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practicing peace

What is peace? We talk about Jesus being the Prince of Peace, a peaceable ruler of a peaceable kingdom, but what exactly does that mean? What does it look like? And how do we participate in it? We may associate peace with a lack of conflict, or being free from burdens and constraints, or stillness, or wholeness, or agreement.

I will not try to define peace here, but simply offer 14 snapshots (scripture, story, litany, reading, song) to consider. I invite you to engage with each section by taking a moment to meditate on it, paying attention to the words and ideas and images which stand out to you. In the scripture verses, I have highlighted the words that relate to peace, just to give a focal point. I invite you to enter into peace.

1. "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with …

Names of Jesus

We find many names for Jesus in the witness of Scripture. There are names which Jesus gave himself (Son of Man, bread of life, good shepherd, the way, the truth, the life, etc.) and there are names which others bestowed on Jesus. I want to look a little closer at the latter. We find three of them in the account of his birth in Matthew 1:18-23. Here Jesus is identified as the Messiah (v. 18), Jesus (v. 20), and Immanuel (v. 23). In the Hebrew culture, names did not simply identify or distinguish a person; they expressed something about their character and nature. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Hebrew Bible contains more than sixty names for the God of Israel (Names of God).

Names also reflected the time or context into which a child was born. Though Jesus was given a rather unremarkable first-century Hebrew name, it reflected the prophetic cry of the people at the time. The Jews were longing for God to intervene, to rescue them from Roman occupation and oppressive circumstan…

Where is Jesus? Part 2

I sometimes think: if I had been living in the first century, I would have been an eager follower of Jesus of Nazareth. But I am not so sure. The gospel accounts reveal how hard it was for people to reconcile what they imagined the Messiah would be like with the rather unremarkable son of Joseph. Even the disciples were often unsure about the identity of their teacher, especially when things went horribly wrong during the Passover celebration. Before they could really grasp the severity of the situation, Jesus was arrested and executed. Not surprisingly, most of them scattered. Jesus was gone. His death - a public, ignoble affair - dealt the final blow. Their loyalty was now a cause for mockery. Their constant companion for the past three years was no longer with them. Or so they thought.

In the thick of all their disappointment and grief, they failed to see what Jesus had been trying to show them all along: that the Messiah came to serve and to love, even when it cost him his life. …

Where is Jesus? Part 1

For the past few weeks, I have been reading through the book of Leviticus. If you are not a detail person, you might find the text less than engaging. I have a great affection for details, but even so, this book presents some challenges for me. There are so many particulars regarding sacrifices, rituals, and legal and moral practices. In addition, some of the instructions sound brutal to my pacifist, non-violent ears. The text also has the feel of "way too much information," no doubt due to the desire of the priestly writer to compile somewhat of a textbook for those who served in a Levitical capacity.

The main challenge I have in reading Leviticus is being able to recognize the God revealed in the person of Jesus, especially in the midst of all the boring and brutal minutiae of priesthood. However, considering that Jesus is identified as the ultimate high priest by the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 4:14-16), it stands to reason that the priestly documents contain more than a few…

Love is ... not self-seeking

The familiar description of love found in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth is often read at weddings. However, in 1 Corinthians 13 we find no mention of a particular "other" whom we are to love. Neither is there any reference to an exclusive relationship. Instead, Paul's description of love stands firmly in the context of community life, meant to inform a follower of Jesus concerning their posture toward others in the faith community and beyond.

Let's take a look at three of the characteristics found here (verse 5): 1) love is not self-seeking, 2) love is not easily angered or provoked, and 3) love does not keep a record of wrongs. These are all stated negatively, a technique which helps us to recognize what is missing or distorted. However, negative descriptions have their limitations, because they fail to give us a means whereby we can imagine what something actually looks like. So, let us identify the positive side of each of these statements. Love is n…

listening

Recently, I came across these words by Eugene Peterson: "Prayer is first of all a means of listening. Prayer is an act of attention. We are not used to this. We suppose we are in charge of prayer. We aren't. God has spoken. We are required to enter a world of listening to God." [1]

My work requires me to be a good listener. All my ideas, theological insights, and teaching and writing material come from listening. To the biblical texts, to learned and experienced voices, to the whispers of the Spirit, to the extravagant presence of creation, and to my own heart and mind as they move through this world. Sometimes the work is difficult. I feel stuck. And then I realize that I have not spent enough time listening. The same thing happens in prayer. When it feels dull, flat, uninspired, or weak, it usually means that I am not listening, just babbling on and on, caught in my own thoughts and words. Real listening requires what Peterson calls the "cultivation of unhurried …

Love is... patient and kind

When I ask people what love is, they very often mention the list of characteristics found in 1 Corinthians 13. You know how it goes: love is patient, love is kind… Lately, I have been thinking about these two particular adjectives at the beginning of this description of love. One reason for this is because I find it hard to remember what comes next, so I keep repeating “love is patient, love is kind” with the hope that my memory will eventually start functioning. But I also wonder if their placement next to each other might be intentional, if they are connected in some way. Perhaps our understanding of love loses something when we dissect its characteristics into singular, separate ideas. What happens when we join patience with kindness?
The word translated “patient” is makrothymei in Greek. It has two parts to it: the idea of length or slowness and the concept of suffering or anger. The word is sometimes translated as longsuffering or slow to anger. Here are a few examples of how it…

Names of God: YHWH Nissi (banner)

Banners or flags serve various purposes in our society. We see them prominently displayed in settings such as national celebrations, at borders, atop government buildings, at sporting events, and in military settings. But Banner as a name for God is a bit unexpected.

YHWH Nissi is only mentioned once in the Hebrew Bible, at the end of a story which chronicles the first armed conflict of the nation of Israel. Though just a few months out of slavery, the people of Israel have had their share of troubles. They ran out of food, so God provided manna and quails. They also ran out of water, so Moses struck a rock and water came gushing out. Even so, morale is low and complaints are high. Now at Rephidim (most likely a valued oasis), they are attacked by the Amalekites, nomads in the region who are protecting what they view as their territory. Moses tells Joshua to take some men and go out and fight, then indicates that he will stand atop a hill with the staff of God in hand.

The battle is …

what is freedom?

In English usage, freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, and think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Most often, at least in our Western context, we use the word freedom to refer to self-determination, meaning we are free to be who we want to be, to do what we want to do, to say what we want to say.

This way of thinking about freedom has some problems. First, it assumes that we have relatively few limitations as human beings when, in fact, we all have limited choices and options in life. Not everyone has the capacity to be an astronaut or an Olympic swimmer or an opera singer or the Prime Minister. I could do none of those things well. I also cannot be a cat or a bird, much as I would like to be able to jump six times my height or fly by moving my arms. Viewing freedom as pure self-determination gives us an inflated sense of our own agency. It also sidesteps the fact that we do not function in isolation; our choices and actions have implications for other…

sacred spaces

Many of us associate sacred space with a religious site or a church, but in reality, it can be any place in which we encounter the Spirit of Jesus, any place that is set apart by and for the presence of God. A bush in the back side of the wilderness became a sacred space when it caught fire; its unusual flame attracted Moses to a missional encounter with YHWH. The muddy water of the Jordan River became a sacred place of healing when a military commander dipped his diseased body in the river. A community well in the despised region of Samaria became a sacred space when a woman with a tainted reputation responded to Jesus' request for water. Perhaps the most unexpected sacred space in the Christian tradition is the wooden instrument of torture known as the cross, for on it Christ defeated sin and death through an act of divine love.

During the Vineyard National Gathering in Montreal last month, I led a small group in exploring some of the sacred spaces in the city. Montreal is home…

give us this day our daily bread

Over the summer, our faith community has been making its way through what is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer. This week we looked at the phrase: "give us this day our daily bread." At first glance, it reads like a simple request for God to grant supplicants food for the day, but there is a lot packed into these these few words.

BREAD: The Greek work here is artos, meaning leavened, regular bread. In this particular context, it is used as a synecdoche, a word which names a small thing, a part, but actually refers to the whole, to something much greater than its literal meaning. Like saying "wheels" when referring to a car or saying "hired hand" when meaning much more than just someone's hand, bread here is not just a loaf of baked dough. It is a meal (to break bread with someone is to share a meal). It is shorthand for sustaining food (bread is considered a staple). It is provision (to take bread for the journey means to take provisions, see G…