite an eye opener. It was an exciting game, unlike many Superbowls, and it wasn’t decided until the last minute. Lots of high intensity, it was a very entertaining football game, and that’s the purpose of watching right? It’s for fun isn’t it?

In case you were under a rock last Sunday, (SPOILERS) Seattle lost the game on an interception at the one yard line with less than a minute left in the game and the Seattle fans took it hard. I know. It happens. But if you throw yourself at a TV maybe you need a little perspective. It could be that this game, this sport, or maybe your team might have a place in your heart and in your universe that it can’t ultimately hold down.

Ken Sande, author of Peacemaker and Resolving Everyday Conflict wrote an article on his blog that is quite insightful. In it he talks about the progression of idol worship in our life. I know it might sound like a bit of a stretch to suggest that being a rabid sports fan is idol worship but if you can’t see this connection then watch this. When anything or anyone becomes ultimate to you, then it can become an idol.  Idol worship can grow to huge proportions in our lives unless it is recongnized. When idol worship is present, it develops through stages:

I Desire / I Demand / I Judge / I Punish

  • I Desire: Not all desires are bad. But when sports (when anything) becomes ultimate, our desires become a little more desperate (James 1:2-4) and the object of our desire takes on ultimate significance.
  • I Demand: Unmet desires, that are not reflected on, have the potential of working themselves deeper and deeper into our hearts. This is especially true when we come to see a desire as something we need or something we are entitled to. “I dress up like a lunatic every week and paint my face blue and white and this is the thanks I get?”
  • I Judge: Another sign of idolatry is the tendency for us to judge others pretty harshly when our demands or desires are being thwarted. Not all judging is wrong. We are always called upon to discern carefully and to call things into question. Where judging goes off the rails is when it is characterized by a feeling of superiority, indignation, condemnation, bitterness, or resentment. If you have shouted out loud in the past four days, “you don’t %#&* throw a pass when you have Marshawn Lynch!” and there was spittle in your beard, …. I’m just saying think about it.
  • I Punish: Idols always demand sacrifices. When others fail to satisfy our demands and expectations, our idols demand that they should suffer. Whether consciously or unconsciously, this punishment can take many forms: speaking in rage, lashing out in anger, causing our families to suffer, or throwing team jerseys on the ice, these are the ways we act this out. In High School I had a habit of punching the wall when I was frustrated. Sometimes I put a hole in the drywall at the house where I lived. It wasn’t until a classmate of mine did the same thing and broke a bone in his hand that I realized how stupid this was: wearing a cast for 8 weeks because I had a temper tantrum.

There is ultimately only one way out of this bondage: God says, “ I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-3).  Being a sports fan and enjoying watching sports is a pastime and it should be something that you enjoy but if it ruining your family life, it’s time to put it down.  The slide from pastime to idol is so sublte you sometimes need someone else to point it out.  I have had a couple of people tell me lately “you need to break up with the Leafs.” (Yes I have seen the video) But here’s the point, maybe we both need to quit talking about a sports team like its a long-term relationship. If you are describing being a sports fan in relational terms, don’t you think it’s gotten a bit too personal?  Maybe we both need to take a break from sports.

Jesus forgives us of sin and he makes eternal fellowship possible with him through his death, burial and resurrection, but Jesus also grants us freedom from daily bondages and daily dependencies, big and small in this world, right now. Jesus delivers us from the domination of our idols whether they be chemical, personal or sport related, but he brings that freedom one idol at a time. God calls us to identify and confess our idols one by one, and then cooperate with him while he steadily removes them from our heart.

If you don’t think this is a serious problem for you that’s great, but I invite you to pray that God would reveal to you where your true idols really are. I can honestly say I’ve never met someone who does not have some area of selfishiness in their life that God could help them root out. Idol worship is ultimately removed by replacing it with the worship of the creator, who is worthy of worship. The apostle Paul wrote,

When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Gal 4:4-7)

What Paul is saying is that Jesus desires relationship that is like family.  God is meant to be close enough to you that you talk to him like a parent.  Paul says that if you don’t speak to God like that, your living like a slave in your Master’s house when you should be living like a son or daughter.  Your sports team is not built to have a relationship with you, but God is.  God desires to embrace you and have you grow into a relationship with him. Don’t worship anything that is not worthy of it.

……go leafs go.


(Not So) Merry Christmas From the Pope


Today, Pope Francis addressed the Vatican in his annual Christmas address for the bishops, cardinals and other staffers who live and work in Vatican City.  Rather than offer up a pithy “Merry Christmas” and how-do-you-do, Pope Francis offered up what we in the preaching biz call an “epic verbal smackdown.” Not an angry rant or a shrieking critique – just a sober and sorrowful listing of 15 institutional sins that the Curia are guilty of. My own reflection leads me to my knees. I am guilty of many of the following. How about you?

  1. Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable. ‘A Curia (read church) that doesn’t criticize itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.’
  2. Working too hard. ‘Rest for those who have done their work is necessary, good and should be taken seriously.’
  3. Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened. ‘It’s dangerous to lose that human sensibility that lets you cry with those who are crying, and celebrate those who are joyful.’
  4. Planning too much. ‘Preparing things well is necessary, but don’t fall into the temptation of trying to close or direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is bigger and more generous than any human plan.’
  5. Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise. ‘When the foot tells the hand, ‘I don’t need you’ or the hand tells the head ‘I’m in charge.”
  6. Having ’spiritual Alzheimer’s.’ ‘We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord … in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias, in those who build walls around themselves and become enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.’
  7. Being rivals or boastful. ‘When one’s appearance, the color of one’s vestments or honorific titles become the primary objective of life.’
  8. Suffering from ‘existential schizophrenia.’ ‘It’s the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of hypocrisy that is typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that academic degrees cannot fill. It’s a sickness that often affects those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic work, losing contact with reality and concrete people.’
  9. Committing the ‘terrorism of gossip.’ ‘It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.’
  10. Glorifying one’s bosses. ‘It’s the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, they honor people who aren’t God.’
  11. Being indifferent to others. ‘When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.’
  12. Having a ‘funereal face.’ ‘In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity. The apostle must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy and transmit joy wherever he goes.’
  13. Wanting more. ‘When the apostle tries to fill an existential emptiness in his heart by accumulating material goods, not because he needs them but because he’ll feel more secure.’
  14. Forming ‘closed circles’ that seek to be stronger than the whole. ‘This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad — scandals — especially to our younger brothers.’
  15. Seeking worldly profit and showing off. ‘It’s the sickness of those who insatiably try to multiply their powers and to do so are capable of calumny, defamation and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally to show themselves as being more capable than others.


My Wife is a Minister of the Word

My wife is a minister of the Word.  What I mean by that is that she is a proclaimer of the Gospel.  She works part-time as a labour and delivery nurse at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital, but it is more than a job for her, it is a vocation.

julieAtWork - CopyA vocation is a calling. It is a holy appointment with God. A job is something you do for money, but a vocation is a job with a biblical imagination.

Julie is a proclaimer of the Gospel. She speaks a word of hope to Moms in the making, who sometimes doubt if they are going to have what it takes.  She proclaims a gospel word to Dad’s who sometimes feel a little disconnected from the miracle that is happening right in front of them. She says, in one way or another, sometimes without a word,“You are enough.  You don’t need to bathe your new little one EVERY day. You don’t need to feed every two hours, at EXACTLY two hours.  I know you have read lots of scary stuff on the Internet, just breathe, take it one day at a time.  God is good.  You are going to be OK.”

Sometimes, when assisting a delivery, Julie is the first human being, besides Mom, to touch a brand new human.  She is humanity’s welcoming committee. She has performed funerals (too many) and has shared tears with heartbroken parents who must suddenly struggle with the hardest questions humans have ever asked.

I am disappointed when Christians spend time debating if women can preach or teach during a congregational assembly while they ignore what we all do the other 166 hours in a week.  Why do we care so much about what happens in two hours on a Sunday morning and care so little about the rest of the week?

Nowhere in Scripture, nowhere, are we instructed or commanded to gather on Sunday morning for a one hour oratory exegesis of the Scriptures.  On the other hand, we have examples of brothers and sisters gathering in houses, on outdoor steps, by the river at dawn, and in gardens.  We read in the Bible about men and women sharing a meal together and loving each other in the name of Jesus.  Some did it poorly (like in Corinth) while others did it better (like in Phillipi) but they all loved Jesus and they sought to live like Jesus, 24 / 7 and they talked about it when they gathered together.  They cared WAY more about the rest of the week then about a one or a two hour gathering on Sunday.  Maybe we should too.

How many preachers does your church have? (Here’s a hint: the answer is way, way more than one)

What Do You Do With A Reluctant Prophet?

Sermon Series: Jonah: The Reluctant Prophet / What To Do When We Don’t Agree

The book of Jonah is a prophetic masterpiece that is often neglected by churches in their teaching. It is a vivid picture of how a faith community that becomes self-obsessed and in-grown fails to embody the life God has called us to and, as a result, we often miss out out on the blessings God has in store for us. You likely know most of the story of Jonah but I am certain that many of you don’t know the whole story. Despite what you may have heard in Sunday School, the story of Jonah is not a fish tale – the point is not the whale in the middle of the story but the plant at the end! There is a lot in the story of Jonah for us to learn.

As we study the book of Jonah we are also going to be looking at conflict resolution. As believers in the one true God, how should we address conflict in families, conflict between individuals, between faith communities and denominations, and between us and God. In the study of conflict resolution the story of Jonah is a moral tale, but it is not a good example. We will return to this theme week after week: Don’t do as Jonah does! Jonah is self-obsessed and disobedient, right to the end of the book. Don’t be like Jonah! In spite of Jonah’s disobedience however, God is gracious and faithful.

Rather than spend sermon time on this, one issue I would like to address in the bulletin is how we came to get this book in our Bibles. Where did it come from? Who wrote it? Is it a historical account of an event that happened or is it a parable that was written to illustrate a point. In short, the answer is: we don’t know for certain.

Nearly everyone agrees that Jonah was a prophet who lived during the reign of Jeroboam II in Israel (782 BC – 753 BC). Jonah is mentioned explicitly by name in 2 Kings 14:25 and the prediction that Jonah made – that Israel would reclaim northern territory from Assyria – was fulfilled in the second half of Jeroboam II’s reign. When it comes to where the book of Jonah comes from there are two schools of thought on the matter: The first is that Jonah is a historical account of a story (which occurred around 760 BC) that was written down shortly after it happened, maybe by Jonah, after a change of heart, or by someone else.

The second school of thought is that a writer who has returned from Babylonian exile in approx 450 BC wrote this book as a historical parable. Jonah, like Judah was disobedient and self-obsessed and was thrown into a whale (exile). After a change a heart Jonah (Judah) was released from captivity and was called to be obedient to the call of God and serve as a witness to the Gentile world of God’s faithful love. Jonah was unwilling, are you?

I have read a half dozen commentaries on Jonah this week and there are solid arguments for both sides of this issue. The truth is that we cannot be 100% sure one way or the other. Aaron and I (Noel) don’t even agree. So as Christians – Bible readers too – what are we supposed to do when we don’t agree?

One of the things we’ll talk about in week two of the series is what to do when you have differences of understanding on religious issues. The first thing you need to do is look at your differences in light of what you already agree on. Here is what we know for sure:

  • There was a man named Jonah (2 King 14:25)
  • Someone wrote this book (it didn’t fall out of the sky) and it was written for a particular reason.
  • The Holy Spirit inspired that writer.
  • Jonah consistently appears in the collection of the twelve minor prophets in ancient Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew Bibles with virtually no variation in it whatsoever.
  • Jesus quotes from the book of Jonah (Matt 12: 38-45) and considered it part of the inspired Scriptures.

So in light of that, in light of this common ground, what can we do with our differing opinions on the origin of the book of Jonah. The first thing we should look at is, “What does this book say.” We may not agree on who wrote it, or when, but we can agree that we should read it as part of God’s holy and inspired word. This is a great example of how reflecting on what unites us, instead of focusing on what separates us, will often present a new way forward.

We hope you will find our sermon study of Jonah over the next few weeks both instructive, and helpful in your personal life. Remember that if you miss a sermon, you can always download it from our Facebook page and from the Tintern Website as well.

A Funeral Sermon

In chapter fifteen, the Apostle Paul is wrapping up his first letter to the Corinthian church by answering a few practical questions. The Corinthian church had been confused about many things, not the least of which is Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. For starters, there were some in the church there who didn’t believe there would be a resurrection at all. If you asked them, they would say that the Christian life is a better life than you would live otherwise, but once it was done, so were you. “One and done, that’s it, you’re good, you’re gone.” Others still believed in an afterlife, but you had to stay alive until Jesus’ return. Jesus was coming back to take you to a place where you would live forever but you had to hang in there until he returned. It was a limited time offer. If you didn’t live long enough to see Jesus you wouldn’t see mansions of glory. Maybe Jesus’ heavenly home was just not big enough for all of us.

Paul kindly, diplomatically, pulls back the curtain in chapter fifteen and expands our understanding of what is to come, and like C.S. Lewis was fond of saying, “it’s a lot bigger on the inside.” Paul says that resurrection isn’t just an important part of the gospel, it’s the whole point. With a memorable phrase he writes,

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised … our preaching is useless and so is your faith … If Christ only provides hope for this world then we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:14, 19)

Paul then moves on to explain how the dead are raised (in v. 35) and he compares it to a seed. A seed must die and be put in the ground for the tree to grow. A tree doesn’t look anything like a seed, but that’s where trees come from. A flower grows from a bulb in the ground but a bulb doesn’t look anything like a flower.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Cor 15:42-44)

There is perishable life and imperishable life. Our ancestor Adam was born, and through sin he exchanged imperishable for perishable, and we have been born in his likeness ever since: temporary, corruptible, and mortal. Jesus himself has come in a corruptible form to give us a glimpse of the incorruptible. Paul continues,

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery:We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15: 50-55)

Now wait a minute Paul. “Where is your sting?” “Where is your victory?” How can you say that? Has Paul never been to a funeral? Where is the sting? It’s right here! Tears from loved ones, the sorrow of saying good bye. We’re all feeling the sting aren’t we?

I was standing next to the casket at the visiting yesterday and I found it interesting how people would say goodbye. There are some who come right up to the casket (most of them were about 4 years old). But most keep an awkward distance. Some quickly moved to the other room. There are, of course, many who won’t come to a visiting at all. The sight of a loved one in a casket is too frightening. I suppose that a minister probably shouldn’t even speak of such things.

If we’re not careful, the victory of death can seem absolute, permanent, and final. Even to us who know better, the loss is profound, the sting is everywhere. Is Paul a fool? Why would he say such a thing?

In 2001 we invited Grandma to join us on a trip to Prince Edward Island for the first week in September. I was on a break from teaching at Great Lakes Christian High School and I needed to be somewhere other than home for the first week of school. Grandma paid her own way, but that holiday was the best money I ever spent. We had such a great time, we drove the country rounds across the island, we did a tour of Confederation Hall, saw the beach (though it’s not exactly beach weather in PEI in September.)

GGrandma2001d cropOne of my favourite memories was visiting Green Gables. It’s a property that was once visited by L.M. Montgomery. She based her “Anne of Green Gables” stories on her experiences there. The property is nearly considered sacred ground for anyone from PEI, and people from all over the world come to tour the farm. Now I’m sure all of you know that Anne is not real right? The farm is just a place where Lucy Maud Montgomery based the books. She actually lived in Ontario when she wrote the most of the books. I imagine that the farm is full of Canadians during the summer, but in September the tours are full of Japanese tourists and old people (Grandma’s words, not mine.)


We got so many good stories that day. Grandma showed Devin how to milk a cow, we walked the property, toured the house, and in the lawn outside the house there were beautiful gardens full of cosmos, gladiolas, sunflowers and zinnias – all past their prime and heading into fall. Now Grandma is a practical woman, and we were all looking for souvenirs for our visit. What would be cooler than seeds from the garden that good old Anne might have planted her very self, right? And they’re free! Unlike the $15 letter opener and $12 tea cosy for sale in the gift shop. I gave her the nod and Grandma casually reached out to dead head one of the zinnias growing along the fence while we waited in line. A zinnia head, that’s dried up, is full of seeds and looks like you could easily break it off, but the stem is a fibrous thing. Those zinnias are a sturdy lot. But Grandma was fully committed now. She had reached out to get this head and it wouldn’t quite break off. She kept turning and turning it – the line had moved up now – and it wouldn’t break. The sight of Grandma, on the sly, trying to break this head off was funny, but the look of abject horror on the faces of the tourists behind her was priceless. The stories these Japanese seniors must have told back in Tokyo of the white haired Canadian infidel that desecrated the sacred gardens of Anne…

It’s a good thing they weren’t checking purses on the way out. When we got back to the cottage that night, Grandma dumped her purse on the table, full of seeds.


Every night after Devin and Jacob were in bed, we would watch the sunset over Northumberland Strait and talk about our day and hear some great stories. Grandma said she missed Grandpa, but these past eight years had been great and if she had to die tomorrow, that would be OK too. “It’s been a heck of a ride!”

That was September 10th, 2001, which I have heard some anthropologists call, despite what a calendar might say, the last day of the 20th Century. The next day everything changed.

“The sting of death is sin.”

The next day everything changed, didn’t it. Our flight back home was steered out of American airspace, and nearly diverted to Pearson airport, before we were sent back across Lake Ontario to Mount Hope Airport in Hamilton. We climbed down a set of stairs that were wheeled up to the exit door and left our plane right on the tarmac, next to a gigantic Air France wide-body 747. (I didn’t know Air France flew out of Mount Hope?) We had no idea what was happening until we got back to the car and listened to the radio on the way home. Grandma’s first thoughts were about Mike and Roger, two grandsons who were connected with the American military. She was worried about them. Who knows, with the stress of that day, or maybe it was going to happen anyway, she had her first heart attack the next day.

Grandma has struggled in these last few years. The burden of blindness has rested heavily on her and she has compared her oxygen hose to a leash more than once, at least to me. It is said that youth is wasted on the young, but I don’t think the young could handle being old. She handled the struggle of growing old with dignity and grace, but those of you that have known her these last few years have seen it – she has been restless, unable to settle.

She has struggled to find a place to settle. Five different homes over these last few years. It’s as if she remembers, unconsciously, deep in her bones, that she wasn’t made for this. In the days after September 11th people called this “the new normal,” and for Grandma, at least these last couple of years, it didn’t fit. These feet were made for walkin’ and these eye’s for reading, and she just didn’t feel right. If death could finally take these things from us forever, then maybe resurrection was important after all.

So where were we Paul? You were saying that death has lost? The fallacy of death’s victory is finally exposed in the cross. Those who live without a hope of resurrection live in fear, and those who live without faith in Christ’s return are overcome with despair. But Paul says the perishable are clothed imperishable. The mortal have cast off corruption and put on immortality. Death is undone by the cross.

Paul says that at a funeral, what we are observing here is not just something tragic that has ended but something beautiful that is just about to begin!

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15: 55-58)

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