About Sid Ypma

Sid Ypma is a Christian Reformed Campus Chaplain at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, ON

Our World Belongs to God – Reflections

In my first two years on campus at the University of Ottawa, I held a series of conversations with students asking for their reactions to the Christian Reformed Contemporary Testimony, Our World Belongs to God.  The participants included both Christians of a variety of denominations and non-Christians who were willing to give me some honest feedback while reading the testimony with me.  I am very thankful for their time and their responses.  In response to these listening conversations I will be writing a series of reflective devotions that I will share on this blog.  Today is the first of these devotions.  To those who read them, I hope they serve their intended purpose, which is to reflect upon what it is that Christians believe.  I welcome your feedback and thoughts, not only on the devotions, but also upon the testimony of Our World Belongs to God.  Your responses can…

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Advent 3: “Home” Through the Wilderness

Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water.  When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” – Exodus 15:22-24

National-Lampoons-Vacatio-001Back in the 1980’s there was a popular movie called “Vacation” staring Chevy Chase.  It chronicled the Griswald family vacation as they journeyed across the United States to an amusement park called Wally World.  Of course a movie wouldn’t have much appeal if it was a simple A to Z sort of journey.  This story includes the wrong ugly station wagon (is there another kind?), teenagers embarrassed by their un-cool parents (is there another kind?), visits with strange cousins Catherine and Eddie, the unwanted travelling addition of Aunt Edna (who has the nerve of dying on the trip), the cruel death of a dog and when they finally arrive at Wally World, wouldn’t you know.. it’s closed.  Only a movie can make any of these things funny, in reality these events would make us cry.

The Israelite journey sometimes reminds me of the Griswald family vacations in that it often has a “if it can go wrong, it will” sort of feel to it.  But because it isn’t a movie, it isn’t that funny.  Consider the Israelite journey leading to Exodus 15:

God calls Abram out of comfort to be a nomad. – Abram and Sarah have to wait a century for children. – A re-enforced a barrenness plan is thrust upon subsequent generations. – The lying twin named Jacob with a reputation for crooked choices is the chosen one. – The family is saved from famine through Egyptian enemies. – Salvation eventually turns into slavery through an Egyptian pyramid scheme (okay I couldn’t resist sliding that in) – God listens to the cries of the people and raises up a heroic leader named Moses. – Powerful plagues give witness to God’s control over creation. – The people are freed from slavery and they walk through the Red Sea on dry ground. – The people party like it’s 1446 BC.

82Keller.qxdAnd so they begin to make their way to the Promised land.  Three days later…3 days…and they begin to grumble about a lack of food. If you consider what they’ve just witnessed it seems unbelievable.  Over the course of their wilderness journey we read in Exodus that the Israelites grumbled at least 19 times, 5 of those times in the first month after they walked through the Red Sea.  They are such a bunch of ungrateful, short sighted, egotistical, and selfish people.

complain lemonsExcept that none of us are ready to call them that are we?  For we know we are a people who can wake up in the morning to a ray of sunshine, but when our toast burns we’re already mumbling about a crummy start to our day.  We get to study in world class universities, but an 8 o’clock class has us cursing the schedule maker.  Our kids can play happily for an hour, but in the one-minute that they choose to go in the forbidden cupboard, we let out an exasperated yelp of frustration because “you kids never listen!”  And these are only the day-to-day matters.  What about when it comes to weightier matters of faith and life.  We can have freedom to come and go as we please and live a lifestyle that is by most standards around the world abundantly rich, yet when the stock market dips we feel hard done by.  We can have perfect health for fifty years and then when there is a medical hiccup we wonder why God would let this happen. Short-sightedness is not just an eye problem but a heart and soul problem, and it wasn’t a disease that only infected the ancient Israelites, it affects all of us today.  When we hear the people grumble and complain at the waters of Marah, which means bitter, the reaction we should have is not one of self-righteousness, but rather it should humble us because we are looking in a mirror.  And sometimes we need to take a good look so that we are aware of just how ugly we can be.

Jordan-wilderness-e1324397675349It’s a good thing that no one in the Israelite camp had their own GPS tracking device because if they would have plugged in the coordinates of the Promised Land they likely would have been driven crazy by the little voice that says, “re-calculating.”  God’s takes them on a path through the wilderness that is not the easy route between Egypt and the Promised Land.  This tends to frustrate not only the Israelites, but we today as well, for we all tend to want to take the path of least resistance, the one that we can makes sense of, the one that we can control.  But our way “home” through the wilderness always seems aimed at getting us to let go of personal control.

The season of advent is a season in which we long for a perfect world, a beautiful place, we long for God to make all things right.  But we long for it because we very much understand that we are like the Israelites wandering in the desert.  We have days where it is so hot that you could fry an egg on our back, it’s so dusty you can taste it, our feet have blisters, our kids want to know how much further we have to go, and did we mention that it’s hot?  Our spouse doesn’t want to stop and ask for directions, the same diet of bread is getting old, the group in front of us has a nasty digestion problem, if you know what I mean, and did I mention that it’s really hot?  Yes we know what it means to walk the desert journey and we can find lots of things to complain about. smelly baby But advent is a time to remember that God’s ways and God’s timing are not ours. God’s journey…get this…includes using a baby to transform the world.  Babies cry, they need diaper changes, they sleep a lot (you hope), and they need constant care.  A baby is not a neat, clean, tidy and efficient way to redeem the world…but we know that eventually this baby shows what true life is all about…but that story takes time, it takes a lifetime.  And the baby needs to learn to walk before it can run.  And so do we.

Advent 2: To find “Home” one must “Go”

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went…”  Genesis 12:1-4a


you-are-here2It is quite something to feel one`s smallness.  Last year I accepted the challenge of beginning a campus chaplaincy at the University of Ottawa.  I remember walking the densely populated hallways and walkways during frosh week 2012 and wondering what I had gotten myself into.  I was raised in a devout Christian family where the Bible was read at every meal.  I had been Christian schooled and trained under those steeped in Abraham Kuyper`s “every square inch” theology.  On then to a Christian University, then on to work in that same Christian University, then on to seminary before taking a call to pastor a church for six years before moving to Ottawa.  Walking then in the University sea of diversity – a diversity of ethnicity, convictions, and intellectual pursuits – I found myself meaningfully experiencing what it is to be the stranger in the land.

I felt small. I felt scared. I felt out of control.  Thank God.

As easy as it is for us to cloister ourselves among people who think, act, and believe the same as we do, the Biblical message is one of going.  The book of Genesis isn’t centred on the creation narrative; it’s centred on the call of Abram.  SumerianZigguratIn Genesis 11 the post-flood people said “Come, let US build OURSELVES a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let US make a name for OURSELVES.”  It represented a self-centered desire to be autonomous, uniform and self-inflated.  God hated it.  God interrupted it.  God scattered them.  And their desires and words are contrasted with God’s words in chapter 12 to Abram when God says, “I will show you, I will bless you, I will curse those needing cursing.  You won’t make a name for yourselves; I will be the one to make your name great. And ALL peoples will be blessed through you.”

And Abram went…to be a stranger…to go to the place God would show him.

hymn_trust_obeyThe subsequent “going” as it is played out among Abram’s descendants, the nation of Israel, is filled with twists, turns, challenges and repeated returns to “Babel” status.  But God never gives up and He continuously pushes his people to “go” and take on a “stranger” status.  And it’s in the Gospel that God himself re-enacts the ultimate call to “go” and to be a “stranger” in the land.  The journey to a manger in Bethlehem is God’s way of leading his people in a way of “going” and of being “small” and being out of “control”…Thank God.

Advent 1: Longing for More Than Rockwell

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. – Genesis 1:31

mothers day offIn 1916, the cover of the Saturday Evening Post contained the illustration on the left called “Mother’s Day Off.”  I’m sure that those who subscribed to this magazine back in the day didn’t realize that they were receiving first edition prints of one North America’s most famous 20th century artist/illustrators; Norman Rockwell.  Over the course of the next 50 years Rockwell produced numerous prints of American life, most of them depicting a clean wholesome traditional way of living.  One might describe Rockwell’s illustrations as nostalgic, capturing the emotion and heart of scenes that we long for, capturing the emotions of days gone by.  He creates a picture of home that people long for.

Norman-Rockwell-ChristmasAt Christmas time many people long for home.  And what they long for is a Norman Rockwell ideal. At Christmas we want to sigh and remember children opening presents with wrapping paper tossed aside, large turkey dinners with Grandma’s special stuffing recipe, and even singing at church with all the traditional Christmas carols.  We long for such scenes, but…but our homes include annual arguments over which family is hosting the extended gathering, uncle Norman’s one drink too many comments that makes everyone squirm and the pain of remembering people who are no longer sitting at the so-called festive table.  We may feel nostalgic for home at Christmas time, but what is it that we’re truly longing for?

The home we’re longing for is a “good” creation.  In fact, it could be argued that although we don’t know what heaven will look like, the best description is found in the creation account.  God’s good, just, beautifully ordered world is what we all long for – a place of Shalom. Shalom writes Neal Plantinga is,

The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. . . . In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which the natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be . . . In a shalomic state each entity would have its own integrity or structured wholeness, and each would also possess many edifying relations to other entities.”[i]

Such Shalom is more appealing than any Norman Rockwell painting.

Dame Barbara Hepworth Creation

“Creation” – Dame Barbara Hepworth

But we’re not home now are we?  If we are all longing for what is right, if we are longing for rest and shalom, then that likely means we are all too painfully aware that our current setting is not home.  And that’s probably one of the greatest ironies of trying to reproduce Norman Rockwell Christmas scenes.  No amount of tinsel strewn around our living room is going to make cancer disappear.  One more chocolate letter and Christmas card is not going to change the bad decisions that have caused addictions in our family.  The perfectly cooked turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce aren’t going to bring back the loved one that we’ve lost.   Buying a plastic blow up Santa Claus from Canadian Tire is not going to eradicate aids in Africa.  We may read about the perfection of the Garden of Eden, we may read about the beauty of God’s creation and we may know that it describes what home is supposed to be, but our present reality no matter how we try to dress it up at Christmas reminds us that we are not home.

This Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent.  In the Christian calendar, Advent marks the start of a New Year.  Advent is the season of anticipation which might equally be interpreted as a season of prayer, because we’re praying and waiting upon God.  The Christmas scene is far from quaint and nostalgic. The first Christmas was a tiresome journey as the result of oppressive requirements from a foreign occupied Roman rule. It was a “no more room” birth in a dirty stable.  Therefore Advent is a season in which the Christmas narrative reminds us that God, through small humble beginnings, interrupts the world’s expectations of power and begins to re-establish home. To this we sing, “O’Come, O’Come, Emmanuel.”

[i] Neal Plantinga, “Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be”

Without Shame

And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. – Genesis 2:25


Lifebuoy adOne of my favourite radio programs is the CBC’s “Under The influence” (formerly “The Age of Persuasion”) hosted by Terry O’Reilly .  O’Reilly gives both an exposition of the tricks of the trade in the world of advertising and an exposition of human gullibility.  More often than not I am stunned at how we are subtly (and not so subtly) shaped by commercial means.  One of the shows that recently caught my attention was an episode entitled “Shame: The Secret Tool of Marketing.”  He says,

“The strategy of “shame” is one of the most powerful marketing tools in modern times. Fear of being judged by our peers has led to billions of dollars of products being sold.  Social embarrassment isn’t just a mix of humiliation, mortification and distress, it’s also a heady cocktail of marketing, strategy and product solutions. And the marketing industry has a vested interest in keeping shame alive and well.”

listerine ad %22how's you breath today-%22For example O’Reilly traces is the use of deodorant.  Before the 20th century deodorant wasn’t something used by your average person.  Through the use of advertising the suggestion was planted that people around you are judging you based on your smell.  Almost overnight people began to buy deodorant because body smell was something to be ashamed of.  Or how about mouth wash.  Listerine was originally used as a floor cleanser but it was discovered that it could kill oral germs.  The only problem was that no one was worried about bad breath.  Listerine created advertising about the problem of “halitosis” and a new market for mouth wash was created.  Before 1960 people didn’t worry about dandruff, but advertising taught us that it is something to be ashamed of and Head Shoulders was there to solve our “problems.”  It took Wisk almost 10 years to convince us that “ring around the collar” was an embarrassment, but they got there.  The list goes on.

What is most shameful appears to be the ease in which we sink into and hold onto shame.

At the end of Genesis 2, the end of the narrative of scripture which is traditionally labeled as “Creation” (a good and perfect creation) the statement is made that “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25) At the pinnacle of beauty, relationship and order this incredible statement describes a world without shame.  We then read in the next chapter that when humanity felt the need to be all knowing, to be like God, the first consequence was…shame – “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

And so began life with shame.  But it is not something to accept.  Salmon Rushdie once wrote, “Shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture.” (“Shame”)  We accept so many of the lies culture tells us, everything from believing that our children will grow up undeveloped if we don’t put them in umpteen activities to the belief that your front lawn isn’t good enough if it sprouting dandelions or that being sweet 16 and never kissed as being a bad thing (and we’re not talking about mom and dad’s loving pecks on the cheek).   These lies are based in the shame of not being good enough.  So many of us have learned to live with shame and it is to the detriment of the goodness of creation and the glory of God.

0609forgiveness2The apostle Paul writes to the Philippian church, “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (Philippians 3:18-21)

Without getting into a full exposition of this passage, the line that jumps out for me is the comment of “their god is their belly and their glory is in their shame.”  Where do we find our glory?  Are we content to bow to shame?  Too often we seem to settle into the very things we have been sold as worthwhile and important.  We wake up in the morning more worried about body odor, bad breath and grey hair than enjoying the fruit of the creation and the freedom to walk with God…as he made us, beautiful, original, and in his image.  Our lives and our identities are not defined by shame and the judgment of others but by a generous God who is constantly transforming us by his spirit.  If we understand heaven correctly as not just a place of clouds and harps, but a restored creational order, then we live the future in the present, we strive for more of heaven on earth, we work towards “the man and his wife [being] both naked, and…not ashamed.”

Awed to Heaven AND Rooted in Earth

royal oakOn Monday evenings the BREW discussion group at the University of Ottawa often reflects on quotes from different sources.  Last Monday we discussed three quotes that were not unrelated and led the group to land on a central thought.

The first quote we discussed came fromRichard Rohr a Franciscan Friar who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation.  He wrote:

richard rohr“I sincerely hate to say it, but I fear that Platonic philosophy has had more influence in Christian history than Jesus. The Jesus and Christ event says that matter and spirit, divine and human are not enemies, but are two sides of the same coin. They, in fact, reveal one another. For Plato, the body and the soul are mortal enemies and largely incompatible. Our poor sexual theology and our lackluster history of care for the earth and its resources, our disrespect for animals and all growing things, show that Christians have not seen matter and spirit as natural friends. Much of our history, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, has created Platonists much more than Incarnationalists or Christians.”[i]

Does the Christian church in North America promote a platonic worldview? It can certainly be argued that we have often had an escapist view of the earth.  Our theology of salvation has often led us to focus on “saving souls” or being “heavenly minded” and neglected the fact that our souls are not disembodied realities.  Our physical presence is not something to be despised but a gift from God.  The resurrection was not just a spiritual event but a physical event leading us to an understanding that through Jesus “all things” are a part of God’s redemptive work.  In our discussion we agreed that we need a “heaven and earth” not “heaven or earth” mindset.

Our next quote came from Chiheb Esseghaier, one of the men arrested because of his plans to derail a VIA train.  After being arrested he said the following about the Criminal Code of Canada,

chiheb“All of us we know that this Criminal Code is not holy book, it’s just written by set of creations and the creations – they’re not perfect because only the Creator is perfect so if we are basing our judgment … we cannot rely on the conclusions taken out from these judgments.[ii]

What is the relationship between a Holy Text and a nation’s criminal code of conduct?  Esseghaier inferred that the Koran gave him permission to ignore the rule of law in the nation he resided.  History has shown that Christians have often fallen into this sort of thinking with regards to the Bible.  Although we’ll talk about Jesus words to render unto Caesar what is Caesar, we still often posture a position of “separateness” from the society we live in.  Far too often people who follow a Holy Text view their position within a society as though they stand outside of it.  But if we believe in a sovereign God, then we must not simply view ourselves as being outside of the context we are in, but importantly positioned (ordained) where we are as God’s image bearers called to serve the society we live in.  At times our interpretation of the Holy Text may come in conflict with the law of the land, but that does not give us permission to  “write it off,” it means we have a job to do.  There will be a tension involved in this work, but not a tension that can ever be solved by simple dismissal of the culture we live in.

Finally we discussed the following quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

mlkA man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”[iii]

Why is it that the same commitment exhibited in the heroes of justice also appears in terrorists and religious fanatics?  The Bible tells us that to follow Jesus is to take up the cross and follow him.  The Bible tells us that if we find the kingdom of God we should be ready to sell everything to own it.  There’s no denial that some of the people we admire the most in history as having had some of the greatest  faith impact are those who sacrificed greatly.  But there must be great care involved in our commitment.   We can easily become like the disciple Peter who was ready to cut off ears to protect Jesus; willing to sacrifice innocent bystanders with little thought or care.  We may note well that Peter’s denial of Jesus later that same evening shows how zealousness can be selfishly motivated and shallow in nature.  We must be ready to die for what is right, but what is right must be entrenched in a love of God AND a love of neighbour.

All three of the quotes we looked at led to a final conclusion of the importance of a theology and worldview that is, to borrow from Walter Brueggemann’s book of prayers, “Awed to Heaven, (AND) Rooted in Earth.

May it be so for all of us.

awed to heavenPrayer – Yes – by Walter Brueggemann (Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth)

You are the God who is simple, direct, clear with us and for us.
You have comitted yourself to us.
You have said yes to us in creation
yes to us in our birth,
yes to us in our baptism,
yes to us in our awakening this day.

But we are of another kind,
more accoustomed to ”perhaps, maybe, we’ll see,”
left in wonderment and ambiguity.

We live our lives not back to your yes ,
but out of our endless ”perhaps.”

So we pray for your mercy this day that we may live yes back to you,
yes with our time,
yes with our money,
yes with our sexuality,
yes with our strength and with our weakness,
yes to our neighbor,
yes and no longer ”perhaps.”

In the name of your enfleshed yes to us,
even Jesus who is our yes into your future. Amen

[ii] Taken from Globe and Mail Article written by TIMOTHY APPLEBY AND ANN HUI April 24, 2013

[iii] The Moral Centre – MLK

Prayer for the Day

seekinggodsface“Father, grace is what drew me to you and saved me. Don’t let me become a a graceless moralist or a master of spiritual self-help; keep, continue, and complete this work of grace in me. Remind me that my job is to stay fully engaged in grace, dwelling in the gospel, meditating on its words, warnings, and promises, and feeding on its comfort in the sacraments. Amen.”


from “Seeking God’s Face” prayer book written by Phil Reinders based on a passage from the Canons of Dort