Ghost Notes

Ghost Notes
A collections of original songs I wrote in 2015, and recorded with the FreeWay Musical Collective. Click the album image to listen.

inversions

Recorded in 2014, these songs are sort of a chronicle of my journey through a pastoral burn-out last winter. They deal with themes of mental-health, spiritual burn-out and depression, but also with the inexorable presence of God in the midst of darkness. Click the album art to download.

soundings

soundings
click image to download
"soundings" is a collection of songs I recorded in September/October of 2013. Dealing with themes of hope, ache, trust and spiritual loss, the songs on this album express various facets of my journey with God.

bridges

bridges
Click to download.
"Bridges" is a collection of original songs I wrote in the summer of 2011, during a soul-searching trip I took out to Alberta; a sort of long twilight in the dark night of the soul. I share it here in hopes these musical reflections on my own spiritual journey might be an encouragement to others: the sun does rise, blood-red but beautiful.

echoes

echoes
Prayers, poems and songs (2005-2009). Click to download
"echoes" is a collection of songs I wrote during my time studying at Briercrest Seminary (2004-2009). It's called "echoes" partly because these songs are "echoes" of times spent with God from my songwriting past, but also because there are musical "echoes" of hymns, songs or poems sprinkled throughout the album. Listen closely and you'll hear them.

Accidentals

This collection of mostly blues/rock/folk inspired songs was recorded in the spring and summer of 2015. I call it "accidentals" because all of the songs on this project were tunes I have had kicking around in my notebooks for many years but had never found a "home" for on previous albums. You can click the image to download the whole album.

blogs I follow

random reads

Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The Shallows, Nicholas Carr
In this very readable, very thought provoking analysis of electronic communciations technology and its impact on our brains and culture, Nicholas Carr brings together media theory (think Marshall McLuhan), history (think Gutenberg) and neuroscience (think discoveries in brain plasticity) to show how computer technology is shaping us in ways of which we are only dimly aware. He argues that such technologies reduce our capacity for deep, creative and sustained linear thought (or at least have the potential to do so) and predispose us to the fragmented, the cursive and the superficial. Worth the read.

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit, Edith Humphrey
A fascinating and engaging introduction to spiritual theology-- or the theology of spirituality, as the case may be. This book is a very scholarly, devotional, christo-centric, ecumenical and trinitarian overview of what it means for Christians to live in the Spirit and with the Spirit within. Bracing and enlightening.

Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender

five smooth stones for pastoral work, Eugene Peterson

From Darkness to Light: How One Became a Christian in the Early Church, Anne Fields

Life in the Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell
Snell's Life in the Ancient Near East offers a social history of the ANE, tracing the earliest settlement of Mesopotamia, the development of agriculture, first cities, ancient economy and the emergence of empire. Bringing together a rich variety of data gleaned both from the archaeological record and extant historical texts, he tells the history of this cradle of civilization with a special eye for the "human" element - focusing on the forces and factors that would have directly affected the daily life of the various strata of society. Worth a read generally, but all the more for someone with a particular interest in the biblical stories that find their setting and draw their characters and themes from the same provenience.


The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard Davidson
Davidson's Old Testament theology of human sexuality is stunning in its achievement, challenging in its content, and edifying in its conclusions. Davidson addresses every-- and I do mean every-- Old Testament text that deals (even obliquely) with human sexuality, and, through detailed exegesis, careful synthesis, and deep interaction with the scholarly research, develops a detailed picture of the Old Testament's vision for redeemed human sexuality. 700 pages of Biblical scholarship at its best.


Eaarth, Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben's Eaarth, is a call for us to wake up smell the ecological coffee...while we can still brew it. Unlike his previous work, or any writing on ecology I've yet read, however, Eaarth does not argue that catastrophe is pending. Instead, he argues that catastrophe has arrived, and that our all talk about "going green to avert disaster," "and "saving the planet" is woefully obsolete. In ecological terms, the planet as we once knew it is gone, he argues, and rather than trying to "avert" disaster, we need to start figuring out how to live in the disaster that's happened. Key themes he identifies as important for life on planet Eaarth resonnated with me as profoundly Christian ways of being (disaster or no). We must stop assuming that "bigger" is better; we must acknowledge limits on economic and technological growth; we must get reacquainted with the land; we need eschew self-sufficency and nurture community.

Love Wins, Rob Bell
So fast and furious has the furor over this book been, that any review will inevitably feel redundant or tardy. Given the crowd on the band wagon by now, I actually had no intention of hopping on myself, but my kids got it for me for Father's Day. About 15 pages in, I realized that I could probably finish it in on good push, so I got it over with. My thoughts: probably the most over-hyped book I ever read; I loved it and found it frustratingly under-developed at the same time; while he raises some important issues, his handling of them reads like a yoda-meets-Tom-Wright account of salvation; nothing C. S. Lewis hasn't already said more clearly and more cleverly; I'm glad he wrote it, and I'm glad the Evangelical world has errupted over it the way it has, and I hope a much more spirited and generous and optimistic understanding of soteriology and eschatology will infuse the evangelical church's mission as a result.

Rediscovering Paul, David Capes et. al.
Rediscovering Paul is a hepful overview of Paul's life, times and theology. While at times I felt it might have gone deeper, or expressed its ideas more clearly, it provides some interesting and inspiring insights into the man behind the letters. Among these is its discussion of the communal aspect of first century letter writing, and the influence of one's community on one's personal sense of identity, and how those issues might have played out in Paul's writings. Another challenging issue that it tackles is the whole process of letter writing in the Greco-Roman world, especially as regards the role a scribe often played in shaping the text, smoothing out the langugae or providing stock phrases, etc.


Lavondyss, Robert Holdstock
If you've read George MacDonald's Lilith, then think of Lavondyss as sort of a Lilith-for-Non-Christians. It's the convoluted labyrinth of a story about a young girl called Tallis and her adventures in a magical wood that brings the Jungian archetypes buried deep in our subconscious to life. Dense with questions about Jungian psychology, and the spiritually-thin-places of the world, and death and myth and magic and story, it's pretty tough slugging at times, but thought provoking and challenging. At times I felt like I was reading the Narnia book C. S. Lewis might have written if he had pursued the "stab of northerness" in directions other than the Christian Faith where he found it eternally satisfied.

Jesus and Money, Ben Witherington III
My friend John Vlainic once ranked Ben Witheringon as one of the strongest Biblical scholars in the Wesleyan tradtion working today. This thin but powerful volume is evidence to support such an accolade. I opened it expecting (judging by the cover) either a how-to book on Christian finances, or (judging by the other books I've read on Christ and Money) a hodge-podge of Bible verses taken out of context and mushed together as proof texts about the tithe. I got neither; instead, Ben Witherington walks slowly, thoughtful and exegetically through the breadth of Biblical teaching, with special sensitivity to the cultural context of the various texts, the tension between Old and New Testament teaching on the topic, and the differences between modern and ancient economies. If I were to recommend one book to develop a biblical theology of money, it would be this one.

The Gravedigger File, Os Guinness
My first taste of Os Guinness, and, if you don't mind a mangled metaphor, it went down like a bracing pint of... well... Guinness. Grave Digger file is sort of a "Screwtape Letters" project on a church-wide scale. In concept, the book is a series of "training files" for an undercover agent attempting to undermine and ultimately sabotage the Western Church, delivered from the pen of a seasoned saboteur to a young agent recently assigned to Los Angeles. In plot, the young agent ultimately defects, and delivers the "Gravedigger File" into the hands of a Christian, urging him to alert the Church to the operation. It is bursting with "things that make you go hmmm..." and deserves a second, careful read with pen in hand, ready to mine it for its scintillating and eminently quotable lines.

1 Peter 1:13-2:3 Hunger Pains of Holiness


Valley of Dry Bones, a song



I’m going down to the Valley of Dry Bones
To light a candle in the shadow of death
To hear his voice come calling from the cyclone
And dust off those dry bones
And fill them with his breath

I don’t know what you want from me
But you’ve got me on my knees
I let go of my dignity
Just to hear you say...

I’m going down to the Valley of Dry Bones
To light a candle in the shadow of death
To hear his voice come calling from the cyclone
And dust off those dry bones
And fill them with his breath

And the days slipped away from me
Like a sailor lost at sea
But the waves washing over me
Won’t sweep my heart away...

And I heard a voice calling to the Son of Man
Can these dry bones live again?
Like empty dreams waking in the dead of night
Can lifeless eyes regain their sight?

I’m going down to the Valley of Dry Bones
To light a candle in the shadow of death
To hear his voice come calling from the cyclone
And dust off those dry bones
And fill them with his breath


En-Couragement, a devotional thought

There’s a scene in Acts 23:11 that I find especially poignant. Here’s the background in a nutshell: Paul’s gone to Jerusalem where he’s been arrested by the religious leaders as a blasphemer and a disturber of the peace. He offers a public defense of himself before a gathered mob of his countrymen (visualize pitchforks and torches if you like...) at the end of which his own countrymen start crying out that he’s not fit to walk the earth.

 The Roman centurion who’s arrested him decides to interrogate him by flogging, to get to the bottom of things. They bind him up and are just about to bring down the lash, when he mentions he’s a Roman citizen and it’s illegal to flog a Roman without trial. Having narrowly escaped a scourging, he’s forced to stand trial before the Sanhedrin, where his testimony illicit such a violent response, that the centurion is forced to “drag him away by force” lest the crowd “tear him limb from limb.”

Paul’s been having a very rough weekend in ministry; the kind of weekend that makes my toughest ministry challenges look like a Sunday afternoon in the park. So it’s poignant, like I say, and touching, when you get to verse 11.

After all this danger and disgrace—mobs nearly tearing him apart, public trials, and near-floggings—Paul’s locked for the night in the Centurion’s barracks, waiting to learn what will come of him. And in verse 11 we read: “That night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”

I call it poignant because if ever a follower of Jesus needed encouragement from the Lord, surely it was Paul that night. And the way the verse is worded, it sounds like he received a personal visitation from Jesus himself (The Lord stood by him...), breathing courage into his harried spirit. Of course, part of Jesus’ message for Paul is that there was more to come (eventually he will preach the Gospel in Rome itself), trials in which courage will be especially hard to come by. But in this moment at least, with dangers behind him and dangers ahead, Jesus is simply standing by his friend and imparting to him the supernatural courage that only he can.

May we also know Jesus standing by us, today, in those ministry challenges we face where courage is most needed but hardest to come by.

Stranger in a Strange Land, a sermon on 1 Peter 1:1-12

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to preach a 7-sermon series through the Epistle of 1 Peter, at Wesley Acres Retreat Centre, in Prince Edward County, Ontario.  A beautiful setting with some wonderful people, digging in to God's Word each morning.  It was a great joy, but also explains why posting here at terra incognita has been a bit on the light side.  While I let the dust settle from this summer and collect my thoughts for another season of blogging in the fall, I thought maybe I could post the videos of those sermons here, for posterity's sake.  Here's day 1:


(This Roller Coaster) Once, a song



You only go round this rollercoaster once
Might as well put your hands in the air
And when the ride stops there’ll be
Lots of time for second guesses
And when the ride stops it’ll start, eternity

Hold on to today
Tomorrow's a mystery
It's a blind corner anyhow
And I know it's cliche
But yesterday is history
And all we have for sure is now

You only walk through the valley of the shadow once
Might as well walk with your head held high
And when the day comes there’ll be lots of time
For all your questions
And when the ride stops it’ll start, eternity

Hold on to today
Tomorrow's a mystery
It's a blind corner anyhow
And I know it's cliche
But yesterday is history
And all we have for sure is now

I sound my
Barbaric yawp
Over the rooftops of the world

Hold on to today
Tomorrow's a mystery
It's a blind corner anyhow
And I know it's cliche
But yesterday is history
And all we have for sure is now

All for Jesus, a devotional thought

The other day I was reading in Acts 22, and it struck me how strategic Paul is in using every bit of his story for the sake of introducing people to Jesus. His Roman citizenship (22:25), his training as a Pharisee (23:6), his involvement in Stephen's execution (22:20), everything fair game if it'll advance the Gospel, even these parts of the story that would have, at one time, made him an enemy of the Gospel. It left me thinking that for Christians that there's nothing we've gone through or experienced or lived that God can't use for his great purposes-- he really is the God who wastes nothing. But it also left me wondering: am I as open and generous with my whole life story as Paul is with his?

Live Until You Die, a song



I asked a wise man for the secret to his laughter
He said nobody gets out of here alive
So keep on breathing and you’ll find the joy you’re after
Spread wings and take your glorious swan dive

I asked that wise man for the meaning of his tears and
He said pleasure is like chasing after wind
One day it’s with you and the next it disappears and
And you don’t know when it’ll come around again ...

So catch a wave and ride it to the shore
There’ll come a day when you can’t catch no more
So until it fades, just don’t ask why
You gotta live, just live until you die

You had me thinking ‘bout that afternoon in Paris
When the world was young we were so naive
And every misadventure was a gift for us to cherish
And each memory was a wonder to receive

And all the ground we’ve covered and the moments so exquisite
Open roads and mountain lakes and city lights
And I don’t know what’s coming but I sure don’t want to miss it
Take my hand and hold me close with all your might (and we’ll)

Catch a wave and ride it to the shore
There’ll come a day when you can’t catch no more
So until it fades, just don’t ask why
You gotta live, just live until you die

Birth and life and laughter, death
And all the spaces in between
Earth and light and water, breath
And all the faces that I’ve seen
Birth and life and laughter, death
still we have this moment now
Earth and light and water, breath
But you can show me how to...

Catch a wave and ride it to the shore
There’ll come a day when you can’t catch no more
So until it fades, just don’t ask why
You gotta live, just live until you die

God told me to tell you ... a devotional thought

There's this fascinating exchange between Paul and his colleagues in Acts 21 that I reflect on every now and then in ministry, especially when I receive a "word from the Lord" delivered to me by a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ.

Now, I am not a cessationist, and I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today as much as they were in the Apostolic era, including the gift of prophecy.  Even so, I can't help but notice that in Acts 21, the disciples urge Paul not to go to Jerusalem, out of concern for his safety, and in 21:4 it specifically notes that these disciples were speaking "by the Spirit" in their efforts to dissuade him.

This is especially interesting because earlier, Paul  had said it quite plainly that it was the Holy Spirit who had told him to go to Jerusalem (20:22-23).  The tension increases in verse 21:11, when a prophet named Agabus does this prophetic object lesson, where he takes Paul's belt and binds his own hands and feet with it.  Speaking by the Holy Spirit, he says "this is what will happen to the owner of this belt when he gets to Jerusalem." When the disciples hear this they redouble their efforts to talk Paul out of his travel plans.

So what's going on here? Is the Spirit actually saying opposite things to different people? Are the disciples not hearing the Holy Spirit right on this one, or maybe Paul isn't? Or is the Holy Spirit simply firming up Paul's resolve to go, by telling him not to go through the mouths of other people?

It's hard to say, for sure, but whatever else they do, these verses should give us all serious pause the next time someone tells us, "God told me to tell you this..."  It may be true, but what we're to do with the message is another matter.

Lighting Rod, a song




When I was falling from the sky you were
My lightning rod, you
Guided my feet back to the ground

When I was learning how to die you were
My empty tomb, more
alive than anything I’ve found

Out of the blue, after the long night
Upwards I flew, wings melting in the sunlight
Out of the storm, trembling and awed
Into your arms I fell, like a lightning rod

When I was tumbling through the air you were
The rock that broke my fall
Holding me hard against your heart

When I was stumbling through my prayers you were
The tunnel and the light
Winding my way back to the start

Out of the blue, after the long night
Upwards I flew, wings melting in the sunlight
Out of the storm, trembling and awed
Into your arms I fell, like a lightning rod

A High Calling, a devotional thought

There’s a line in Acts 20:26-27 that’s pretty sobering for a minister of the Gospel, like me. Paul is delivering a farewell address to the church in Ephesus, where he had served previously for some three years, “serving the Lord with great humility and with tears” (v. 19). He reminds them of his ministry among them, and then he says: “I declare that I am innocent of anyone’s blood ... because I did not hesitate to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”

The implication here is worth all kinds of careful reflection. On the one hand, if Paul were to have held back in his teaching, on this or that matter, let’s say, because maybe he thought it wouldn’t be well-received, or might step on toes, or what have you, then, apparently, he would be responsible—guilty of their blood—for whatever problems they faced down the road because they did not know God’s will, of God’s way, when they should have. On the other hand, because he did preach the whole Gospel, even the difficult parts that wouldn’t have won him any popularity contests, Paul can leave his ministry at Ephesus with a clear conscience.

Teaching, preaching and serving as a pastor is a great privilege, to be sure, but it is also a huge responsibility.  And if Acts 20:26 is any indication, those who dare to take up this responsibility will give an account, in the end, of how faithfully we discharged our duty to proclaim the whole counsel of God.  May the Lord give much wisdom and even more grace.