Monday, June 4, 2007

me? i think i'm more of a cabernet sauvignon...

John 15:1-17
1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.17These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Throughout John’s Gospel we’ve been reading and learning that John has been taking all these things that were typically understood by the Jews of his day that were understood in scripture a certain way, and he’s showing us how, because of Jesus, these things are redefined and re-evaluated. They meant one thing before, but now Jesus shows us what they were pointing to, or how they have changed.

God speaks creation into existence but Jesus is that Word which created all things.
John shows us how Jesus is the light of the world, how Jesus is the Temple of God, how Jesus is (Torah) the way, the truth and the life, this is how Jesus is the bread of life. Etc. Now Jesus comes along and he says that he is the True Vine. Well why does he use Vine? Where is this coming from?But we’re set up by John already to be aware that this is probably a loaded term. This probably already had a meaning to the original readers and listeners.

I think in order to understand what John is highlighting for us, and the real potency of Christ’s words we need to go back.

In Genesis, we see that God creates humanity in order to be in relationship with them and he puts them in a garden. However, humanity rebels and God exiles them out of the garden and the relationship between God and humanity is broken. Now everything in scripture after this point is ultimately dealing with this issue. How will God restore the relationship that was broken? God chooses a nation, Israel, and makes a covenant with them to be in relationship with; that they would be blessed in order to be a blessing to all nations. They were a light to the nations. God was going to use them to bless all of humanity and restore it back to himself, but also they were to be an example of what humanity could be like when in relationship with their Creator.

Israel fails miserably in staying in this covenant. They break it over and over again and God forgives them over and over again. So they are supposed to be this picture of a new humanity but they fail horribly. However, God is still true to His promise that he is going to use them to bless the nations. And he does, because Jesus is a Jew, he’s an Israelite. Now throughout the Old Testament there are a number of different images and metaphors that are used to describe Israel. So they are referred to as a number of things, an adulterous wife, a rebellious son, a flock of sheep etc. one of the metaphors and images that is used is a vineyard. Israel, God’s people is a vineyard that he planted. We see this mostly in the prophets, Jeremiah and Isaiah the most.

Isaiah 5:1-2
1Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

Jeremiah 2:20-22
"For long ago I broke your yoke
and burst your bonds;
but you said, 'I will not serve.'
yes, on every high hill
and under every green tree
you bowed down like a whore.
21Yet I planted you a choice vine,
wholly of pure seed.
How then have you turned degenerate
and become a wild vine?
22Though you wash yourself with lye
and use much soap,
the stain of your guilt is still before me,
declares the Lord GOD.

Now this comment about Jesus being the true vine is alluding to this verse in Jeremiah. The section this passage in Jeremiah is apart of is an entire section about Israel forsaking God. And though God planted a choice vine they became a wild and degenerate vine.
What we see is this picture of what happened with humanity. It became wild and degenerate.
So we have this picture of a vineyard that God planted and it was a good vine, but it became wild and degenerate. This vineyard is a picture of Israel, and Israel is a picture of a new humanity. So we have this picture of something that was supposed to be so good and had so much promise but it became wild.
Now wild grapevines are quite different from good grapevines. Wild ones are very invasive and aggressive. They entangle themselves all over trees and choke the life out of them. I was trying to find out what was so different about wild grapevines and I came across this lady who was asking what to do because she had these wild grapevines and they were entangling themselves in her trees to such an extent that when one tree would fall it would bring down five more. And she couldn’t get rid of them because she’d cut them back and they’d grow right back.

You can just imagine these wild grapevines just smothering and choking out the lives of these trees. And I’m sure you’ve seen vines do this before and it’s not a good thing. They almost seem parasytic.

So as we put together this picture in our heads, we see what a loaded term vine is in the Old Testament and we come to the words of Jesus. I am the True Vine. now the Greek word here that is used for True is one that would be used for something that is no longer dormant or latent. This gives us a little more understanding of what Jesus means by True Vine. We get the picture of a True Israel, a True Humanity. We remember the promise that was made to Israel, but they became wild grapevines, now finally that promise is coming to actualization. Israel being blessed in order to a blessing to all the nations is coming to fruition in Jesus. That picture of a New Humanity is fulfilled in Jesus he is what we were created to be. And only when we remain in him do we find true life and produce fruit. We produce good fruit. Good grapes. Not wild grapes. But the key is to remain or abide in him. This point is being hammered home to us. From verse 4 to verse 10 the words 'abide' is used 10 times. That’s ten times in six verses. Reading through those verses gets almost painfully redundant because you keep coming across this word Abide. At points you feel like Jesus is running out of things to say so he just keep repeating himself. But maybe there is reason he keeps saying it. Could it be perhaps that we have a tendency not to abide in him? But, why? I started wondering why Jesus would have to keep telling his disciples over and over to abide in him. See when we abide in him we bear much fruit, which in turn causes us to be pruned. NT Wright says:

“Branches that decide to ‘go it alone’, to try living without the life of the vine, soon discover their mistake. They whither and die, and are good for nothing but fire. But branches that remain in the vine and submit to the pruner’s knife when necessary, live and bear fruit. That is the prospect that Jesus holds out to his followers, to all of us…And, though it always hurts, we must be ready for the father's pruning knife. God is glorified, and so will we be, by bearing good quality fruit and lots of it. For that to happen there will be extra growth that needs cutting away. That too is an intimate process. The vine-dresser is never closer to the vine, taking more thought in it's long-term health and productivity, than when he has his knife in his hand.”

The pruning hurts, it’s not pleasant but we in turn produce more fruit. But why do we produce fruit? What’s it for? And why do we go through the discomfort of pruning in order to produce such fruit? Well I started thinking about the fruit that is produced by a vine. Grapes. What do grapes make? Wine. I’m not a big wine fan myself. But my brother was telling me all about it last week and he said something really interesting about it. He was commenting on how serious wine drinkers use wine to compliment the meals they are eating, certain foods go well with certain red wines and others go better with certain white wines. And what they do is actually just sip the wine because not only does it cleanse your pallet but it also enhances the flavours of the food you're eating. It makes the meal better. Wine has this ability of locking in these flavours and using them to enrich the food that is with it. What a drastic difference between the wild grapevines that choke out the life of the trees around them and the good choice grapes that make wine that enhances the meal its with. So we start to see these two paths. You abide in Christ and you become someone that makes life better for those around you. Or you don’t abide in Christ and you become someone who chokes out the life around you.

So why is it so hard to abide in Jesus? It’s because there is only one way to get grapes into wine. You must crush them and you must pour the juice out. This is why Jesus urges us to abide in him. It isn’t easy. We aren’t supposed to just produce this fruit and stare at it and be all proud of ourselves because we’re bearing fruit. No we’re supposed to bear the fruit so we can be crushed and poured out and made into wine that makes life better for other people, it enhances life and brings out the joy and wonder and…love.

Because that’s the point isn’t it? Jesus says in verse 17 “ These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

The point is: loving one another. But it is the kind of love that is crushed and poured out. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” We allow ourselves to be crushed because of our love for them. There is no greater love than that.

Are we loving others this way? Are we laying down our lives for others?

Friday, April 6, 2007

she was THAT girl...

they say, "you just play the hand you're dealt." but lets be honest, some people get dealt really shitty hands. her name was Pam. the first time i heard about her i had yet to meet her. i was changing schools between grade one and grade two, so i was 6 at the youngest and 7 at the oldest. i forget the exact words that were said, but my friends were giving me some pointers because i would be attending their class come fall. again, i don't remember what exactly was said, but i remember the main impression i was given from this conversation: under no circumstances am i to be Pam's friend. why? because no one was Pam's friend. she was that girl. she was the girl that from such an early age, her fellow students would warn their friends not to associate with her. so there i am heading into a new school in the second grade and all i can think is--survive. without a coherent strategy on how i was to go about doing that, one thing was for certain, associating with Pam was now not an option. i had never even met the girl and i had already formed conclusions about her in my head.

that following September i started at the second grade and i witnessed it with my own eyes. the ostrisizing, the rejection, the hurt. the kids were merciless. and i slowly became a silent member of the mob. the resentment towards began to slow grow in my own heart. not because of anything Pam had done, but because she was simply a threat. a threat to the acceptance and friendship i wanted so badly. through all the years that i went to school with Pam, i probably saw it all. she was kicked, punched, spat on, screamed at, hair pulled, degraded, pushed, etc. i can't even count the times kids in my class made her cry. you want to see hell, try being an elementary school kid who not only has no friends at school, but is as close to being hated by every student in her class, as one could be. as the grades passed and years went on, another interesting pattern developed. Pam loved the kids in the younger grades, partly because she was nice and loved kids, and partly because they accepted her. she sought solace in the younger students helping them with their work and watching them when the teacher had to leave the room. however, as soon as the younger students would get old enough to realize the social implications of associating with Pam, they stopped being her friend. this happened over and over. a young naive little girl would come into contact with an older student who would inform the little student that Pam wasn't cool, that being friends with Pam wasn't cool, and sure enough a week later that little girl was no longer friends with Pam. it just seemed as though nothing was going for Pam. she didn't have nice clothes, she wasn't the brightest kid, and she lived in a small shabby farm house. she picked her scabs and her walk was more of an awkward thumping.

i wish i could say that everything got better for Pam. i wish there was a happy ending but it didn't get better for Pam. not until she left. by grade 6 Pam no longer went to my school. i think i heard that she moved; probably the best thing that could've happened to her. interestingly one of the girls in my class who was Pam's worst antagonist became the new Pam when Pam had left. it was almost like the monster that was the student body needed someone to pick on; needed someone to hate and when Pam was no longer available it pick it's next subject. irony is sometimes the hardest teacher.

but what really did Pam do to deserve such ridicule? nothing. it was so arbitrary; so senseless. whenever i think back to public school and to what we did to Pam, i can't help but feel a deep, deep sense of shame. and even regret. and i know what you might be thinking, "Darryl, don't be so hard on yourself, you were just kids, you didn't know any better." but you know what. i did. i did know better. but i just didn't have the guts to stand up for her; to stand up for what was right. i knew that the way we treated her was wrong. no one should be treated the way Pam was treated.
this summer, one of my best-friend's father passed away. at the gravesite i looked across the crowd of people and Pam was standing there. i hadn't seen her in probably 11 years. i don't know what she's up to these days. i'm sure she's doing well. but i wish i would have had the guts to go up and say something to her. there was a million things i could've said to her or asked her. but i know the one thing i would've said if i said anything at all...

Pam, i'm sorry.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

competition: life's lonliest game

"two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. for if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!"
-ecclesiastes 4:10

it struck me as peculiar that the writer assumed that we as humans naturally pick each other up when we see someone fall. it would seem that the only case the writer gives for a person to fall and not be lifted up by another, is if this person was alone. perhaps Solomon has come to expect too much from the human race. do we always pick each other up when we see another fall? do i ever pick someone up when i see another fall? perhaps Solomon has come to expect too much from me. i'd like to believe that i exude the compassion of Christ when i observe the misfortunes of others. but if i'm really honest with myself more times than not i like when you fall; when you stumble. something inside of me is excited to witness such an event. how ugly is that? how that? and why is that? why do i feel relieved knowing that your failure is laid bare before everyone? what is it in me that is glad to see your misfortune? what is so shameful is that its more than just not helping you up, part of me is grateful to see you fall...and so i keep coming back to why? why am i like this? i'm like this because im relieved to know that im not the only one who fails; that you're human just like me...

our culture is saturated in competition. i compete against coworkers to get that job promotion, with other guys to get the girl, with other people to be the coolest in the group, with you for control, with my neighbours to have the nicest lawn in the neighbourhood, with the students in my class to have the highest grades, and the list goes on. we might be the worst in every area of life save one, and we'll grip tightly to it; finding our worth in that one solitary thing that we're 'good' at. and what we start to find out is that this elaborate competition that we find ourselves slaving in, is really a twisted value system. and we keep competing with everyone to prove ourselves valuable; more important than the next person. so i like when you fail, it helps me feel as tho im worth more. and if my worth is being threatened i will tear a strip off someone else in self-preservation. it makes it hard to interact with others without measuring ourselves against them; without magnifying in our minds all of their shortcomings in hopes of dwarfing our own in distorted, figmented comparisons, elevating ourselves above them. and so deep down we are elated when others fail because it casts us in such a better light. we don't look as screwed up.

[Donald Miller, author of SEARCHING FOR GOD KNOWS WHAT, writes a brilliant chapter in his book on the dynamics of our competitive culture. the chapter is called The Lifeboat Theory and i highly recommend it]

the reality is that i know i'm not better than you. i know that i am just as screwed up and just as broken and ugly inside. but when you fall, no one is looking at my faults, my wounds, and my ugliness; no one is seeing me fall. we don't want to fall because no one helps us up. and it is such a dangerous place to be in. it is such a lonely place to be in. which brings us back to Solomon. maybe his presumption was right, maybe the only people that aren't helped up are the ones who are alone. which begs the question, are all of us then, alone? have we created a culture where the competition has made us suspicious of everyone to the degree that we place our trust in no one? see the culture of competition forces us to fabricate a false self. this false self is meant to give off the impression we want to give off but does not express who we actually are. so we're rarely vulnerable enough to let someone into the deepest parts of us because it's just too dangerous. when we compete with everyone we are close to no one. we are isolated; we are alone. that is why i hesitate to enter into someone's failure. that's why i stand awkwardly by and watch while they clumsily and shamefully recover their composer. because while i am there in proximity, close enough to lend a hand, they are ultimately alone; isolated from everyone. that is the culture we've created.

i have this belief that if we learn to lay down our competitive selves and realize that we have nothing to compete for and that we all have the same worth; if we can bravely open ourselves up in vulnerability to one another and confess our true selves, we will find the closeness and intimacy we so desperately chase in all different facets of life. we will no longer be alone and when someone falls we can reach down with grace and compassion and pull them back up because we know that they do the same for us.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

turning over a new look and a new leaf

ok, so i get flack a lot for having a near deceased blog. i started blogging like a couple years ago, and i've posted maybe a dozen posts. thats it. my last post was a year ago today. i started getting disillusioned with blogging. it seemed so ego driven. we create these personas online and pretend that we have something important to say and that people actually want to read it. people say what they wouldn't have the balls to say in real life, and they these 'put-on' personas are engaging with other people's made up personas and it becomes so superfulous. so needless to say i was getting a bit skeptical and critical about it. but i realize on the other hand that blogs can also be a great avenue for people to express thoughts and questions that they have and to create dialogue on certain subjects for people to explore together. so i decided that i'm gonna give it another chance. so i have some posts lined up in my head and i will try and get them out on a regular basis and keep it consistent. its kind of like blogging and i were on a break and now we're gonna give it another try but if it doesn't work then we'll go our separate ways. i really have no problem living an unblogged life, but i fear perhaps i didn't give blogging a fair shot the first time. so, here we go.

first post to come sometime tonight after work...or tomorrow. if you even care.

Friday, March 3, 2006

emblematic of the unknown

ok so im taking a class in Exodus this semester. its going well. i like it. the last few weeks we've been going through the Ten Commandments (which is also know as the Decalogue, which i found out this semester). anyways, so we've been going over them in class and i basically know them off by heart because i grew up in church and i've been watching Charlton Heston throw the stone tablets at the golden calf since i was born, so you could say im familiar with them.

1. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

these are the first two. they start us off. and its as if with these commandments God is saying:
1. 'remember who I am.'
2. 'remember who you are.'

why do i sum up the second commandment as 'remember who you are'? well, i was thinking about it the other night. and i found it interesting that God tells them not to make a carved image of anything. so He didn't want them to make anything that was supposed to represent Him. fair enough. i mean honestly what finite image could justly encompass an infinite God? nothing. the answer is nothing. see all the statues of all the other gods and goddesses were lifeless. just inanimate objects that people bow down to. but the gods and goddesses themselves are without life, so it only makes sense that their images would themselves be without life. but our God is alive. so no object that we would create to represent our God would do because it would be lifeless and our God is full of life. so then my mind just keeps wandering: so God is an imageless God? because for an image to be ascribed to Him, would have to be alive. and thats when it hit me. see God solved this problem... in the beginning. [Gen. 1:27] "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." we are that image. that's why the second commandment is as if God was saying, 'remember who you are, don't carve for me an image of some object, you are my image, the life you live bears my image, bear it well.'

i've been listening to this band called Thrice ALOT lately. they are amazing. the first song on their new CD is called 'Image of the Invisible' these are the lyrics:

we're more than carbon and chemicals
free will is ours and we can't let go
we can't allow this, the quiet cull
so we sing out this, our canticle
we are the image of the invisible
we all were lost now we are found
no one can stop us or slow us down
we are all named and we are all known
we know that we'll never walk alone
we're more than static and dial tone
we're emblematic of the unknown
raise up the banner, bend back your bows
remove the cancer, take back your souls
we are the image of the invisible
though all the world may hate us, we are named
though shadow overtake us, we are known

i don't know about you, but to me those lyrics are powerful. and so then the question we need to be asking ourselves is, what does it mean to be made in the Image of God? to be bearers of His image? and im starting to believe that He lays it out for us in the verses that follow Gen. 1:27. (28-31)

what do you think?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

death of a salesman

i despise having to sell anything. for starters, i just suck at it. and for another thing i hate the idea of trying to convince someone to buy whatever crap it is im selling, when in fact they didn't want it or need it in the first place. and i hate it. when i was in little league baseball, i used to have to sell chocolate bars for the team in order to help raise money for various team equipment stuff. i couldn't do it. i would sell some to my grandma and id pawn some off on my parents and then i'd buy maybe one or two and that was it. now granted if it was something that people actually wanted or needed and i had to sell it to them, i could do that. but its the tricking someone into thinking that they now want what i have; that i can't deal with. highlight good points, dodge the low points. talk fast, be confident, and make the sell as fast as you can. the longer it takes the more time they have to assess whether they actually need it. and make sure you got it all together or at least let them perceive that you do; they need to see that it works. its just good salesmanship. right? ....right?

our culture is so good at making things sound much more attractive than they are. we say 'salesmanship' instead of manipulation.....and we say evangelism instead of salesmanship.

yeah i said it.

i used to cringe at the word evangelism and i didn't know why. i used to think that there might be something wrong with my spiritual condition because i didn't feel right about how we evangelize. it seemed so forced. so unnatural. and then i realized why. evangelism is the Church's way of selling it's product. i found this site the other day call it was kind of interesting, all these tools for learning how to sell.

these were the objectives under a heading of 'service and follow-up':
-show gratitude
-affirm buyer’s decision
-minimize buyer’s remorse
-address potential challenges as they arise (before they grow into something worse)
-identify upcoming needs to develop more sales
-retain customers and lock out competitors
-obtain referrals & word-of-mouth prospects

do these sound familiar to anyone? why is there such a close correlation between the approach of a company trying to make a sell (and keep a customer) and the Church trying to convert a non-believer (and keep him/her in the family)?

and another section called the complete value says, "When you consider the complete value of a customer to you and your team – the lifetime value – the importance of having a sense of “selling urgency” should skyrocket."
scrolling down in this section you come to a part called 'special note': For those who sell a product or solution that helps a customer get a customer, illustrating the seven types of revenue (the complete value) is a great way to help the prospect see the value of buying now rather than later. To put off moving forward not only delays the initial revenue but potentially eliminates the possibility of all the other types of revenue (because the prospect becomes the customer of someone else). where you read "seven types of revenue" insert "going to heaven when you die" and i think you can see the parallel.

at some point the Church decided that it was about time it modelled itself after Corporate America. our churches began incorporating themselves. they began marketing themselves. they began seeing exanding the kingdom of God like growing a big company, competing against other religions. as members of the body of Christ we have become salesmen. our product: the Gospel. our company: the Incorporated Church. i still feel like that little guy playing peewee baseball forced to go out and sell chocolate bars. i think Christ has a better way for us to spread the Gospel without us becoming salesman for the Church. and im done. i submit my resignation to the Incorporated Church, effective immediately.

Friday, June 3, 2005

not impossible...

my mother enjoys sprucing up her yard. which is good because if she didn't the backyard would be fairly bare and the fence would look plain and dull. so every spring she puts in new flowers into her flower bed, new flower boxes on the steel railing and she hangs flower pots from metal hooks screwed into the wooden fence posts. the problem is that the wooden fence posts don't have metal hooks in them. so as i was wandering around this morning at the ungodly hour of 10:30 (yes, that's right i said it, 10:30) my mother has the odacity to ask me if i would be so kind as to screw in these hooks for her. so as any good son would do i took on the task and retrieved the hooks, the screws and screwdriver. that's when it hit me. we don't have a drill and these posts haven't had these hooks in them before. today we're charting new territory. and you know what? its hard starting new holes for screws with only a screwdriver. first you need to find the right position, then you need to balance the screw so it will go in straight while simultaneously applying pressure and twisting...slowly. needless to say the screw fell more than several times. as i was doing all this a quote i had heard on the weekend jumped out at me. i'm not sure exactly why it did but it did. see on saturday i went with my oldest brother john and my best friend nathan to see one of our favourite authors: Brian McLaren. he was speaking at a conference in Waterloo for the day and so we couldn't pass it up. it was something that he said that jumped back into my head as i was screwing these screws in. (now i don't remember word for word what he said, but to paraphrase) he said, "you know what we need is more younger people planting new churches; new postmodern churches" and as i was screwing in these screws i replied back to him (only in my head of course), "yeah but you know what Brian? starting new holes is hard." Brian didn't respond, probably because i was having this conversation with him in my head, but still there was no answer. so i continued, "see Brian you need to find a position and then you need to keep the screw straight and balanced while you simultaneously apply pressure and twist slowly." again, no response (again, probably because it was all in my head). Brian never did say much after that. but from what i know of him, he's a really wise man and if he was actually in that conversation, he would probably respond, "you're right darryl, starting new churches would be hard, but it wouldn't be impossible." and you know what? i believe him. i mean sure they might not have 'cordless drills' for what we want to do and so we have to do it all manually; no church planting kits for the kind of church we're imagining and dreaming of. we'll prolly have to do all the work and it will be hard, but it's not impossible. i mean when i think about it, there aren't that many combinations that build a greater anticipation with in me than NOT IMPOSSIBLE. i think its about time we start some new holes.