Sunday, March 31, 2013


At funerals, tragedies, and Easter many people contemplate the reality of death.  It is a topic that causes some people to plug their ears and hum to avoid facing their greatest fear. 

While some live never thinking about their death, others think about it every day.

Death is big business with warfare, estate management and funerary services. As with life, death has its share of regulators.

Politics and religion are both about establishing and preserving a way of life.  Governments are given authority (or take authority) over the affairs of humanity.  They concern themselves with laws that keep a civil and manageable society.   

Religion also exercises authority in the lives of its followers to promote behaviours and beliefs that will benefit God and the faith community.

The best governments and the best religions appear to offer certainty to their people, but all citizens and worshippers will eventually die.  None will get away without paying the piper or at least their taxes.

In talking about the development of the American constitution Benjamin Franklin said:

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.[i]

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ finds a world of religion and politics at war with God. However, Jesus was not the first or last hero to be executed by politics or religion. He joins a long list of misfits who threaten the power base of community controls.

The powerful and violent Roman government sided with the religious authorities in Jerusalem to do away with one they considered to be a viable threat to their stability and power base. If their mission had succeeded, Jesus would have disappeared into history as a misguided, minor figure executed by the state for insubordination.

But Jesus did not disappear into a grave—he emerges from death as the centerpiece of history. What kind of man rises from a grave and what does it mean? At the heart of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is a certainty that defies the conventional wisdom of politics and religion. 

[i] Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

50,000 PLUS

I just noticed my counter on the website has exceeded 50,000 hits. Thank you for landing here on occasion. I've had visitors from all over the globe.

The Orphan Age is built from the pieces of my sermons at New Song Church and occasionally at other venues.

Heading for 100,000 now. Grateful to God for the inspiration.

Friday, March 22, 2013


We need clear proclamation of the good news that Jesus has for the world. But we need to understand the physicality of being preachers of good news. Physicality requires a presence that communicates, heals, relieves suffering, cancels debt and enters the places of suffering.

The biblical term "gospel" means literally the good news of salvation and deliverance from all forms of human oppression through God’s grace promised by the prophets and guaranteed by the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary. The message of good news includes much more than personal salvation, although you would never know it listening to most preachers. Salvation in the personal sense is the starting point from which all other forms of deliverance arise. Salvation is the beginning, not the end of God’s will for human beings.[i]

Before the Gutenberg Press, oral communication was the primary means of transferring a message. The sense of hearing was pre-eminent until the medium of print documents. The sense of seeing text on a page did not eliminate oral communication, but worked in tandem with the message. Two of our five senses are involved in message transfers- hearing and seeing. What about taste, smell and touch?

The miracle of the loaves and fish draw the hearer of Jesus’ words into a full sensory experience of Jesus’ message. Evangelism (i.e. message proclamation) is essentially a five-senses message. The messenger becomes an extension of the message.

Preaching is more than speaking and writing words—it is an entering into the experience of the hearer and demonstrating goodness that affects their suffering.

The New Testament contributor James knew about the balance between what a disciple preaches and the corresponding behaviors.

James 1:
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The medium of looking after orphans and widows validates the disciple’s message. Some people are deceived into thinking that the message is enough or that they can say anything in the name of religion.

James 2:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

May God help us to faithfully proclaim and demonstrate Jesus’ message of good news.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Jesus was an incredible communicator. He used words and actions to teach. There’s an interesting insight given to us in Mark chapter 6 about the disciples’ ability to grasp Jesus’ message. At the end of a long day of ministry together, the disciples are fighting a storm at sea. Bear in mind that they heard Jesus preach all day and helped distribute the miracle of loaves and fish feeding thousands of people.

Mark 6:
48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

The disciples had the words of Jesus in abundance. The message was clearly articulated, but they had not understood the medium of loaves and fish. They had hard hearts towards the activity of the gospel and yet had listened all day to teaching.

We must guard our hearts from being only focused on words and not on the servant tasks of the gospel.

 Jesus gave us his mission statement in Luke chapter 4.

Luke 4:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What we need to grasp is the physicality of Jesus’ mission. The gospel was not just words from Heaven, but an incarnation--a physical embodiment of the message.

Think about the message of Jesus and the medium. They are inseparable.

John 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Referring to this passage, Eric McLuhan (son of Marshall McLuhan) said, “Christ is he through whom all things were made – he is the medium of creation. He is also called the Word, the Logos and we have that wonderful passage in Revelation, the opening, In the beginning was the word, it starts, so yes, Christ is the medium, in more ways than one: he is the medium of salvation as well as the medium of creation. And that medium of salvation aspect is very much the message – that there is no occasion for despair but only for hope. Heavens I would say that is a pretty good message, wouldn't you?” [i]

Saturday, March 16, 2013


The medium is the message—who said that?

Marshall McLuhan has been called ‘the high priest of pop culture’.[i] He is considered to be the first father and leading prophet of the electronic age. He was a philosopher of communication theory at the University of Toronto. He is also coined the phrase ‘global village’ and predicted the development of the worldwide web.

A Canadian born in 1911, McLuhan became a Christian through the influence of G.K. Chesterton in 1937. He wrote his monumental work, one of twelve books and hundreds of articles, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, in 1964. The subject that would occupy most of McLuhan's career was the task of understanding the effects of technology as it related to popular culture, and how this in turn affected human beings and their relations with one another in communities. [ii]

He passed away in 1980. In a 1976 interview with an Anglo-French journalist Nina Sutton, Marshall McLuhan described his journey to faith.

Marshall McLuhan: By the way, converts come in through the back door of the church. Coming in through the back door is coming in through the effects of the church, and not through its teachings. When you come in the front door you have first to swallow all the doctrines and all the teachings, which is what happens to the kids you see in school…
I had no religious yearnings or needs of any sort but I was quite aware of the claims of the church and I wanted to know what the claims were about. I became aware that the church had had an enormous effect in shaping Western man. I became aware of what the church claimed to be.
Now I had no religious belief at that time at all. I was an agnostic. But I finally decided that if the church is what it says it is, you are also told how to test that hypothesis and you are told to knock and knock and knock and demand to be shown.
…that, if it is what it says it is, it also says that you will be given the means of knowing.
Nina Sutton: So for about an hour, without admitting to it, he tried to convince me to knock on God’s door… all you have to do Nina is knock and he will answer. And I was absolutely moved because it was so uncharacteristic and it came from such a deep place in him.[iii]

In his journey to conversion, he talked about converts coming in through the back door of the church. The effect of the church gives convincing reasons to enter.

We are often focused on the ‘front door’ of correct teaching and appropriate protocols for entry. But it’s the back door, the beauty of the church living out the gospel of liberation that attracts people. For Marshall McLuhan the effect of the church led him eventually to the message of the church.

We would do well to realize that the church serving community needs becomes a medium for the message. It’s when the church recognizes its role as servant, when God’s words of grace and mercy become flesh in the urban core, in the neighbourhoods, in the schools, and community centres that church becomes God with skin on.

What would Marshall McLuhan think about the weary world’s cry for justice, and the church’s response? Are we opening a large enough back door in the 21st century that people can find find Jesus through the “effects” of our churches?

Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, ‘The medium is the message’. We will explore this idea in light of the tension between declaration and demonstration. In the context of God’s work in the world, there are those who insist that good news is primarily words and those who say that good news is primarily action, such as feeding the poor or other justice concerns. Let’s explore the idea that the actions and the words work in tandem, that the medium is the message.

i   pp. 53-74, in The Essential McLuhan, Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone (ed.), (New York: Basic Books, 1995), pp.233-69.

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