Remember the Grace that is your life…

…and the God that holds you in his hand.

Remember the way in which you were spared,

from the slavery of Pharaoh in Egypt’s land.

Remember the hope lavished upon you at Sinai,

of God’s provision and abundance,

his leadership and care, his dream.

Remember that God made you alive,

and shook you awake from the empire’s lull.

To behold the newness of tomorrow, and a new beginning,

of the common good for all

In God’s Kingdom coming. 


From our family to yours, we pray these words for you. Have a blessed new year and remember the grace that is your life and the hope you are called to. Happy New Year



Psalms of Anger and Public Worship – A Guest Post By Scott Hagley

When I checked my inbox today, I was delighted to find a reflection from my friend Scott Hagley with permission to post it if I like. I like. The following are his thoughts about the place of imprecatory psalms in public worship.

Psalm 137

His love endures forever.

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.

2 There on the poplars

we hung our harps,

3 for there our captors asked us for songs,

our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD

while in a foreign land?

5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,

may my right hand forget its skill.

6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth

if I do not remember you,

if I do not consider Jerusalem

my highest joy.

7 Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did

on the day Jerusalem fell.

“Tear it down,” they cried,

“tear it down to its foundations!”

8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy are those who repay you

according to what you have done to us.

9 Happy are those who seize your infants

and dash them against the rocks.

A few days ago, I was involved in a conversation regarding the place of such Psalms in public worship. What do we do about Psalms that begin by modeling earnest and heartfelt prayer only to plummet into surprisingly graphic fantasies of vengeance? I know on numerous occasions, I have read these Psalms with troublesome endings and merely trailed off—unable to fit the unambiguous wish for vengeance into the present worship setting. Other times I have explained the existence of such embarrassing blemishes on the biblical prayer record as signs of spiritual immaturity; or (more generously) justified expressions of rage, like the spiritual equivalent to punching a wall or blowing off steam. But I am beginning to rethink this approach. What if Psalms of anger—and particularly Psalm 137 are precisely the kind of Psalms we need to pray in public worship? What if by trailing off or glancing over it we are silencing the kind of voices that our comfortable, Northern American, middle class congregations of privilege need in order to understand where God is located in our world?

I can anticipate at least one immediate objection to these questions: how can congregations of privilege who are the beneficiaries of American empire and living in a post-9/11 world pray words of vengeance against our enemies? Isn’t this the us-them thinking of which we must repent? It certainly is; but I am not suggesting that we pray these Psalms from the standpoint of our security-concerns against the rising cost of oil or the level-orange threat issued by the Department of Homeland Security. This Psalm is not written from a position of power. Nor is it written to protect one’s economic or psychological security. It is written from the underside of an empire with an insatiable appetite for land, power, wealth, and people. It is written from a place of liminality. Israel is in exile. The temple has burned to the ground. And they are asking: How can songs of worship be sung when God’s temple no longer stands? How can Israel worship the God of Abraham when his promised land is only a memory? How does one go on?

But God is the audience for the questions in the Psalm. Thus the Psalmist questions implicitly: Where are you, God, in the midst of exile? Where are you, God, now that my agency has been subsumed into the agenda of my captors, who ask me to live as though I were not exiled? Where are you, God, when my prayers continue to be met with silence? These are not novel questions, nor are they questions of mere historical interest for understanding the Psalm. Rather, these are questions central to the Christian faith. They are implicit in our Christian worship every time we remember Christ—crucified—and recall his penultimate godforsaken cry (also from the Psalms): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Even more, these questions lurk in the background every time we remember the kenotic life of our Lord.

For God the Son was not born into a life of privilege but from Nazareth—a detail Jesus’ own disciples had trouble forgiving him for. He did not share his table with celebrities—for he had no place to rest his head. Rather, he depended upon the hospitality of outcasts, sinners, drunks, prostitutes, and even suspicious religious folk hoping to trap him in his words. He did not ride into Jerusalem victoriously upon a gold-plated chariot, but rather rode slumped over a donkey, weeping pitifully for the city that was to reject him. All the while he demonstrated and proclaimed the generous—no, radical—hospitality of the Reign of the Father he was inaugurating. He was not raised up in power over the Sanhedrin or Pilate the governor, but rather stretched out his hands to be bound to a cross. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and he died just like he lived: “outside the gate” with publicans, sinners, tax collectors, terrorists, and thieves—proclaiming God’s forgiveness even for them.

The fact that we proclaim this Jesus the Resurrected Lord and the Son of God the Father makes this Psalm and this question even more poignant: Where is God in the midst of exile, oppression, sin, and injustice? Where is God when prayer is met with silence? And because the answer is so clear—it forces us to ask a question more specific to our context: Where is God in our place of privilege? Where is God in the unimaginable economic success of Northern America? Where is God in the glitz and the glam, the slick professionalism and technological brilliance of our church services? Where is God in our ambiguity of our wealth—acquired within the machinery of empire?

Perhaps it is precisely a Psalm such as this that can open our ears to hear the clanging gong of our religious practices because it communicates a sense of outrage that we have so much trouble mounting from our sterile positions of privilege. Even more, it forces us to ask the question we are often too comfortable to ask—or too afraid to hear because it sets up a mirror before our communities, compelling us to make the connection that such words of outrage, such wishes for vengeance—when they are prayed—are words directed at us, for we have more in common with Babylon than Israel. And perhaps…perhaps such a Psalm precipitates a moment of repentance; for it can provide an opportunity for us to remember our crucified savior and God’s presence outside the gate and with the marginalized. I pray it also carves out creative space in our communities for hope. That our congregations might live into God’s future, that we might find a place at the table of fellowship with our brothers and sisters outside the gates of wealth and privilege. That we might finally learn what the Christians in Philippi learned long ago: we gain freedom as we let go of rights and privileges in the name and manner of Christ. And perhaps the brute honesty of this Psalm will move us to prayerful action in that our public worship will seamlessly lead us to work for shalom while crying with our brothers and sisters “Maranatha”—come Lord Jesus.

IphotoScott Hagley is a PhD candidate in the Congregational Mission and Leadership program at Luther Seminary.

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My Praying Daughter…

I am at home today with a nasty flu. My wife Christiene, our 3 year old daughter Anna, and our one year old boy Nathaniel gathered around me to pray. Here is what my daughter said:

” I have to eyes to see my dad,

I have a nose to smell my dad,

I have a mouth to taste my dad,

Thank you God for this food,

Thank you God for my dad.”

I was intrigued by her theological interpretive ability to translate her faith into the situation….

This is her in Whistler a few weeks ago:


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About Worship…

Mike over at Mercy Blog links to the following Evelyn Underhill quote about worship. Here is her quote, followed by his reflection:

“At one end worship is lost in God and is seen to be the substance of eternal life, so that all our attempts to penetrate its mystery must end in acknowledgement of defeat; at the other it broadens out to cover and inform the whole of man’s responses to reality, his total Godward life, with its myriad graded forms of expression, some so crude and some so lovely, some so concrete and some so otherworldly but all so pathetic in their childishness. Here we obtain a clue to the real significance of those rituals and ceremonies… which express the deep human conviction that none of the serial events and experiences of human life are rightly met unless they are brought into a relationship with the Transcendent.”

“Astonishing, isn’t it, how a discussion of what for so many people is confined to the area of music in church, or liturgics, actually “broadens out to cover and inform the whole of man’s responses to reality…” and so brings us into reach of Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God, and of the Prayer of the Heart, the practice of the Jesus Prayer as unceasing prayer (1 Thessalonians 5.17) where the prayer, coming over time to be prayed without conscious volition, forms the means by which all “the serial events and experiences of human life are… brought into a relationship with the Transcendent.”

Worship is so much more than is dreamed of by most of our philosophies, which may be why our Lord said that our worship must be “in spirit and in truth,” as opposed to what we know, intellectually, or, superstitiously, what we don’t know.”

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An interesting neighbourhood…and an invitation to pray

As I drove up the hill about to make the final turn to get home form work, I noticed to my left some police vehicles, fire trucks, and a taped off section surrounding a vacant property. Not knowing what was going on, I searched the news to see if anything was reported. Nothing. After dinner, the wife and kids and I decided to go for a walk to the park, but not before wandering by to see. I asked the lone police officer there at the time if there was anything we should be concerned about. He told me that there had been a crystal meth lab discovered and that we shuold steer clear of the area for the time being.

This is a dangerous endeavor as toxic and explosive chemicals are mixed in the hands of addicted amateurs. Here is a blurb on the dangers involved in the manufacturing process:

“The manufacturing process, although relatively simple, is also toxic and dangerous. Each kilogram of crystal meth produces five to seven kilograms of chemical waste, which is often dumped down the drain or in the backyard. Another by-product, toxic gases, often leads to fire or explosions in the lab. When a crystal meth lab is discovered, a special clandestine drug lab team is brought in to investigate it, as well as a chemist from Health Canada who advises on dismantling the lab. A house that contained a crystal meth lab needs to be decontaminated, and can remain uninhabitable for months.”

As we walked through the neighbourhood, I began to recall and remember the experiences I have had here lately with regard to some of the social challenges that plague us. As I remembered the various encounters, I began to feel a call to pray into the situation. We prayed, not that the problem would move on, but that the issues would be systemically transformed and that this neighbourhood would be healed.

One thing we noticed among the somewhat regular folk around here is a spirit of fear and suspicion toward the people that struggle economically. We prayed that the spirit of fear would not grip this place and that we would learn to love our neighbours. The last thing we want would be further criminalization of the poor, as that happens far too often already. I hope as the news about this meth lab spreads, that people would not retrench further behind suspicious walls and locked doors, but that this community would come together with a fresh vision for healing and wholeness. It seems evident that we are being called to embody the gospel into this situation.

Now we need to pray “how Lord”.

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Please go over and visit the Contemplative Charismatic, Nick, and read his thoughts about prayer. He says some important things about prayer and broadens the definition that typically sees prayer as intercession. He introduces us to prayer as paying attention:

“Cultivating the discipline of prayer starts with being watchful (spiritually alert) and thankful. If we are watchful and thankful, a strong prayer life naturally follows.”

Go and read the rest of the article

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Center for Spiritual Formation

I have completed all my final preparations tonight as in the morning I am off for an eight day retreat for the 2nd year class in the Centre for Spiritual Formation. CSF is a two year intensive offered through Carey Theological College and is the concentration I have chosen for my MPM degree tract. The first five days are at Rivendale on Bowen Island and the remaining three days are at Carey. This year we focus on the outward journey. I am looking forward to the Missional Church component; one of several sessions we will have this week; it’s sure to be a fruitful conversation. The class will also spend some time with Grandview Calvary Baptist Church that is doing some unique stuff in Vancouver.

I will be blogging the experience, perhaps not daily, but frequently. I am looking forward to being still, set morning and evening prayers, seeing old friends, and engaging some wonderful conversations.

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Living Prayer Chapter 6- The Road Leads Here

Are you aware of an internal clock that rings in your life from time to time? Is there an alarm that informs you that it’s time to go somewhere or do something? Robert Benson has one and it tells him it is time to go on retreat to pray. It goes off every 21 weeks or so. He became aware of the clock one summer while on a retreat when he heard God speak to him in prayer. As he struggled through questions about his life, the voice said to him; "You promised to follow me wherever I might take you, and this is where we go next. You are here because the road leads here." The road lead him to silence and solitude.

Benson reflects on the life that most of us share. It is a life of hustle and bustle, a life plagued by a competitive motif that goads us further away from ourselves and who we are. We find ourselves running back and forth wondering why life is fleeting and never quite tasting the invisible carrot of contentment that is dangled between us and the golden calf of materialism. There is also the noise that bombards our minds and muffles the still small voice that whispers peace and truth to us. It is the world we live in. It is a world that promises to give so much, but in reality takes from us and diminishes us to something less than human. It is in the midst of this life that Benson hears the clock go off to send him on retreat.

What’s the point of getting away? Benson reflects that he needs time to listen, to examine, and to confess. It’s a time of reorientation for him that brings him back down to earth and grounds him in the direction of God’s voice that is so hard to discern in the midst of the frenetic pace of life. "How is one to hear the Voice if one cannot even hear oneself think?", asks Benson. He goes on to say:

"The Silence that I seek cannot merely be the absence of the numbing noise and debilitating detail of life in our society. It must be something more. It must be a solitude that is transcendent, a stillness that can be found in the midst of the noise, a silence that is portable."

There are a number of positive things that can happen when we make the time to be away in silence and prayer. Benson points to the joy of learning about himself, the life he is called to and the way God speaks to him. The vantage point of stepping back and traversing the latest epoch of time in our lives is invaluable as it can offer us many answers to how we have felt, processed situations, and it helps us discern the way God has walked alongside of us during that time. It also helps understand where we go next.

So where does the road lead for you? Does the compulsion to continue on full speed ahead override the subtle nudge to get away and pray? Or do you answer the bell of the little clock inside that is telling you it’s time to be away for a while where nothing matters more than union with God in prayer?

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An Honest Being-With

Being with a friend in great pain is not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. We do not know what to do or what to say, and we worry about how to respond to what we hear. Our temptation is to say things that come more out of our own fear than out of our care for the person in pain. Sometimes we say things like "Well, you’re doing a lot better than yesterday," or "You will soon be your old self again," or "I’m sure you will get over this." But often we know that what we’re saying is not true, and our friends know it too. 

We do not have to play games with each other. We can simply say: "I am your friend, I am happy to be with you." We can say that in words or with touch or with loving silence. Sometimes it is good to say: "You don’t have to talk. Just close your eyes. I am here with you, thinking of you, praying for you, loving you."

Henri Nouwen

Living Prayer Chapter 5 – Office Hours

The following is less a review of Chapter 5 of Robert Benson’s book, Living Prayer, and more a personal reflection about the content of the chapter.

Have you ever examined the pace of your life? How about what motivates and moves you? If you are like most living in Western Culture, you probably feel a compulsion to always be ‘doing’ something. And you probably feel an intense anxiety about life. Chances are you have a hard time recognizing the source of this anxiety.

If we look hard enough, we will see that the world is trying to stick us into its mold. This same world that Jesus loves and died for is imposing its rhythm and values onto us and demands our affection. The ‘life’ imposed is often one that exploits, oppresses, and distorts. Rather than being aware of this, we surrender to the false promises, believing that we can be totally and completely happy in this life if we by more things, or have more money. It’s funny how we do this even when we know it won’t make us happy. What might be an alternative life perspective as children of the good and gracious God we serve?

Have you ever been to a monastery? Have you ever taken the time to learn why groups of men and women live in monastic communities? The reason is prayer. The goal of monastic life is not to escape from the world in a way that disconnects one from the humanity of life, but to learn to live in union with God and march to a superior rhythm: a rhythm of prayer. Being unified with God in prayer is what makes our lives Living Prayer. We become catalysts for God’s love and purpose in this world. This is the theme Benson explores in this chapter.

“Office Hours” is a term that is symbolic of the life lived around set daily prayer times. Most commonly it is five times during each day that faithful Christians gather for prayer. Monks around the world will stop tilling the fields, stop administrative tasks, and stop any other work they are doing to pray. Free from distraction, they pray in unified voice with the Church and the scriptures. They pray when the bell rings.

We live in a world full of timers and alarm clocks that remind us of all sorts of things like: our favorite shows, when work is finally over, when school is out, when to get up, etc. Butt, do we have in our lives a bell that reminds us it’s time to stop and commune with the King? What would our lives look like if we were reminded throughout the day (with a bell?) that God was God alone and not we? That being with Him to learn and do His will is the main priority?

Benson talks about how the monks he observed at the Gethsemane Monastery are ordinary men. They are all shapes and sizes, some with dirt under their fingernails, some old, and some young. Some are cranky and some are kind. They are just plain ordinary, like you and I. They do similar tasks as you and I, as well. However, there is one difference between them and us outside of the fact they live in a monastic community. They are different because of what happens when the bell rings.

When the bell rings at various times in the day, they reorient their lives around God. This is more valuable than anything else in their day. We don’t need to live in a monastery to experience this. All can partake of this rhythm in our days. Imagine if we paused to pray with the Church. How would that shape our lives? Would it give us a more missional perspective? Would it train us to see this world not with our own eyes, but with God’s? The work we put down will still be there when we come back. We lie to ourselves and say: “The work can’t wait!…I’m much to important to stop!” Are we really?

What I’d like to suggest is that we can be monastics without fleeing from the world. We can live a type of ‘embedded’ monastic prayer life right in the midst of the world God wants to redeem. Do you remember the reporters that went into Iraq with the troops? They were embedded. So too can we be embedded. I am convinced that if we orient our lives around God in prayer; if we foster a heart of solitude and devotion to God, we will begin to see this life with God’s eyes. We will be invited into His purposes that do not cause the empty anxiety of chasing false dreams, but rather fills us with an eternal overwhelming joy and peace that surpasses all human understanding and can only be described as life to the full (John 10:10), regardless of trials that may beset us. Is it time to start keeping Office Hours?

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A beautiful finish before Lent…and various other things…

CanucksI have not mentioned at all on this blog my love for the game of Hockey. I’ve kept the focus on Christian Missional Spirituality for the most part. But tonight is different. You see, I am a Vancouver Canucks fan. Our Canucks have just beat the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 3-2 in OT to give them a record of 18 wins, 3 losses and 3 OT losses over the last 24 games. It was a nice finish to a game that I have decided to put my love on hold for. As part of a number of things I will be sacrificing during Lent, I will refrain from watching my favorite team. It is actually all TV that I will be refraining from.

For the hardcore fans…the stat sheet.

On to Lent…

This is the conclusion of what many call Fat Tuesday, or in French, Mardi Gras. Andrew Jones (TSK) gives us the skinny on Fat Tuesday for those interested in learning a bit more about this indulgent day that marks the eve of lent.

Bread 1We had our bread night tonight and a mission group dinner together. The staple was Spaghetti, lots of it, and fresh garlic bread…a meal that I could eat everyday….but not over the next 40, of coarse. After we ate together, we bagged bins of bread and went out into the community to deliver it to our neighbours.

Over the next 40 days I will be intentional about avoiding the distractions and attachments that plague my life in an attempt to draw closer to God. It’s kind of like a desert experience I am expecting… and a much needed one at that. It will be a time for me to reflect, trust and become aware of my condition and need for God. One thing I am aware of is this: we live in the midst of such abundance and comfort. To keep things in perspective, I believe we need to suffer a bit. Suffer in the sense of refraining from the compulsions and things that we can constantly comfort and fill ourselves with. There is a benefit to our spiritual journeys to wait through the temptations for the touch of the Lord. It is the place where growth happens. I have been there before, but sadly not often enough. It is the desert.

Part of me is yearning for such a time of surrender and sacrifice…and another part of me fears it. I can relate to Kester Brewin‘s two part confession on failure of an emerging leader. See Part 1 and Part 2. I anticipate being challenged to the core of my being; but am encouraged and believe God will be gracious and give me strength to follow through on my commitments. This encouragement comes on the heals of finishing Susaku Endo’s book Silence. Silence is about the missionary attempts by the Jesuits to bring the Gospel to Japan in the 1600’s. The persecution is intense and the torture is horrifying. It makes my meager offering seem simple; hence the encouragement that I can endure.

I’d like to wish each of you a refining time this Lenten season and ask our God on your behalf to draw you each near to him as He increases in your life.

I never thought it possible to write about an ice hockey team and the desert in the same post…

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Words that Create

Yesterday was a busy day.  It was the second week of the preaching rotation for me and I had to got to deliver the same message I did last week about the importance of living in God’s story. Sacred Reading of scripture is the avenue I used to get us into the story. By the end of the third service, I was exhausted.   

One of the elements to sacred reading is praying the scriptures. I was hung up on the importance of praying scripture as a means to speak God’s truth into existence in our lives.  Prayer – the words spoken with conviction from the values that reside in our hearts – can create new possibilities of faithfulness in the day to day.  They can lead us closer to the realization of God’s dream for the world and they allow us to contribute.  Almost providentially, I stumbled upon these words of Henri Nouwen yesterday morning as I was revisiting my message…

"Words, words, words. Our society is full of words: on billboards, on television screens, in newspapers and books. Words whispered, shouted, and sung. Words that move, dance, and change in size and color. Words that say, "Taste me, smell me, eat me, drink me, sleep with me," but most of all, "buy me." With so many words around us, we quickly say: "Well, they’re just words." Thus, words have lost much of their power.
Still, the word has the power to create. When God speaks, God creates. When God says, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3), light is. God speaks light. For God, speaking and creating are the same. It is this creative power of the word we need to reclaim. What we say is very important. When we say, "I love you," and say it from the heart, we can give another person new life, new hope, new courage. When we say, "I hate you," we can destroy another person. Let’s watch our words."

~Henri Nouwen

I came to realize that in many ways prayer is creative.  And the words we utter prayerfully and with conviction can contribute to the bringing forth of new realities.  In the context of Christian prayer, it is God’s reality; His Kingdom, that we long to realize, almost echoing God’s creativity via his spoken word.

My question: Do we consider prayer in this way, or has prayer become but functional babble that makes little difference in our lives?

Bread Night in our Neighbourhood

Our Mission Group had about five bins full of Cobb’s Bread tonight.  We met at 7pm to bag it and to pray at Bill and Cheryl’s house; members of our group.  As the weather was not cooperative, instead of the usual community coffee house as a means to distribute the bread, we headed out in our separate ways to give it away to neighbours.  The goal was to bring bread and share conversation in our neighbours living rooms. 

I met one of the guys who leads the community group in the area as he was walking along the road (I had left a couple of loaves at his doorstep).  The community group is quite active in lobbying for the preservation of this neighbourhood and ensuring that it remains a heritage community.  We spoke of ways to bring the community together and one idea was a block party with a BBQ in the summer to promote community spirit.  He was stoked when I mentioned I can get some bouncy castles and live music (Craig, you reading?). 

Some of what it means to be Missional is going out among the people on their turf and getting to know them; no agenda, just love.  It is amazing how people react when we practice the act of giving bread away for free and for no reason.  They are taken aback and find it hard to believe at first; but are welcoming of it.  I wonder how people received the bread the 72 disciples brought when Jesus had sent them out.  The gifts they brought, healing and such, were a different kind of bread and I bet a similar reaction was realized.

I dropped some bread off to the lady who lives with two kids right across the street (I can see them watching TV as I type).  While there I mentioned that it’s really a waste for everyone to be cooking dinner every night, so I suggested they come over on Thursday for dinner.  She and her kids were willing.  As I was walking away from her place, the single mom our Mission Group sponsored at Christmas time was walking her dog right by my house, so I just had to give her some bread as well…

It’s amazing how the Lord works out his will for the good even when at the beginning of the night things seemed very discouraging and bleak…but that’s another story.

May the name of the Lord be praised forever.


Henri Nouwen on Prayer Unceasing…

From Unceasing Thinking to Unceasing Prayer
“Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, daydream, or dream. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is “unceasing.” Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from many worries, guilt feelings, and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with our God, who is the source of all love.
Let’s break out of our isolation and realize that Someone who dwells in the center of our beings wants to listen with love to all that occupies and preoccupies our minds.”


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