Monthly Archives: March 2014

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks

St. Boniface Kirk, Papa Westray, Scotland. Photo by Douglas Hourston

St. Boniface Kirk, Papa Westray, Scotland. Photo by Douglas Hourston

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise… – Jesus words to the thief on the cross.


On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land
Where my possessions lie

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land…

Death has been a close companion to me in the last 6 months. My dad died in October. He would have been 84 in December and I’d love to tell you that he lived a long and healthy life but that would be lying. Long yes, healthy no. My dad’s youth had been a difficult one – fleeing violence and turmoil in Ukraine during WW2, being drafted into and then running away from the Hitler Jugend in Germany, then, when the war was finally over, starting a new but difficult life in South America. Dad never got over the trauma he experienced and he treated himself with years of alcohol abuse as he tried to out–pace the inner-demons that would chase him his whole life. When his end came, he was ready to go and was surrounded by his wife, his children and grandchildren – all there because we loved him. I miss him a lot.

me, dad, my sister, Benita, about a year and a half before dad died.

me, dad, my sister, Benita, about a year and a half before dad died.

Last week, 3 of my friends said goodbye to their parents. All of them elderly, all of them in ill-health, all dearly loved and missed. Even though their lives were long and full –it’s hard to say goodbye and I know that my friends are now joining me on a journey of grieving.
We heard this song at Dad’s memorial service as we watched slides of his life. Dad had a difficult relationship with the church, where he felt judged and unwelcome but he told me on many occasions that he believed that there was a God up there somewhere. On the day before he died, he told me he was ready to go and I believe he was.

No chilling wind nor poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore
Where sickness, sorrow, pain and death
Are felt and feared no more

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land…


Shortly after Dad’s death, I was in a worship service and had a vision of Dad in his Lazy Boy, sitting beside Jesus, and the two of them clapping their hands and enjoying the music. Given that he lived in hell for most of his life, it gave me great joy to think of him there, free from pain and death and fear… he looked so happy.

When my son suggested we sing this song at the Good Friday Blues service, I smiled and thought “yes.” Unlike the other songs we’ll hear at these services, this one is not a story-telling song, it does not dwell on the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death but it is a song that expresses a deep longing. We are here now, on those stormy banks and looking across the river to the other side, where Jesus promised we’d see him. The fact that someone I love has crossed over that river already, makes the longing even greater… but this song gives me joy and comfort. I hope it will be so for you when you hear it too.


Have Mercy



The light shines in the darkness but the darkness did not comprehend it… John 1


 I put the nails in your hands, swung the hammer with all my might

Left you hangin’ there Lord, bleeding from Your side

Well I hated your words, they were just too true

What I wanted was salvation, But not, not through you


I am a creature of contradictions. When things are going wrong, I cry out to God, I lean on God, I am keenly aware of God’s work in my life, helping me navigate difficult waters.

But when things get better, as they inevitably do, I take back control, stop leaning on God, figuring I can do it all by myself.

Lord, Have mercy.

This should be my daily prayer: Have mercy on me, a sinner. Whether in good times or struggles I need to remember my deep dependence on my Creator in whom I live and move and have my being. (Acts 17:28)

The song Have Mercy was written nearly twenty years ago by a friend of mine, Johnny Unger, when he was part of a band called Feedback (which later became Rockford Special). Two of the original band members, Chris Teichroeb and Byron Wiebe, are part of the Good Friday Blues Band and when Byron suggested this song, I knew we had to do it.

The song is a confessional prayer. It minces no words, calls it like it is: I have chosen to ignore you, I want salvation on my terms and every time I do that, I mock your death. I may as well have been there, swinging the hammer.

Lord I know I’m a sinner, It’s been by your grace I’ve been saved

Oh I don’t deserve it, But there it is…

Thank you for what you did for me, Please forgive me for my sins

You put down your crown and you came for me Lord

Please don’t let me forget where I stand

Right there, in those last two lines, that’s the nugget: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He didn’t wait for us to get our shit together or wait for us to stop falling short, he just demonstrated his love for us by dying for us anyway. That’s mercy.

How have you experienced God’s mercy in your life?



Hand it Over


If your problems won’t go away

and you’re worried night and day

hand it over

get on your knees and pray
If you’re sick, feeling low

got no money, got nowhere to go

hand it over

get on your knees and pray

This is not my mom, but i love the strength in this image

This is not my mom, but i love the strength in this image

I’ve had the great blessing of having a mother whose life is governed by prayer. Her tombstone will read: “She prayed”. She has not had a particularly easy life. Her family grew up knowing hardship and poverty. She is an immigrant and so her story is typical that way – having to learn a new language, new society, find work and all that. She was married for more than 50 years to an alcoholic husband, whom she loved despite the crap we often lived with as a result of his drinking. She’s had her own health challenges including a bout with cancer more than 40 years ago. Some would call her stubborn, which would not be inaccurate, but I prefer to think of it as resolute in her faith. No matter what she faces, she is a prayer warrior, truly.

But mom isn’t just one to lay her shopping list before the Lord and expect him to deliver. She prays and waits. She’ll say her prayers are always answered, it’s just that sometimes, they’re answered in unexpected ways and in God’s time, not hers. And while she waits, she does what she can to the best of her abilities and trusts that God will work things out.

Prayer by Abbotsford artist Linda Klippenstein

Prayer by Abbotsford artist Linda Klippenstein

Ain’t no mountain you can’t climb

ain’t no answer you can’t find

All you need is a hand to hold

It’ll heal your body, feed your soul
If the road is dark and you can’t find your way

just let the spirit light the way

Hand it over

Get on your knees and pray


Jesus also knew the power of prayer, which is always encouraging to me, considering the mountain he had to climb. He pleaded with God to have the fate before him removed but also had the courage to accept that fate and trust that God’s will was best. Even so, when hanging on that cross, Jesus also cried out “why have you abandoned me?” It’s comforting to me to know that these were not his last words on the cross… Jesus committed his spirit to his Father and then announced the completion of his work: It is finished.

People nailed their blues to the cross (which we took home and burned later, so they are totally private) It was moving to see the cross fill up with concerns and cares and people nailed them and left them there. It was a moving experience!

At the Good Friday services, you’ll have a chance to nail your blues to the cross. It’s become a tradition to do this symbolic thing – taking the sorrows of life and handing them over to God, trusting that we are not abandoned, committing them to God, and awaiting the completion of God’s work in our lives and in our world. It’s a powerful act.

keb mo

This year, we’re incorporating that prayer into this song, Hand it Over, by Keb ‘Mo. This is a such a great song – simple without being simplistic, a declaration of faith.

What does prayer mean to you?

Love Comes Down

love on fire

You can’t beat the heat
He’s red hot on your trail
He’s the love enforcer

an’ He’s paid your bail
It’s much more than emotion,

It’s not just in your head
You gotta die to get life…

 …That’s the way it is with Him!

That’s when the Love comes down…

 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.1 John 4

When I read the Bible, I see a pattern of pursuit: humankind turns its back on God until we realize we screwed up and when we turn around to come home, we find God already running towards us. Like the story of the lost son – But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20).

If there’s a way to describe God’s love, it might be “relentless”. When I think of my own life, there are countless times when I’ve turned my back on God, when I’ve felt completely alone and was so angry with God for abandoning me in my despair, only to realize He was actually carrying me through whatever crap it was I was going through at the time. He chased me around. Sometimes I was running away, sometimes I was just so sad or hurt or angry that I didn’t even realize I was shutting God out… and then, when I’d give up and turn back, God was there, waiting, loving me anyway. That’s relentless love.


This song, by the Resurrection Band (also known as the Rez Band) is classic 80s Christian-rock. The band was formed in the 70s as part of the Jesus People movement and their blend of blues and hard rock was truly cutting edge. Christianity Today called them “the most influential band in Christian music history.” Love Comes Down reminds us of God’s relentless pursuit of us – so strong was His love for humankind that He was willing to sacrifice His Son for us. So strong was Jesus’ love for humankind that He was willing to be sacrificed. That is love.

When my 21- year-old son discovered this song, it drew him in. “This is how we have to start the Good Friday Blues service, mom. Remind everyone that this is how God loves us. Melt their faces.” So that’s what we’re doing. Look out behind you , here it comes: Relentless love.

How have you experienced God’s love in your life?

Good Friday Blues 3.0 – Love Comes Down

whole band on stage

Well, we’re back! And we’re really excited to be in rehearsals again for this year’s Good Friday Blues Services.

As we began preparing for this year (literally, the day after last year’s services were done) we kept coming back to this word: LOVE.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

“And this is love: that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

These are some of the thoughts that inform and infuse the songs we’ve chosen for the service this year. There’s blistering rock/blues tunes, thoughtful meditative blues tunes, old time blues, new time blues – all blues… songs that speak from a place of conviction, deep within. We’ll have prayers and readings, poetry and art and you’ll have a chance to nail your blues to the cross. Each Friday during Lent, I’ll blog about some of the tunes we’re doing. I hope you’ll join us on this journey of meditation.

People nailed their blues to the cross (which we took home and burned later, so they are totally private) It was moving to see the cross fill up with concerns and cares and people nailed them and left them there. It was a moving experience!

Here’s how you can help us:

  1. Pray with us. Pray for us as we rehearse that we’ll be diligent, creative, patient and passionate. Pray that we’ll stay healthy. Pray for the services – that God will meet each of us there, that the Holy Spirit will guide us in our worship, that the Christ will be glorified by all that’s said and sung.
  2. Come! And bring a friend! The $5 that you spend on your ticket will go to support Cyrus Centre – a ministry for street-entrenched youth in the Fraser Valley (none of the band members get paid for this gig.)
  3. If you cannot come, consider making a donation to Cyrus Centre. Their unique work is greatly needed and they don’t get one penny of government funding. It’s worth our support!

This year’s event will be held Maundy Thursday April 17th and Good Friday April 18th at 7:30 both evenings. Tickets are $5 and are available at the House of James – they sell fast, so get yours early and don’t be disappointed!