Author Archives: Rev. Joel

About Rev. Joel

Joel is intimately concerned with redemption as a former and once-again pastor whose opinion sometimes barely matters in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Those to whom his opinion matters most are his beloved and his five children.

Mess-Makers Anonymous

Everyone goes through really tough stuff. Some of the worst suffering we experience is self-inflicted. That means we all belong to the club “Mess-Makers Anonymous”.

Suffering is a great teacher, so is the story of Zacchaeus. One of the greatest lessons is, even when it’s all our fault, there’s a great prize waiting for us in our pain.

Discover it here! Preached at the Miz April 3, 2022.

Death in the Pot

Death in the Pot 2

No, this has nothing to do with the legalization of marijuana here in Canada. Or anywhere else.

This is about the old ‘bait and switch’ – expecting one thing, getting another. Disappointment.

This is an emotion everyone is familiar with. In fact, I’d say the more privileged you are, the more disappointment can seep into your life.

You see, the more we have access to, the more things there are that fail to deliver the hope they promise. The old bait and switch.

But – what if there was another way to see it? What if, instead, we saw disappointment as pregnant with opportunity?

Then we’d discover a hope that does not disappoint.

And, by the way, this sermon won’t either. See it here. (Message starts just after the 8 minute mark)

Preached at The Miz City Church, Nov. 17, 2019.


Out of the Shadows

Out of the Shadows 2.0

We are all called to selflessly serve a mission mission that will outlast us; where we discover real fulfillment and purpose.

We are also all tempted to serve a Shadow Mission – selfish instead of selfless, shallow instead of sacred.

There are unseen forces at work within us that can pull us off course and into our shadow mission.

If we don’t learn how to manage those forces, they will manage us.

Watch it here. Scripture reading begins at 8:30, message begins right after.

Preached at the Miz City Church, Nov. 3, 2019.

RESTORED: Paid In Full

Restored Paid in Full.png

The pressure of living bound up in the principle of Cause & Effect can be overwhelming. It can feel like the Doomsday Clock is ticking away, waiting to catch you in that mistake or moment of weakness.

It’s true – what we plant, we harvest. Often, we get exactly what we deserve.

But Easter takes this a step further. It tells the story that of a real day that actually breaks that cycle in the most significant way – a way that has divided, redefined, and redirected world history. 

And not just world history in this macro sense, in the meta-sense of things, but your history. Your life.  

On Good Friday, Jesus got got what we deserve. Because of Easter Sunday, we can have what he deserved. 

Check out the full message here. Starts around 39 minutes in.

Preached at the Miz City Church, April 21, 2019.


Dad Genes 2.png

Some people win the genetic lottery. Looks, talent, smarts, it seems like they got it all.

Unless there’s more to our identity than the DNA our parents hand to us.

There’s so much about life that we have not control over. The effect of our choices do have limitations.

And yet, there’s a decision to make that radically transforms how we experience life that affects even the very core of our identity.

Find out more here.  Starts around 48 minutes.

Preached at the Miz City Church, June 16, 2019.


Wax on, wax off

getty kouros

What are you lookin’ at? It’s cold out.

Naked, comfortably so with a slight smile on his face, feet astride, and rock-hard. Well, marble-hard. That’s your average kouros, a statue carved from marble in ancient Greece and Rome.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell told us the story of the Getty Museum’s infamous kouros. Typically, a kouros is excavated from an archaeological dig site and looks like it, too. Chipped, cracked, battered, discolored. I used to install flooring and I know if you use the wrong mortar installing marble tile, the whole thing is a discolored mess. The sands of time are not easy on delicately carved marble art. But this one was in perfect condition. Perfectly preserved. Perfectly excavated. But, likely, a perfect forgery. This lad’s smile was probably in knowing mockery as much as youthful bliss.

After it passed initial expert analysis, the Getty paid their ten million and displayed it proudly, amazed at their great find. But the opinions of the naysayers started to pile up. Eventually, they would sheepishly, but not completely, admit their exuberance was possibly misled. The posted details on the kouros now say this, “Greek, about 530 B.C., or modern forgery”.

If it’s a forgery, it’s an impressive one. But really, it just seems too good to be true, or authentic. Too perfect, too clean, too well-preserved. 

We’ve all known people like that. It just seems too good to be true. The house is clean, the car is not only clean but in perfect mechanical condition, the kids behave better, get better grades at school and even dress better. Their lawn is greener, their bills up to date, and investment accounts maturing nicely. We want to find the chips and the cracks, bring them down to our level, “Must be a modern forgery. It’s got to be.”

As a pastor, friend, brother, and human, I like to think I see past the perfectly polished marble surfaces, but I’m as gullible as anyone. And we all want to put up our best fronts. But the truth is, no matter how good things look, there’s usually a chink in the armour somewhere. I’ve discovered a few getting below the surface with people. Stuff like hidden depression; living in reaction to a dominant parent’s demands that could never be satisfied; always feeling inadequate and hoping to be perceived as on par, not really better than everyone; raging results-driven performance to be the best, or at least better than most, at any cost. The list goes on.

It seems like a particularly modern problem. One provoked by Facebook, Instagram, and all the other like media by offering a curated, edited, glimpse into our lives. But we’ve been keeping up with the Joneses long before there were Joneses to compare ourselves to. Like the Getty museum, we prize the appearance – even if it’s phony. In the opening pages of the bible, right after creation is finished and Adam and Eve’s honeymoon comes to a tragic end, Cain compares his work and worship to his brother, Abel’s. It makes him miserable. How can my little brother outperform me?  So, to overcome his jealous misery, the first sibling rivalry comes to violent end.

I don’t know many people who have resorted to murder to feel like they are projecting the best version of themselves. A few, maybe. But I know we all do it one way or another. I think our fear is this: if we can cloak over our misery or despair with the right image, fill in the cracks or create the perfect forgery, have just the right appearance, then maybe our misery will go away. But over and over it turns out to be a fool’s gamble. First Cain, then everyone ever after who has tried it has been disappointed by their artistic efforts, all in vain.

But there’s another way. Forgeries, like our misery and desire to appear perfect, aren’t a new problem.

In Greco-Roman times, the desire for the perfect aesthetic was as desired as it is today. The perfect body, and the perfect representation of it – that’s the creative drive behind a kouros. Buying and selling the kouroi was a thriving market. But then as now, things aged and broke down. Especially big, heavy things made of marble that would be moved and shipped as they were traded. As the statues aged and fractured, sellers would try to increase value by filling the cracks in with wax. Gloss over the imperfections and sell it as in perfect condition. But of course, in the hot Mediterranean climate the wax would eventually discolor and harden. Deception revealed. However, if a dealer had a real prize, a kouros or statue in perfect, preserved condition, they could sell it marked as ‘sine cera’ – Latin for ‘without wax’.

And then, a small group from long ago found a way to live and thrive without that deception. Not in marble carvings, but in their real lives. They found the other way. Jesus himself replaced Cain as a better older brother. He showed a way of acceptance and togetherness that changed the way of human relationships forever. It was said, because of his example, that even after he left and returned to heaven his followers ‘…continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” (Acts 2:46).

Together, glad, and sincere – sine cera. No wax. No filling in the cracks. No posturing. No pretense about their worth or condition. Just as they are, not as they wish they were. And the result? Glad. Together.

Forming community around our best appearances is initially easy – come together with the people we want to be like, set apart by our lives’ perfections. But eventually it is found to be as hollow as the kouros is solid. 

Counter-intuitively, against every impulse inside us, real community – family – formed around a sincere acceptance leads to the real togetherness, and gladness, we all long for. All because the one who had nothing to cover up himself didn’t need to cover anything up in us to love us. Before him, all our filler melts away. We see and love each other just as we are. Of course this isn’t the easy way to build together, but it’s the only real way. No forgeries needed. 

Walls & Wells


Amidst all of the barriers we create to divide ‘us’ from ‘them’ – social, ethnic, religious, sexual, and on and on – we have a Savior that won’t stand for it. So the walls don’t stand either.

He meets us at the wells of our lives, the intersection of our shame and his grace, to topple obstacles and invite us to ‘know the gift, know the giver, and ask for a drink’ (John 4:10). Freed from our past, freed for our future.

Got to visit with the wonderful people of King of Kings Lethbridge this weekend and spoke this message.

 John 4:42 – Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”


It’s So Typical

It was so typical. And yet it wasn’t.

Last night a new friend came over for supper. He sat with my family and I for a typical meal. Typical for us in that we sat down at our dining room table, as we usually do, and ate a meal—some rice, chicken and veggies—that is common enough for us. A very normal dinner time in my house.

Except it wasn’t. My new friend has only been in Canada for 11 months. He came here as a refugee from a camp in Kenya. He arrived there as a young man, received some education, and continued as a worker for different NGOs in the camps he spent time in. He is a very sweet man and his heart is absolutely beautiful.

But as we get to know each other more details from his past come out. And more details of the current situation that he left behind.

He left southern Sudan in the late 80s/early 90s as a ‘lost boy’. Forces and groups from the largely Islamic Sudanese areas in the north were attacking mostly Christian communities and villages in the south. They murdered fathers and young men, raped and attacked mothers and daughters. These lost boys, only 8, 9, or 10 or 11 years old, fled for their lives. They started walking first for Ethiopia. They stayed at camps there until civil unrest turned to war and to avoid being drawn into battle, resumed their migration on foot. Kenya was next. Their story is told here.

My friend is gentle, calm, and well collected. He is wise and adjusting quickly to life in a completely foreign context. He appreciates that, for the most part, he does not feel like a stranger in Canada. He feels like he has been welcomed as one of us. And he is. He belongs here as much as anyone else. It was an uncommon grace for me to hear his story and share a meal with him.

The other uncommon moment came as he shared from his experiences as a young man trying to find life in Africa, and so often found death instead. His violent expulsion from his home could have so easily predisposed him to a life of vengeful violence. But it hasn’t. Since that early exposure didn’t taint him, any of the subsequent experiences could have. He has seen horrific acts of sadistic violence inflicted on one human by another. He has processed and helped others to process the traumatic impact of seeing such horror. To give me understanding, he showed me a video another worker shared with him. Once I realized what I was seeing, I could only watch a bit before I needed to turn it off.

It is taken on a cell phone camera and shows horribly gruesome—yet very real—murderous torture committed against a bound victim. And the crowd around the attacker is not in a frenzied rage nor in horrified silence. Somewhere in the middle of that, they pat the knife wielding man on the back, encourage him, and stand by as life leaves the body on the ground. That mother’s son breathed his last while onlookers egged it forward. It was certainly someone’s brother or cousin, whose greatest misfortune was to be the one figuratively caught up in the larger situation, and then caught up literally in the twine that bound him. The promise of his life, no different than the promise of my children or my brothers, was wasted on the ground, mixed into the soil to which we all will eventually return.

I know nothing of his life. Only his death through the recording. It is amazing that modern technology allows us to see something that should be disconnected from our modern era. The violence in the video is as old as Cain and Abel, back to the beginning. And while we can invent technology that is so microscopic it can be inserted in our bloodstream, we cannot solve the problems of hatred, vengeance, and violence. Typical, I guess. While his life is distant from me, his death has touched me.

While I think about preaching to our congregation this weekend, that man will be in the recesses of my consciousness. While I talk about the felt needs of the world my new friend has joined, I will be mindful of how far we really have yet to go. I realize that like the men in the video standing by and watching, so much of our lives renders us passive observers also to this horror and others like it everywhere. And sadly, it is all too typical.

What the Dog Doesn’t See

Version 2

I’m so sorry about the sock. I couldn’t help it. It tasted like chicken.

‘When they see what I do,
    they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
    they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
    and be forgiven.’ (from Mark 5:12, NLT)

I have a dog. It’s a fine dog. It’s not an extreme-anything dog. It’s not the smartest, prettiest, biggest or smallest, most stupid, or any other quality that sets it apart. It’s a fine dog. But between my wife and I we have an issue with this dog. Lots of issues, but one that comes to mind quickly. It’s a laundry menace.

Often, when we try and sort and fold laundry, we do it on our bed. The laundry, I mean – we sort it and fold it into piles on our bed. And this dog has no respect for that whatsoever. Seeing our attention is not fully focused on it, the dog will hop onto the bed and dart to and fro, trying to engage us in a game of… whatever kind of game a dog imagines in its dog brain. And of course, it messes everything up. Socks are all over, neatly folded towels are mussed, kids piles are strewn all over and even as we chase it off the bed, it drags the laundry away on its big, nuisance-y feet. It’s even worse when the laundry is fresh out of the dryer. It can feel the heat emanating from those clothes from across the house, I’m sure. Then this dog comes in, hops up, and rolls and wiggles its way right onto the pile. Here, not only does the dog not respect our desire to bring order, it has total disrespect for what we’ve just achieved through the laundering process. We washed those clothes/sheets/socks/undies to eliminate mess and odor. Here, the dog is rubbing its dark fur all over the place and smearing dog smell right into everything that is Bounce fresh. And then I want to grab it and choke it. But of course, as soon as I come toward it, the dog thinks its time for its most favorite game in the world – the one where I grunt and groan and try and catch it. Then it hops up, send socks flying everywhere, knocks over a pile or two and leaps around with the grace of a 85 pound drunken blindfolded five-legged rabbit.

The dog just has no appreciation for what I value. It can’t be bothered to care about anything that I am trying to achieve. And then conviction settles in. I wonder, what is God up to in my midst and while He’s at work on something magnificent, I am no different than my dumb dog? Where might God be doing things, bringing order, life, new hope, and I’m too distracted with what I think is fun in that moment to have eyes to see? Where is God’s heart frustrated with the state of some relationship, initiative, community or other deep care that He wants to see come to full redemption, and I am just trying to find a cozy spot to lay down?

At least the dog has an excuse; it’s a dog. And not an exceptional dog at that. It does have fantastic blue eyes, otherwise, it’s a mutt that is loved only by my family. And loved well. Me, however, I have the Spirit of the Living God at work in me, alive in me, loving me and crying out Wisdom from the street corners at me, trying to awaken my soul to join in. And I’m looking for a pile of socks to mess up.

Lord, have mercy.

But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! (Eph 1:18-19, the Message)