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Shantymen Christmas

I know I haven’t used this blog much lately, but I felt like there are some who would like to read this. This morning I presented the devotional for the Harbour Light Christmas service. While I was preparing the devotional, I had a half-remembered story stuck in the back of my brain, but I couldn’t remember any details. I went searching for the story online but couldn’t find it – I found these pictures instead. All pictures are from the January 11 1954 edition of Life Magazine, and were taken by George Silk. You can find the article here:


A Shantymen Legacy Christmas

Imagine a wooden boat, an old fishing troller, tossed about by the waves on a dark and stormy night. Imagine three men inside, peering into the darkness, hoping against hope to see the flash of a lighthouse, signalling their way into a safe harbour. Now, this alone would not be an unusual sight – these waters are home to many lonely fishing vessels, men scratching out an existence along the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. But this ship is different. For cargo instead of fish or ice is a box full of Christmas gifts and ornaments. Tied to the mast is a fine pine tree, ready to be given to a family that has never had a Christmas tree. These three men are not fishermen, but Shantymen; they consider themselves missionaries; men of God, travelling with the intention to share a little Christmas cheer with the isolated communities along the coast.


Finally, they see the light. The youngest of the three, Earl Johnson, says a silent prayer of thanks as he hangs on to the ship’s rail, shifting his weight as the ship rolls along with the swell. All three break into a spontaneous Christmas carol as they pull into Ucluelet, which is a Nuu-Cha-Nulth word for ‘Safe Harbour’.

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There in Ucluelet they distribute the few gifts they have, along with the Christmas tree. They are invited to participate in the Christmas Eve service, held in a little house that the Shantymen helped the town purchase and establish not long before. They share the good news of Christmas, much like we’re doing here This morning.

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Earl Johnson and Teddy George

Last month I had the chance to attend the wedding of my best friend growing up. His grandfather performed the ceremony – a man named Earl Johnson. It was Earl and others like him that set up little churches in Ucluelet and Tofino in the early 50’s, where the townsfolk of those small villages would gather to sing, eat, and pray together.

The little church in Ucluelet became Christ Community Church, and became a temporary home to my dad in the 70’s. Dad was running from a broken family and a series of bad choices, trying to find somewhere he could find some peace. He wound up living in the back of Christ Community Church, where he eventually met my mom. Both found their way because of people in that church.

Some years later a little boy would sit on the floor of that church, asking a pastor far too many questions for a Christmas Eve. I can still remember his laugh as he would attempt to answer questions he’d never even considered. The other kids would look at me skeptically, wondering why I couldn’t just shut up and listen to the story.

Earl and others like him shaped my faith – a faith not focused on systems or buildings, but a faith built on people – people willing to brave the cold and the wet to reach out their hand to their fellow human. Every Christmas I reflect on that boat that carried Earl and others like him up and down the coast, searching for a lighthouse and a friendly face, and on the faith that compelled them into the lonely places of the world, convinced that the birth of Jesus meant something so important that everyone should know about it. That is the legacy that brought me here – a legacy not of rulers or commanders, but a legacy of shepherds, sailors, and refugees.

Even Christ did not come as a ruler, but as a baby – as a baby to teenage mother, a baby that people whispered about – who’s his father? He was born before Joseph and Mary were married – is he a bastard? Yes, Jesus was born into a dirty stable to an unwed teenage mother – and this is the person I call Christ the King. This is the king that steers my ship – his hand is on the rudder, and all he asks of me is that I keep moving forward. So here’s to those rough around the edges. Here’s to those brave enough to face their fears and to move forward through the storms that life throws at them. And Merry Christmas, one and all!


Advent through the centuries: The eighth century

Sunday, December 8, 2013
The eighth century of the Church

Romans 15:4-13

For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope. Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Because of this I will confess you among the Gentilesand I will sing praises to your name.” And again it says: “RejoiceO Gentileswith his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentilesand let all the peoples praise him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will comeand the one who rises to rule over the Gentilesin him will the Gentiles hope.” Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


The Venerable Bede, homily 1.4, 673-735.

She [Elizabeth] cried out and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb‘. ‘Blessed are you among women’ — not only blessed among women, but specially distinguished among blessed women by a greater blessing. ‘Blessed the fruit of your womb’ — not that he was blessed in a general way of saints, but, as the Apostle [Rom 9:5] says, To them belong the patriarchs, [and] from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who above all, God blessed for ages.

Of the origin of this fruit, the psalmist bears witness in a mystical utterance, saying, For indeed the Lord will give his generosity, and our earth will gives its fruit. [Ps 85:12] The Lord indeed gave of his generosity in that he arranged to liberate the human race from the crime of its transgression through his only-begotten Son. He gave of his generosity because with the grace of the Holy Spirit he consecrated for his entry the temple of a virginal womb. And our earth gave its fruit because the same virgin who had her body from the earth bore a son who was coequal to God the Father in his divinity, but by the reality of [his] flesh consubstantial with her. Concerning this, Isaiah [4:2] also, looking toward the time of human redemption, said,On that day the bud of the Lord will be in magnificence and in glory, and the fruit of the earth will be sublime. The bud of the Lord was in magnificence and glory when the undying Son of God, appearing temporally in the flesh as a bright light, poured out upon the world the greatness of his heavenly virtues. The fruit of the earth became sublime when the mortal flesh which God received from our nature, already rendered immortal in virtue of the resurrection, was raised up to heaven.

bas-relief made by the Lombards in the 8th century, depicting kings coming before the infant Jesus.
bas-relief made by the Lombards in the 8th century, depicting kings coming before the infant Jesus.

Hymn for Advent, 8th century

Come, Sun and Savior, to embrace
Our gloomy world, its weary race,
As groom to bride, as bride to groom:
The wedding chamber, Mary’s womb.
At your great Name, O Jesus, now
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things on earth with one accord,
Like those in heaven, shall call you Lord.
Come in your holy might, we pray,
Redeem us for eternal day;
Defend us while we dwell below,
From all assaults of our dread foe.

Awesome, awesome, awesome thoughts from Dr. Perkins, someone I feel like I should have known about before now. Watch this, and you will understand my mentality on moving into the DTES. Thanks Chris!


If I could have a 5 minute conversation with anyone on this planet it would be Dr. John Perkins.  Be inspired.  The first 2 and a half minutes will stir you.  The talk begins at the 30 second mark.

“People need more than your used clothes.  They need more than that.  They need your presence.” – Dr. John M Perkins

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Genesis 1.3-31 Part 4

We’re almost out of the Creation narrative! It’s funny, I was expecting two posts on creation, and instead we’re winding up with four or five. I guess I should be more careful with my predictions in the future. Anyhow, as mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be taking a look at some of the theology presented in the creation story. What does this passage say about God? What does God have to say to us through this text? Is it even important?
That’s enough of a ramble. Here we go.


1:3 God said,  “Let there be  light.”  And there was light! 1:4 God saw  that the light was good, so God separated  the light from the darkness. 1:5 God called  the light “day” and the darkness “night.” There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day.

I think it is important to note that the previous verses referred to the ‘darkness’ over the surface of the water. While God was in the darkness, his first act of creation was the creation of light. This is powerful. Also note that the sun isn’t created for another few days… ever wonder why? Well, we’re going to explore one possible answer in a bit.
Here I want to touch on the word ‘yom’. This is the Hebrew word for ‘day’ as in ‘the first day’. There has been considerable debate over this word, mostly between those who read Genesis 1.3-2.3 completely literally, and so see creation as a literal seven 24-hour-day event, and those who read the passage figuratively. Those who read it figuratively have varied approaches. Some see each ‘day’ (yom) as an undefined period of time, mostly covering millions of years. While it is true that ‘yom’ is occasionally used as an undefined period of time (in the days of such and such, for example), that does not seem to be the case here. I think it’s safe to say that at least the original authors believed that it took seven literal days.

Personally, I read this as divine myth. I like to compare it to explaining sex to a six-year-old. If your six year old son or daughter asks you where babies come from, you are not going to tell them all the nitty gritty details. They’re not ready for that yet. All they need to know is that mommy and daddy love each other very much, and that that love helped to make the baby. With this perspective, I don’t need to make the creation event fit with a scientific understanding of the creation of the universe – I don’t need to reconcile a six or seven thousand year timeline with a several billion year timeline. Instead, I can focus on what this passage says about God, and how he cares for us. I think the literary structure of the creation narrative supports this view as well.

1:6 God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters and let it separate water from water. 1:7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. It was so. 1:8 God called the expanse “sky.” There was evening, and there was morning, a second day.

This passage has always fascinated me. It really illuminates the pre-scientific bias of the writer – The expanse, the area inhabited by plants, animals, and humanity, is seen as suspended between two areas of water. The water below is the sea, and the water above is the sky. To the premodern mind this makes perfect sense – the sky is blue, and water falls from it in the form of rain. It seems that the writer envisioned the world as suspended in a ‘bubble’ sustained and created by God, in the midst of chaos, as represented by the waters. Perhaps they thought the whole thing could collapse without God to hold it – they were dependent on God for their very survival.

1:9 God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear.” It was so. 1:10 God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters he called“seas.” God saw that it was good.

‘it was good’, meaning, it was the way it should be. It was how God wanted it. This is a powerful, powerful statement.

1:11 God said, “Let the land produce vegetation:  plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” It was so. 1:12 The landproduced vegetation – plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. God saw that it was good. 1:13 There was evening, and there was morning, a third day.

We’re coming up to a switch here – this is the last day of the ‘forming’ days. See, in the first three days God forms – Day one, light and darkness are formed, Day two, the sky and the sea are formed, and day three, the land with vegetation is formed. Again, this underscores the fact that the writers saw vegetation as fundamentally different than animals and even insects – they did not define it as ‘alive’ in the way that we do today.

Days four, five, and six are ‘filling’ days, as we will see presently.

1:14 God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years, 1:15 and let them serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” It was so. 1:16 God made two great lights – the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He made the stars also. 1:17 God placed the lights in the expanse of the sky to shine on the earth, 1:18 to preside over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. 1:19 There was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day.

Here, God fills the formed light and darkness with ‘lights’ – the stars, the sun, and the moon. The writers saw these as symbols – they did not attach the fact that light exists to the sun. This also shows the power of God over the sun and the moon – two objects that were often the centre of worship for the ancients. The Sun and moon are seen as gods in many ancient religions, including Egyptian and Babylonian. Often they are a married pair, with one being masculine (as in the Egyptian sun god Ra’) and the other being feminine (as in the Greek Moon Goddess Artemis). Here the writer is showing God’s supremacy over both the sun and the moon – their power is found in Him alone.

1:20 God said, “Let the water swarm with swarms of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” 1:21 God created the great sea creatures and everyliving and moving thing with which the water swarmed, according to their kinds, and everywinged bird according to its kind. God saw that it was good. 1:22 God blessed them and said,“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” 1:23 There was evening, and there was morning, a fifth day.

Here, on Day five, the seas and the sky are filled with life – birds, and fish. Note that this corresponds with day two – the forming of the sea and sky. See a pattern?

1:24 God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” It was so. 1:25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the cattle according to their kinds, and all the creatures that creep along the ground according to their kinds. God saw that it was good.

1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.

1:28 God blessed  them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moveson the ground.” 1:29 Then God said, “I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the faceof the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 1:30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.” It was so.

1:31 God saw all that he had made – and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.

And finally, day six – the filling of the land with animals, both beasts and domestic, and the creation of humanity. This presents humanity as intimately connected with the created world – not something separate, but made of the same stuff. The only difference is that only humanity has the breath of God (interesting that ‘God breathed’ into humanity, and in 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told that Scripture is ‘God breathed’… I’ll leave you to ponder that one).

And so we have two distinct pairs in creation – forming and filling. Not only that, but they correspond to each other!

Day One / Four: Forming of the darkness and the light / filling of the darkness and light
Day Two / Five: Forming of the sky and sea / filling of the sky and sea with life
Day Three / Six: Forming of the land and vegetation / filling of the land with life

Isn’t it beautiful? To me, this was written to be poetic, and to give credit to the power of an almighty God. It was not written to be a scientific understanding of the order of Creation. I mean, light being created before the sun? Vegetation being created before the sun? Possible, sure. Likely… well, only if God is lying to us through the creation we can see around us. I personally don’t think he is. Regardless of your thoughts on whether this creation account should be taken literally or not, the poetry is there, and we don’t talk about it enough.

2:1 The heavens and the earth were completed with everything that was in them. 2:2 By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing,  and he ceased on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing. 2:3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy  because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation.

This is a day set apart by God, and provides balance to the work of the rest of the week. It’s a day to honour what God has done for us!

And there we have it – finally, finally, through the creation account. I’m exhausted, I don’t know about you. I’m going to hop back over to Mark next, and I hope you’ll join me. We’ll get to the next verse in Genesis soon. Thanks for hanging in there, dear reader!

Cars, Work, Decisions, and the faithfulness of God.

I turned down what I love to be where I love. 


In my final months at Columbia Bible College, I applied to three grad schools: University of Edinburgh, Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, and Regent College, here in Vancouver. While Edinburgh turned me down, I was accepted at both Regent and Conrad Grebel. Conrad Grebel offered me a tuition-free scholarship.


This should have been a no-brainer. Why would I say no? I love learning, love the college environment, love study. And yet, something held me back. The idea of traveling across the country, leaving friends, family, and home for the sake of two or three years of education did not feel right.

One of the reasons that leaving did not feel right is that my wife and I have long felt like our place was in Vancouver, living in the Downtown East Side with our friends – many of whom are addicted and impoverished. After praying and talking a great deal with friends and family, we began to put into motion our plan to move to Vancouver. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been working for a construction company all summer. While the pay has been decent, the job has presented me with a dilemma. How do I apply for jobs in the DTES, many of which start with casual (part-time) hours, while working ten hour days with a two hour commute? I desperately wanted to quit my job (and lose my expensive and time-consuming commute), and simply trust God to provide me with a job in the DTES. 

I also know that God gives us good sense and the ability to work hard. Quitting would not be a clever idea, not with bills and rent and food to provide.

We did find a place in Vancouver, however, and my anxiety began to rise as I realized just how tricky this transition from full-time construction to DTES who-knows-what would be.

finally, moving week arrived. Wednesday I had an Interview with Union Gospel Mission – well, it was called an interview, but it was more of a ‘when can you start?’ discussion. The job is casual though, and so the hours would vary from week to week, with no promises on how many hours I could get. The more available you are, the more hours you can get… but it’s hard to be available when you’re gone twelve hours every day. More confusion, more anxiety.


Friday was moving day at last. I went to work, leaving my brother and wife to pack up the apartment and get ready for our move, which would begin after I got home from work around 6pm. God, however, had other ideas. Literally two days after my interview at UGM, I was laid off from my job. The work was slowing down, and myself and four or five others were gone. 

My drive home was interesting. I did a lot of thinking and praying. Strangely, my anxiety was pretty well gone. It was pretty clear to me that this was God closing a door, and pushing me somewhere. If being laid off wasn’t clear enough, however, God decided to hammer the message home. After I arrived in Abbotsford, I picked up my brother and left to pick up the rental moving truck. As we went over a speed bump in the CBC parking lot, the entire muffler detached from the car.

What are those odds?

After driving this car for a month, after traveling over 150 km a day, after going over fifteen or twenty traffic-calming speed dumps every day, the muffler falls off AFTER I get laid off, and AFTER I made it back to Abbotsford. Crazy.

We got the muffler patched up, and the move happened really smoothly (almost all moved in!). While I could see the muffler falling off and losing my job as hugely negative things, I see them as God speaking in really exciting ways. He cares, about mufflers, about anxiety, about the little things and the big things. God is Good.

Jesus vs. Empire – or, How I Almost Bought a Car.

It was so easy. I need a car – don’t I deserve a nice car? I can afford it, can’t I? Of course I can.

Maybe I should step back a little.

The story really starts 2 weeks ago, when Will, my carpool buddy, handed in his two-week notice. Suddenly I was rideless to a fairly well-paying job in Delta, about an hour away from where I live. With no car, I was going to be out of work – finding something for minimum wage in Abbotsford, or being completely unemployed for at least a while. With plans in the works to move to Vancouver, I realized that this just couldn’t be the case. I was going to need to find a car somehow. The job was too perfect to give up – a great transition job for supporting us over the summer and into next year.

I looked for other people to carpool with, but on Friday afternoon all of my options fell through. That was yesterday. Today, I headed to the dealerships to see what was available. First stop was Ford – a peppy little Fiesta, not too old, a pretty car, and pretty cheap too. Too small though, with almost no leg room in the back and really, just not my thing. Next stop was VW.

I love VWs. The new Golfs are awesome, and they were having a sale day, lots of buzz and excitement. I also love the idea of a diesel – 900 kms to a 60 dollar tank of gas! I test drove a 2012 TDI, and it was awesome. I loved it. I knew it was expensive, but I had never gone down the new car route, and so I thought I would pursue financing and see what would happen.

I’ve only been working at my job for 3 weeks, I thought that I would definitely need a cosigner or something. Amazingly, they approved me, no questions asked. I couldn’t decide to be happy or petrified. THEY want to give ME 30,000 dollars for a new car? ridiculous! Apparently I’ve managed to have great credit, somehow.

The TDI turned out to be too expensive, so we looked at other options. We found a nice VW rabbit, not too fancy, for close to 20,000. Not bad, I figured. We looked at financing, and it seemed possible – only 170! (bi-weekly, they would say quickly). We thought, yes, we could do this!

Then the upsale started. ‘Well, why would you get a four-year-old vehicle for 170, when you could get a brand-new 2012 gas Golf for 199? Seems good, right?’ It did. We were still not sure though… and then the iPad came out. Brand new iPad 3, still in the box. And a free tank of gas. And 90 days no payments. And Zero money down. We could literally drive the $28,000 car off the lot, no questions asked for 90 days, based on my 15-dollar an hour salary.

And we wonder why our economy is in trouble.

It seemed so good. So many perks. So much sweet-talk, by very well-meaning people. it’s only 199! you can afford this! you could work some extra overtime! My wife hadn’t let go of the iPad since it appeared.

I started doing math. Over and over again. It made sense, today – my job pays pretty well, our rent is cheap… but this isn’t about today, this is about 94 months. 8 years. 8 years of 400 dollars a month. And yet, we said yes.

We moved to the next stage, financing. By now, my unease was growing, a rock in my gut hardening. This was normal, the financing agent told me. Everyone goes through this. don’t worry about it, you deserve this! You can afford it! The feeling in my stomach got worse. Carlye was sending me worried glances – she could tell I was uncomfortable.

Suddenly, the 400 a month began to grow. warranty packages – the price grew from 202 to 215 (biweekly). Somehow that 13 dollars was the tipping point. my whole body felt tense and upset – God began to yell at me. This wasn’t right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it wasn’t right. I then began to think about insurance, about fuel – big factors.

I excused myself to the washroom, and washed my face. This wasn’t me.

I wanted to be the guy who could have a regular steady job, a nice car, a nice apartment. I like Nice Things. and Empire, in the guise of a car company, promised me that I could have them – that I deserved them.

I am not that guy. It’s simply not me. I realized that if I signed that final piece of paper, if I said Yes to Empire, I would be saying No to Christ. I would be saying Yes to making life decisions based on whether I could make my car payments, rather than saying Yes to making life decisions based on where Christ leads my wife and I. Want to go to Thailand for a year? too bad, car payments. Want to live simply among the poor? Too bad, car payments.

The question wasn’t whether I needed a car or not – the question was whether I would practice what I preach when the rubber hits the road. Would I pamper myself, while claiming to love the poor? Or would I deny the god of Self, give up what I ‘deserve’, and trust that God would provide?

Before signing the final line, knowing that my job was on the line, I said no. I said sorry for wasting their time (it was now 8:00 – we had been there since noon), and I said no. Carlye put the iPad back on the table, a little remorsefully. Empire did not understand. It still doesn’t. They actually gave us the car, risk free, for 48 hours. They’re convinced we’ll change our minds. We won’t.

I called my family after the ordeal was over. My wife and I were exhausted. I talked to my brother on the phone – my financially clever, and incredibly generous brother. He offered us his old car, at zero percent interest, paying what we can when we can. I almost cried. This was Christ – this was the Kingdom. This was everything that the Empire was not. And Christ, the gentleman that he is, waited until I came to my own realizations before offering me His plan. I needed to choose the Kingdom before the Kingdom could choose me.

I’m not saying that everyone should give up buying cars. I am saying that everyone should be wise in their purchasing, and battle between the self and God. Everyone should understand that Empire is attractive – that leaving the Kingdom path does not come in giant leaps, but in small steps towards ‘independence’. The Kingdom is interdependent and communal. The Kingdom is not independent and financial.

Today God empowered my wife and I to choose the Kingdom, to choose His way over my desire. It is the harder path. It is the more uncomfortable path. It is the path less traveled. It is the true and best path. I encourage you to choose it as well.

I am inconsistent.

I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. I started a new job this week, with long hours, so this blog has started to fall behind already – I think it’s been a week since I posted last. This will be my second week of work, and hopefully on a more consistent schedule, so I’ll be posting more often hopefully. Rest assured, I am not giving up this time!


I probably will post on Wednesday or Thursday next, so stay tuned!