Blog Posts

Advent Reflections

The past five years, before moving to Blaine, my wife Sarah and I were in Vancouver attending Regent College finishing up Masters of Divinity (an overly glorious title indicating that we’ve read through the Bible cover-to-cover at least once). Well we were there we were part of Kitsilano Christian Community Church. This church is where we both did internships, got involved and were supported by one of the greatest small groups we’ve ever been apart of. We had all three of our kids well attending this church, and being out-of-towners, this church was our family. They helped us through seminary by nourishing our spirits and surrounding us with their care.

So when Pastor David Jenkins asked me to contribute to this year’s Advent reader even though it had been some months since I attended, I jumped at the chance. I was given a text reflecting on Jesus’ second coming. This is a layer of Advent that often gets ignored as we focus on Christ’s past incarnation, rather than his coming Glory. Since, as an Evangelical, I come from a tradition which is somewhat muddled in our thinking about the return of Christ, turning it into scare tactics or movies with contrived characters and bad acting, this was my rather playful way at trying to point at something else. Hope you enjoy!

Advent week 2

2 Peter 3:8-14

“Always wear clean underwear in case you get into an accident.”
To me biblical injunctions to ‘be good because Jesus is coming back when you least expect it’ sound an awful lot like this maternal saying. Life could be going merrily along when suddenly out of nowhere…the clouds part, Jesus flies right at you, snatching you from your home and dragging you to heaven. So be ready! The worst thing that could happen is that Jesus would come back, see the traces of what you have done and then He and your mother will be embarrassed.
There is more to it than that. The world is broken, full of wounded people, suffering, systemic injustice and evil. We have been betrayed by those we love; we watch as friends are mired in depression and addiction. We are powerless against the pain and injustice. We cry out, “How long O Lord?”
My prayer this Advent is that as we await the Lord’s coming, we long for it. The Jesus who saved us by his death and resurrection is not coming back to catch us in the act; rather he comes to ‘bring a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness dwells.’ He comes to take all our brokenness and betrayal and bring healing and new life. In our waiting, we also work to bring his renewal to our neighbourhoods and our world. Ours is an active waiting. The Kingdom is not yet, but it is now! Come King Jesus!
James Matichuk

Book Review: Healing is a Choice

HealingchoiceThere was a man who lay by the side of the pool of Betheda. When Jesus saw him he asked the man, “Do you want to be well.” His story is recorded in John 5.

The implication of the story is healing is a choice. Steve Arterburn, best known as a coauthor of theEveryman series (Everyman’s Battle and spin-offs), takes the position that healing is available to everyone who chooses it. Of course he casts this broader than physical healing. He speaks primarily of emotional healing.

In 11 chapters, Arterburn explores 10 choices we need to make if we are to experience the healing that comes from Christ. These Choices are as follows (these are also chapter titles):

1. The Choice to Connect your life
2. The Choice to Feel your life
3. The Choice to Investigate Your Life in Search of Truth
4. The Choice to Heal Your Future
5. The Choice to Help Your Life
6. The Choice to Embrace Your Life
7. The Choice to Forgive
8. The Choice to Risk Your Life
9. The Choice to Serve
10. The Choice to Preserve

In these pages Arterburn unpacks these individual choices, asks workbook questions which help you to process personal issues related to each choice and articulates 10 lies corresponding to each choice that we tend to believe. These are:

1. All I need to heal is just God and me.
2. Real Christians should have peace in all circumstances
3. It does no good to look back or look inside
4. Time Heals all wounds
5. I can figure this out myself
6. If I just act like there is no problem it will go away
7. Forgiveness is only for those who deserve it or earn it
8. I must protect myself from anymore pain
9. Until I am completely healed and strong, there is no place for me to serve God.
10. There is no hope for me.

As you can guess from the chapter headings and ‘big lies’ Arterburn has his finger on the pulse of many of the things that keep us from experiencing Christ’s healing in fullness. Each chapter is packed full of anecdotes and he is eager to help you make the choice which will allow God’s grace to pour into your life more fully. As someone called to pastoral ministry I can appreciate some of his insights and diagnostic tools.

Perhaps the only reason that I am rating this as a middle of the road sort of book is that my own need for personal healing, though obviously there because I am as wounded as anyone, is not felt by me particularly acutely at the moment. This made the workbook questions hit or miss for me, though I can see how it would be helpful to someone

But I am also suspicious of the self help genre in general, even and especially the Christian self help genre. The man who lay by the pool of Bethesda answered Jesus, ” Sir I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. When I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me. (John 5:8)” As in the case of this lame man, there are sociological factors that mitigate against healing. I am not saying that Arterburn is unaware of these, I just think that healing is experienced as a gift which often is bigger than our choosing. When we lay on the ground unable to help ourselves and realize we are at the end of ourselves, this is when Christ breaks in and offers grace and healing in fresh ways.

That being said, I saw little in this book that I would take issue with on theological grounds. I would recommend it for those who find themselves in a crisis and yearn for a fresh touch from God to come and heal them. This book shouldn’t replace a trusted mentor and spiritual friend but could be helpfully utilized by one as they journey towards healing with you.

I recieved a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson via booksneeze.com in exchange for this fair and honest review.

Traveling the Text Part 2: The Daily Commute

Last month I began a series of posts on reading the Bible through the lens of various travel metaphors. You can read about Part 1here. I talked about the metaphor of flight and how, the advantages is that it enables you to make connections over long distances, you wouldn’t otherwise, and gives you a bird’s eye view of the big picture.

Fair enough, but flying over a place and seeing it from a plane window is different from going there. Unless you slow down and enter a place, you can’t say to have been there. Before our travels in the text grind to a halt (SPOILER: this is where I am heading) I wanted to look at another fast (though not nearly as fast) method of traveling the text: driving. This is the mode of travel that most of us use to get where we are going, most of the time. We drive to work in the morning, or catch a bus or train, in which case we are driven by someone else). We also use our cars to visit friends and family, take road trips, go to the grocery store and countless other ways in our day to day life. It used to be people drove for pleasure but now concerns about the impact of fossil fuel, and more pragmatically the cost, restricts how much we do that, unless our driving serves some other end. So without further ado let me offer some reflections on driving through the text:

  • Following a route or a map: Driving the text is what most of us do when we use a daily reading plan, lectionary or study guide in our engagement with scripture. There is a similarity here with the way drivers will consult maps, mapquest or their GPS to find the best route to take. Regardless of whether such tools are at your disposal, like most drivers your routes are constricted by the necessity of roadways (most of us can’t go offroading, and ditches and rails prevent our attempts).

    So it is for most of us, when we seek to travel the text in our daily lives. We have set routes laid out for us, or open to us as we seek to engage God’s word. This might be a personal rule of a chapter a day, a plan to read through the Bible in a year, daily readings from a devotional, or in-depth studies of a book of the Bible.Presently I am doing a through-the Bible plan which has me reading portions of the Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms each day. Probably when I am finished this plan, I will go back to reading daily lectionary readings because I am craving a slightly slower reading pace. Using these guides are helpful if we want to travel the text well and get to our desired destination. This brings me to my second point.

  • People drive to get somewhere: This is true whether we are talking about getting to work each day, going to the grocery store or going home for the holidays. Most of the time, when people get behind the wheel of their car, they are trying to reach some sort of destination. At the very least, they are trying to get away from where they are!

    Reading the Bible is similarly a goal-oriented undertaking. We read for understanding. We read to know God better. We read to hear His voice. We read for transformation. Yes there are distractions that can cause us to break-down enroute, but reading with a purpose does help you get what you want out of it. I know I have read through the gospels with a green pen in hand underlining Jesus’s actions (as per a Dallas Willard suggestion), have tried to suss out the Spirit’s quiet role in different passages and have read hoping to hear God’s guidance. Does this mean every time I pick up a Bible I get what I want from the text? Nope, sometimes my daily readings don’t seem to address me or I don’t know what to do with them. However, I have found creating space through the practice of regular reading, allows God to show himself afresh to me. Thus having the purpose of regular communion with God in my daily reading takes me somewhere, even if I do not immediately see the fruits of such actions.

  • You must obey the rules of the road: If you do not yield, stop, merge, go the right direction in your automobile, you are going to die and it will likely really hurt. Road signs are placed there to help us navigate traffic, pay attention to other drivers and get us going in one piece.

    When we read the Bible, likewise we are constrained in our reading by paying attention to the road signs along the way. Your NIV Bible with the Faux pink leather did not fall into your hands for you to read into its pages anything you like. Rather it came from centuries of scholarship, translation, unearthed manuscripts and the churches theological reflection. Taking texts out of context and disregarding the ways in which they have been understood by readers for centuries, is to fail to properly read the road signs. At the very least, proceed with caution.

    So what are these road signs? For me, it means when I come to what seems like a new spiritual insight in the text, I ask myself, ‘how have others understood this text?’ This sends me to commentaries, theologians, church fathers, trusted mentors. I use their words as signs to see if I’m on the right track. Does that mean that I can’t be right while everyone else is wrong? Probably not, but I don’t think its likely. Paying attention to road signs means reading in community and it guards you from driving over a cliff

  • When you drive long distances you have to plan your stops
  • This point is more for the ‘road trip’ study of scripture than a daily commute. When you travel somewhere by car, you stop to see the sights, eat lunch, get gas. On a recent trip to Spokane, I found myself on a stretch of highway which was pretty barren. My gas gauge indicated I had slightly less than a quarter tank, and we began scanning maps to see where the best place to stop was, because if we didn’t stop in the right place at the right time, we could not keep going.

    So here is how I relate this to Bible reading. I know my Bible well enough to know where the beautiful vistas and challenging words are. I also know what sections cause me to feel dry (i.e. lists of buidling materials in Exodus, lists of names in Chronicles). If I hit those sections and run out of gas, I know its likely I won’t keep reading. So I have learned to plan it so when I hit a difficult and barren stretch of road, I can keep driving, making stop offs at places which are more breathtaking and nourishing. Here again a reading plan helps. If you are using a lectionary.

    What do you think? How else do we drive the text?

    holy spirit in the Hebrew Tradition: a book review and reflection

    Breath of Life CoverAs a somewhat disgruntled (wounded) charismatic and committed evangelical, I am always searching for an intelligible depiction of life in the Spirit; however I have never read a book exploring the Spirit of God in the Judaic tradition (despite having an M.Div with an emphasis in the Old Testament). Rabbi Rachel Timoner does a fine job of illuminating the role of the Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Rabbinical tradition. She writes of the Spirit in hopes to speak meaningfully to both Jews and Christians. Certainly as a Christian I affirm the Trinity and have a different list of religious authorities to appeal to than Timoner does; still there is much here that is fruitful for Christians to grasp and grapple with if we are to do justice to our shared scriptures and lay hold of the gift of God’s spirit (through out this review I will try to respect Timoner’s lowercase usage of spirit to denote it as God’s possession rather than triune person; that I believe more in this regard, does not mean I don’t respect her integrity to her tradition and think that it has something to teach us).

    Timoner received her B.A. from Yale University, was ordained at Hebrew Union College, has won several awards, is an advocate of justice and the Assistant Rabbi at Leo Boeck Temple in L.A. She grew up as a synagogue-drop-out with no particular interest in God or religion. That was until she began to pay attention to life and had the growing sense of the transcendent, a reality she names as God. The Hebrew words for spirit, ruach and neshamah, name God’s immanence and transcendence. Timoner traces the role of the spirit of God through the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition exploring three themes which correspond to the parts of this book: Creation, Revelation & Redemption. Rachel Timoner

    Creation
    The Hebrew Bible begins with ‘the spirit’ hovering over the waters breathing life into the cosmos. Humanity is enlivened by the ‘Breath of life-nishmat chayim. Our life is sustained by the spirit of God. Timoner’s picture of sustaining power of God’s spirit giving us life, underscores the relationship between God’s spirit (breath) and our own. I think any pneumatology which strives to be Biblical should start here.

    Revelation
    As protestant, I am comfortable talking about specific and general revelation. General revelation, is God’s self revealing through creation. Specific revelation is God’s historic self-revelation through scripture (and as a Christian I think ultimately revelation through Jesus). What Timoner does with the term revelation does not fit into the neat boxes of my protestant systematic theology. She uses the examples of the spirit’s revelation in the Hebrew scriptures, but she uses these evocatively to speak of a universal outpouring of God’s Spirit. Thus she points out the gift of the spirit to enable leaders, artists, the wise and courageous and the eloquent; yet the spirit of God is also what is given to each of us in all walks of life. It is God’s gift of the spirit which helps us clarify our life’s calling. Because ultimately the gift of the spirit of God is given in the context of covenant, a special relationship where we live out God’s purposes for the world.

    Again there is little I would disagree with here. I would personally push for more clarification on the nature of covenant than Timoner offers (i.e. obligations and conditions, how you enter covenant with God, who is excluded). But certainly seeing all of our lives, our gifts, talents, insights, proclivities as gift from God seems good and right. Timoner insists that God gives gifts and has an agenda in the world in which we are called to participate. I would not want to say less than this. Her attentiveness to the gift of the spirit takes aim at the practical Deism of our age.

    Redemption

    In exploring this theme, Timoner has a rich heritage to draw upon. Of course the story of the Exodus is paradigmatic for God’s rescue. But there are also the prophets that talk about redemption, restoration, reviving dry bones and re-dedication. It is the spirit of God issues in an age which is characterized by where God’s people live out God’s redemption for all of humanity. This means advocating for the redemption of the poor and marginalized. The Spirit that creates, sustains, gives and guides directs us to treat our fellow humans with justice and love.

    Here is another point where I think Christians can learn from this very Jewish reading of the new age of the Spirit. Sometimes Christians use the same prophets Timoner used to speak of redemption as though they were fulfilled with Jesus and the New Testament (i.e. Redemption, the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh). The Judaic tradition is a living tradition which holds the same texts sacred; they long for their fulfillment in the same way that we Christians long for God’s kingdom to come in fullness. That our approaches are necessarily different doesn’t obscure the common ground. Jews and Christians both draw on the resources of God’s spirit as we seek to live out God’s redeeming presence in the world.

    So I really liked this book and found it helpful. Admittedly it harder reading as a Christian because it draws on a number of sources which are not as readily familiar. Yet it talks of the God of the Hebrew scripture with wonder and reverence and illuminates aspects of the holy spirit (our Holy Spirit) which should help us to understand more fully.

    Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of Breath of Life in exchange for this review

    Job interview, how to do it better

    Since I may be away from good internet access for a couple of days, I thought I would post here about my continuing quest for a pastor job. I interviewed today for a church that I can get excited about. The interview was a good experience, in part because I did such a lousy job as an interviewee that I was able to learn a few things. (Examined) experience is truly the best teacher!

    Okay, it wasn’t that bad. I think there were parts of my story which are appealing. Impressive even. But the experience of examining your own interview, is a bit like listening to a recording of yourself preach. You may have connected well, communicated well, expressed yourself well, but listening to yourself you hear yourself fumble words, stutter, um and ah. When I examine myself in the interviewee chair, I am aware of several places I could have done better. So in an exercise in pure narcissistic self-indulgence, here are lessons for myself on how to be a better interviewee for a pastor position:

    1. Interviewers want to know that you are competent and so you need to be able to communicate competence. Sounds simple right? Well here is where I screwed it up. I was asked, “What are three things you would implement if you had this job.” I gave a non-answer. I said the importance of getting to know people, what is happening in the church, getting to know the leaders first. All true and for me stems from a theological conviction that there is no one-size fits all spirituality and we need to attend the soil where we are planted. What they wanted to know was, “am I thinking strategically and thoughtfully about ministry.” What they heard was, ” I have no agenda and will proceed with caution.” Or maybe that’s what they heard, but I don’t think I sufficiently communicated competence, even if they see my heart to honor context.

    2. Reframe ‘bad’ questions. By ‘bad’ questions, I mean questions that impose a different understanding of ministry on you than you yourself have. For example I was asked how, “I would take the ministry to the ‘next level’ and pressed for an example of experiences I have had in taking things to the ‘next level.’ Wow. I shouldn’t of tried to answer that one because I had to admit that I didn’t have any such experience and I haven’t been in a leadership position of that magnitude (as the position I was applying for). In other words they asked the competence question again, “What do you got?” I answered, “Nothing.”

    What I should have done is re-framed the question by talking about ministries I have done and excelled in, not because I was competent but because I was faithful had God took what I had and multiplied it. I should have spoken about how I see my role of prayerfully discerning where God’s Spirit is already moving and helping people attend to the Spirit’s movement in their own lives. I should have, but instead I told them I didn’t have any good answers. Honestly, good theology and spirituality informs my practice of ministry, but I failed to articulate it well.

    3. Talk about prayer. I didn’t do this. I managed to share a theological conviction about how spiritual formation is God breathed/God initiated and God is at work through out the entire process without talking much about prayer. I meant to and being as I believe one of the biggest issues in ministry is practical atheism (ministry that God does not have to be a part of for it to function well), why didn’t I talk about prayer?

    The answer is, the interview was short, I was nervous and couldn’t say everything I planned to. I am hoping they gave me the benefit of the doubt on some of these and that I see a second round, but in the future I need to take care that I answer questions about my competence, don’t let the interviewer frame my understanding of my role as minister and talk about the vital role of prayer in ministry.

    Get Passionate about God Fast

    Has the passion gone out of your relationship with God? Don’t let the fire fizzle, but Awaken to all God has for you (cue the infomercial).

    Stovall Weems, the Lead Pastor at Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida has written Awakening in hopes of igniting in you a passion for God. Along the way he offers helpful advice on starting your day by focusing on God’s greatness, goodness and glory. He advocates the practice of giving to charity, prayer and fasting as means of ‘making space for God’ in your life. And then he uses the rest of the book to unpack this, particularly in regard to fasting. Along the way, each chapter is punctuated by ‘awakening stories’ of those who have a fresh experience of God, because of their fast. The last section of this book, is Weems’s 21 day fast plan, daily devotionals and practical advice on fasting.

    I admire and share Weems’s enthusiasm for getting people excited about God. Certainly I want my pastor to be so passionately motivated. Having read his book, I likely will refer back to it the next time I fast. However I am not sure that I would recommend it. Below I would like to signal two notes of caution and two criticisms of Weems book:

    The first area that gives me pause, is this book seems to be tainted by a prosperity gospel. Weems is generally focused on our relationship with God and stoking the flames there. However sometimes, Weems does act like the evidence of that is ‘financial miracles’ and healing. Certainly God does provide and care for his children, but miracles and prosperity are not the only way God draws near to his people. I am not sure that Weems ever says that it is, but the general feel of some passages, and the little testimonials kind of leave this impression.

    The second area of caution is related. I am kind of bothered by a relationship with God being reduced to a formula. The idea that intimacy with God is achieved by a three-week-fast is to apply a technique to gain relational intimacy. Techniques, disciplines and practices are important. Yet I think intimacy with God is not something you get in a few easy steps. It is much more dynamic and exciting than that. Now that is it for caution, let the firestorm of criticism begin.

    While reading this book, I kept wondering where the footnotes were. The fact that there were none is problematic. I say this not because I love more academic books (okay, not just that), but there is almost no evidence of any dialogue with anyone else. At all. As part of his fasting guide, he does reference Wayne Cordeiro’s devotional reading plan(SOAP: Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer). But he doesn’t reference anyone else despite dispensing a lot of spiritual insights. Where this seems the most suspect for me, is when Weems describes the health benefits of fasting. He admits that he is not a doctor and shares anecdotally about how fasting cleanses his system and helps him lose weight. huh? Claims for health benefits of fasting are controversial at best and spurious at worst. I at least want to know that Weems talked to someone before spotting off medical advice (why is this chapter even here if fasting is about your relationship with God?).

    Furthermore, the lack of dialogue with the Christian tradition of fasting, does mean that what is presented here is somewhat shallow. Christians have practiced and mis-practiced fasting for centuries, would like to know if Stovall is aware of any of it.

    Which leads me to my last point of critique. What exactly is Weems theological understanding of fasting? Some fasting is dualistic, hating the body and exalting the spirit. This is not Christian fasting. Weems seems to hold some dualistic notions. He is also dismissive of the example of fasting in the Old Testament as pre-christian and unrelated to our current practice. For Weems, you fast to recieve, rather than as a response. I find all this as theologically problematic and would direct people to Scot McKnight’s accessible treatment on the theme.

    This book was given to me by Waterbrook Multnomah’s Blogging For Books Program in exchange for my honest review.

    Looking for a pastor job.

    So I didn’t get the position I was trying for at Logos because, well, I didn’t really qualify. I am trying for another one, because my wife is applying somewhere else in town and if God wants us to stay in Bellingham, I need to start pulling money.

    In other news, I am still applying for pastor positions. I find this a really odd process. To get a job, you kinda have to sell yourself; to be faithful to the gospel, you use your gifts with humility not to present your best self, but to glorify Christ. So I find it odd selling myself to a church, hoping that they see me as their best choice for pastor. It seems like the job market and the job have me working at cross purposes with myself. I don’t mean ‘Cross Purposes which sounds like a sermon series on the atonement (if you needed a title for your lent series, you’re welcome), but a war against my mission as pastor and the reality of getting a job.

    To this end, I am writing a cover letter with hopes of wowing a church, which I feel I would learn a lot from and hopefully fit well into. I’m telling them of my call as a pastor, but trying not to sound to arrogant about my gifts and abilities. I’ll save my arrogance for a sales position cover letter.

    Actually trying to focus on my philosophy of minsitry, which is difficult to communicate in a full-orbed way in a page. Here is some of what I think is important to say:

      1. People are spiritually formed when they have a transforming encounter with Jesus Christ. The scriptural pattern seems to be, first to proclaim good news to people, and then help them to make steps to live their lives which correspond to what God has done. Likewise, I see my job as pastor, is to always proclaim the good news and God’s hospitality towards us before spelling out the implications it has for our life.
      2. Truth is lived before it is understood. I believe our capacity to hear the gospel is affected by our own practice. As people live out their lives in light of the gospel, their capacity to see and hear from God increases. ‘The way is made by walking’ and I see it as my job to help people get the truth of the gospel in their bones as they seek to live out their faith.
      3. The Christian faith is lived in community. I believe wholeheartedly that the Christian faith is impossible when it is privatized. If I am to fulfill my calling, I need sisters and brothers to walk along side of me, proclaiming Christ’s presence, holding me accountable and showing me the grace of God. We all need this, which is part of why gathering with other Christians in worship and in small group settings is so profitable and fruitful for our spiritual growth. It is also why I don’t approach ‘my ministry’ individualistically. There is no ‘my ministry’; there is the ‘ministry of the church.’ And as such, part of the task of pastor is to help develop the gifts present in the congregation for mutual edification and to extend the mission of God in the world.

    Thoughts? I haven’t told anyone how great I am at administration and how much of a gifted preacher I am.