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Isn’t that the message of Jesus Christ?

You might think it strange — even heretical — that a message purportedly from God Himself can be boiled down to a single, three-word phrase (and a hashtag, at that!), but why wouldn’t God’s message to us be something that anyone can grasp? No matter what the material world thinks or says about us, Jesus Christ’s life, teaching, death and resurrection are all based on the reality that to God, every one of us matters.

I hope these mini-messages — two minutes (give or take) to check where the Cross is in your life — will encourage you and help you draw closer to the Lord, yourself. Feel free to send in comments and if you’d like to get these via email, you can subscribe (scroll ‘way down to the bottom of this page to do that).

If you click on the “Sermons” tab, you’ll find some of the messages I’ve preached over the past few years. Please visit the “Books, etc.” tab, for some of the writing I’ve done (and links to order it online).

Contact me through this blog if you’d like me to speak at your church or group.

Grace and peace to you,

Drew

pettifogger-2

 

 

“If you knows of a better ‘ole …”*

Take a look at this.

This was the site of the St Lawrence North Market in Toronto. Currently, the South Market — originally Toronto’s City Hall, police station and “gaol” — is still very much in use and the North Market is now in a Sprung-like tent to the South of the South Market. And what used to be the North Market is now one big hole.

I think it’s safe to say that we all feel a particular need that we can’t seem to fill by worldly means. There is something missing, and we try different ways to find it. The methods can range from the extreme and self-harmful, like drugs, booze, over-eating, smoking or promiscuity, to less harmful, like binge-watching TV shows or shopping.

The key here is that none of that seems to satisfy, one feels guilty for doing it, shames oneself for “falling” again, and that emptiness seems to get wider, deeper and darker.

What else does this craving and this helplessness proclaim, but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God Himself.

— Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), in Pensées, publ. 1669

This has been interpreted as “the God-shaped void”. It’s not strictly Biblical, but certainly supported in Jesus’ reference to “rivers of living water” that only come from Christ Himself, or Paul’s exposition on “the unknown god” in Athens. But Pascal’s observation is certainly anointed, I believe.

So let’s accept that this great hole in our lives can only be filled by God. But what if we turned that negative into a positive? What if we looked at that empty space differently?

Is it a hole, or an expansion?

Consider the prayer of Jabez, which was a “flavour of the week” in Christian circles, about 20 years ago:

Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”

And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

— 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

Jabez’s prayer was for his territory to be enlarged for the good of others. Certainly, that territory would need to be filled with something, like his influence, his goodness, his willingness to provide for others and to spread the influence of his having the hand of God with him.

Instead of emptiness and looking for ways to fill it for our own satisfaction — which is something the enemy would love to have us think — what if we looked at the “hole” as being an expansion of our influence: an opportunity to have God’s hand on us and bring that blessing to others?

What if we considered the “emptiness” as God, calling us to stretch our capabilities and our reliance on Him?

Now, let’s take another look at that “hole” in Toronto:

Clearly, there’s work going on in that hole. In the next couple of years, the new St Lawrence North Market will arise. The hole is really the installation of the infrastructure and foundation of this new building. By digging the hole, they’re making way for something new. They’re also clearing out plenty of old stuff that’s not needed anymore.

That hole in our lives is really a place where we can dig deep, clear away the old stuff that’s been preventing us from moving forward in our lives and lay in a new foundation, from God, through Jesus Christ.


*Since you’re probably wondering, that’s a quote that has nothing to do with the actual article. It comes from “The Better ‘Ole”, a 1926 movie starring Syd Chaplin (Charlie’s brother). It’s set in WWI, and Syd plays “Old Bill”, a career private in the British Army. In this early scene, he’s in a foxhole with rain pouring down and shells bursting all around. His mate (whom we can’t see in the picture) is also in the foxhole, whining and complaining about the conditions, and Old Bill finally snaps, “If you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it!”

Thank you, Randy!

In the years I spent ministering on the  Downtown East Side, nothing stood out for me so much as the number of Indigenous Christians that I met. Many of these people had come through the notorious residential school system, with its abuse and brutality. My friend, John Sharp, asked one of our friends, Richard, what it was like. He answered as if it were two words: “un-speakable”. That was all he said about it. That was all that needed to be said.

Since those schools were, by and large, run by churches, it’s safe to assume that much of the abuse was doled out “in the Name of the Lord”, part of an “assimilate to eliminate” strategy to strip “Indians” of their culture and belief systems and make them Just Like Everybody Else.

That’s what made it surprising to see the number of Indigenous people who knew their Bible and definitely had a calling of God on their lives. One of the fieriest evangelists I’ve known is Clarence Vickers; a cousin of his, Margaret Vickers, is a true prayer warrior. There were others who would come into the Mission with deep questions or observations about the Bible: observations that I would steal, from time to time, for a sermon.

Somehow, through the abuse on the one hand, and the encouragement to return to “the ways” on the other, Indigenous people have clung to this nugget of Truth that is Jesus Christ.

Indeed, so many of the people I met who had this calling of God on their lives (not preachers like Clarence or Margaret, but people with whom you could sense something special) tended to be alcoholic, or drug-addicted, or in trouble with the law, or all of the above. It seems like those are the wiles of the enemy, trying to distract them from that calling.

Indeed, for First Nations people, it becomes a choice of “the ways” versus “Tbe Way”. I asked Clarence once, “How do you tell First Nations people that the ways their ancestors have followed are wrong?” He said, “If it’s not in Scripture. I want nothing to do with it!”

On reflection, though, that’s something he can say. I can’t. I’m limited to planting the seed of the goodness of God, the love of Jesus Christ and trust that people will turn to Him.

That’s where Randy Bartnetson came in. We lost Randi over the weekend; he died in his sleep while on a camp trip to Vancouver Island with some of his Bible students. Randy was a man whose calling was to train up Indigenous people to train others in the Gospel. He ran the Vancouver Foursquare Church / First Nations Bible College, training Indigenous people to be pastors. I didn’t know Randy very well, even though his church was half a block away from Gospel Mission. But his reputation and dedication – along with his ability to subsume his own physical condition (diabetes, kidney failure) to the needs of the cause made him, as one friend of mine put it, a giant in the field.

Randy was a product of the Jesus People’s Movement of the 60s and 70s – the time when young people rejected “churchianity” in favour of “Christianity”. Even as many of them drifted into “the world”, Randy was one who stayed, devoting himself to helping people discover the freedom and joy of the Truth. 

Earlier this year, Randy posted a message on his Facebook page, that graduates of the First Nations Bible College have been spreading the Gospel around the world for the past 45 years! What a tremendous legacy, especially when you think of how the people they’ve influenced will influence others for generations to come, reaching people with the same lived and transgenerational experiences that Jesus – and nothing else – is The Way, The Truth and The Life. That’s a legacy we should all aspire to.

The work goes on. Please consider making a donation to Vancouver Foursquare Church – http://www.vancouverstreetchurch.com.

Voting for Righteousness?

I didn’t watch the US presidential debate last night. I figured that if I wanted to watch two old guys duking it out, I’d watch the video of Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca getting it on at the CFL Alumni Association luncheon in 2011*.

The U.S. is into full election mode, British Columbians also go to the polls in a couple of weeks, and there is some speculation that Prime Minister Trudeau will call an election this fall, too. And many Bible-believing people are wondering whom they should vote for.

Righteousness exalts a nation,

But sin is a reproach to any people.

— Proverbs 14:34

I often hear it from Christians, in particular, who want to vote for a candidate who supports a particular worldview, or who goes to church, or (more often) are opposed to certain things in society that go against the Bible. OR, they’ll mobilize forces to try to defeat a candidate who does support things that go against the Bible.

Some evangelicals are hopeful that Donald Trump’s current nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court will provide the vote needed to overturn the ruling that legalized abortion. At last, one would assume, righteousness would be restored!

But is righteousness the responsibility of government or the legal system?

Is a nation righteous?

What is righteousness, anyway?

When I was fairly new to the faith, I was leaning heavily on Jesus and putting a lot of stock in prayer to help turn my life around. Then I read in James’ epistle,

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

— James 5:16b

My heart sank. Whoever would accuse me of being “righteous”? I figured I was lost: had struck out before I even came to the plate.

But then — through that marvellous “coincidence”, where the Lord puts exactly the right Word in front of your face at the right time — I came across this:

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

— Romans 4:3

In fact, Paul repeats that twice more in Romans, again in Galatians and James refers to it in his epistle.

Abraham believed God.

Note: he didn’t believe in God. Anyone can believe in God, or some “higher authority”. But believing God means to listen to Him and take whatever He says as indisputable truth. And Heaven knows, I was listening to God with everything I had. I still do (I think).

So righteousness isn’t that hard to achieve, but can a nation be righteous? Can righteousness be legislated? Can a law tell you to believe God?

Show me a nation that tries to legislate righteousness, and I’ll show you an oppressed society — the very society Jesus rescues us from.

And it’s not as if politicians haven’t been elected by appealing to the evangelical bloc. Even in Canada, where Stephen Harper held office for many years: and how “righteous” would you say the country has become over that time?

No – it’s our sin and our righteousness, as individuals, that exalt or cause reproach to our nation. That’s our job: it’s too important to leave to government.

We, as Jesus Followers, are responsible for righteousness, and it starts with us. If we want a righteous society, we have to be righteous, ourselves. We have to deal with the plank in our own eye, and not worry about the cinder in someone else’s. We have to put other people’s interests ahead of our own, and put God above all else.

As we do all that, righteousness will follow as the night the day.

On Election Day, I will seek out and vote for the person or party who can best run the country, provide the social services and health care we need, maintain and expand infrastructure and work to promote equality in our various systems. But when it comes to moral issues that creep into the political arena from time to time, that’s a different story.

Oh, yes – one more thing: on Election Day, definitely pray and follow as the Holy Spirit leads, but above all:

GET OUT AND VOTE!


*By way of context, the animosity goes back to the 1963 Grey Cup game, when Kapp was the quarterback for the British Columbia Lions and Mosca was a lineman for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. On one play, Lions running back Willie Fleming was tackled and landed out of bounds. Mosca landed on Fleming with what was either a deliberate late hit (to Lions fans) or an unavoidable collision (to Ti-Cats fans). Whatever the case, Willie was badly injured and left the game. The Lions lost, 21-10.


After the long, shot summer — remember Peter

I missed summer last year. I was in the bathroom.

— Michael Flanders of Flanders and Swann, from “At The Drop of a Hat”

Autumn has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, which is odd, because I don’t remember much of a summer. Or a spring, come to think of it. One day has rolled into another, with the various limitations on where we can go and how many people we can see.

And day after day, we’re bombarded with bad news: more COVID cases, more COVID deaths, sidebar stories about depression, domestic strife and other effects of the lockdowns. Indeed, I was reminded of a comedy sketch in which a friend of mine, Bill Reiter, played a guy who hears a radio commercial in which the announcer asks if anyone is suffering from a list of symptoms. Bill, who had started as a perfectly healthy person, gradually starts exhibiting the symptoms as the announcer goes on, until by the end of the ad, he’s a physical and emotional wreck.

Theme: “I wasn’t feeling sick until you brought it up!”

Even a recent church service I sat through seemed like wall-to-wall reminders of how we should be bummed-out. I say “even” the church service, because that’s the place where we should get an abundance of reminders not of what a bad scene we’re in, but how blessed we are.

Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see;

“for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”

— Luke 10:23-24

Indeed, we need to start looking at the COVID situation — and the other disasters that have befallen us lately, like hurricanes, wildfires in Australia and the Western US, and the ever-present reports of polar ice caps melting and raising ocean levels — as a reminder of how much God loves us. He loves us so much that He has already warned us, through Jesus, the Prophets and the Book of Revelation, that this is all going to happen and He’s told us how to prepare so that

Only with your eyes shall you look,

And see the reward of the wicked.

— Psalm 91:8

I’ve said before, we have not been born into the time of the First Church, or the Great Awakening, or even the Depression or the Hippie 60s. We have been born into this period because God has chosen us to be alive at this time. As Jesus Followers, I don’t believe we could have handled being among the martyrs who were tortured and killed because of Jesus; nor could we have survived other eras. But God wants us here and now at this time, and He has told us what we need to remember when we see wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, earthquakes in various places and famines and pestilences.

See that you are not troubled, for all these things must come to pass ….

— Matthew 24:6

Let’s remember this:

Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea.

And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.

”So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.

But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

— Matthew 14:25-31

The storms are all around us, and Jesus is calling us to come to Him. Like Peter, when we keep our eyes on Him, we can rise above those storms and walk over the water. If we look at the problem again, we start to sink.

The beauty is, even if we do start to sink, Jesus is still there to pull us back up.

That’s the message we should take to heart and pass to as many people as we can, when the enemy is trying to get us to look at the storms, and not at Jesus.

A farewell to truth?

A recent Globe and Mail article calls out Bobby Kennedy, junior, as a “superspreader” of hoaxes, medical misinformation and conspiracy theories — part of a growing list of “big names” who promote such things. I interviewed Bobby a few times back in the 90s, when he was head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, so seeing the article made me furrow my brow just a bit.

Not that I’m here to defend Bobby Kennedy, but unlike some of the celebrities who are buying into the claims he makes, Kennedy’s reputation makes one stop and consider what he says, rather than simply blow it off as just another conspiracy theory.

Hold that thought.

In Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, President Trump admits, in as many words, that he knew how deadly and spreadable the novel coronavirus is, but deliberately downplayed the threat so as not to sow panic in the public. In other words, he lied to the people, and not for “all the right reasons”.

That has led to at least one Canadian news organization asking potentially embarrassing questions about how much Canadian authorities really knew about the virus and when they knew it, since the intelligence communities in the two countries (apparently) share information freely.

(To add a little levity, I’m reminded of a line from a Wayne and Shuster sketch from the Watergate era: “How much did the president know, and when did he stop knowing it?”)

Reports like this one last week, that plastics recycling was nothing more than a PR ploy to put a positive spin on the oil companies’ image, add to the confusion. Recycling plastic, as I’ve mentioned previously, is one of the most basic home-environmentalist actions, drummed into us as The Solution since the 1960s.

It hits a point where Truth either becomes subjective, or we wring our hands and cry out, “What is truth?”

BUT.

That’s my friend, Kirsten Glidden’s, favorite word in the Bible. Mine is “all” — hers is “but”, as in “but God …”

But God has provided for that.

When we find ourselves asking, “What is truth?”, that’s when we need to remember who else asked that, and where he was at the time.

Pontius Pilate — and he was face-to-face with Jesus Christ: The Truth, Himself.

What do we know about Jesus? Consider this:

Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea.

And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.

But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

— Matthew 14:25-31

With the storm raging around them, Peter knew that he had to go to Jesus, even if that meant walking on the water. He put his eyes on Jesus and it wasn’t until he looked at the troubled water again, that he started to go under.

To return to a thought I asked you to hold, up above: one of the bases for the current wave of conspiracy theories is that the COVID-19 “thing” is all a part of a plot by a shadowy cabal of wealthy people to control the world. What if it is? As followers of Jesus, it’s not up to us to point fingers and fight it — not in the natural world, at any rate. Rather, we need to trust what He tells us,

“… there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.”

— Luke 12:2

I titled this “A Farewell to Truth?”, but rather, we need a revival of Truth, and we know who the Truth is. Right now, there is confusion all around. Even some people we had trusted to tell the truth are under suspicion. The uncertainty is making us seasick and fearful. It’s at times like these, that we need to be like Peter, keeping our eyes focused on Jesus and not the stormy waters. When we lift our eyes and focus on Him, we rise above the storm and walk over it. Now, it’s more important than ever, that we don’t look down.

Keeping God in the picture

The states of Washington, Oregon and California are currently in the grip of devastating wildfires, and recently, the governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, made a strong statement:

This is not an act of God. This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways.

— Gov. Jay Inslee, Sept 11, 2020

In worldly terms, some would say he’s right, and it’s not the first time a major weather occurrence has been linked to climate change. As far back as Hurricane Rita in 2005, people were pointing fingers and saying, “I told you so!”

But is this the time to be dismissing God from the conversation? Attributing the disaster to climate change is backward-looking. When the Governor talks, as he did in the same speech, about creating “green” jobs, he’s looking to worldly solutions that are unproven — especially when it comes to the question of how “green” those industries actually are. Nor, in fact, does he say that creating the “green” jobs will halt or reverse the climate change trend.

(One of the neologisms that have arisen over the past quarter-century is “greenwashing” — claiming something is environmentally friendly without a full exploration of its implications.)

In other words, it’s all very well to blame climate change, but the factors causing it were set in motion long ago.

But putting God into the picture gives us a forward-looking response, because His Word tells us over and over again that He’s the one sending these disasters. We go back to one of my favourite passages:

“When I shut up heaven that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,”

— 2 Chronicles 7:13

He tells Amos,

“I also withheld rain from you,

When there were still three months to the harvest.

I made it rain on one city,

I withheld rain from another city.

One part was rained upon,

And where it did not rain the part withered.”

— Amos 4:7

John warns us,

The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

— Revelation 8:7

And Peter brings it home …

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.

— 2 Peter 3:10

So yes, I think it’s fair and accurate to say the wildfires — and the flooding caused by Hurricane Sally and the bushfires in Australia and massive heat waves and the polar vortex and even COVID-19 — are acts of God, and now is exactly the right time to acknowledge that and bring Him into the conversation.

Why?

Because of His promise, which comes right after His description of fires and locusts and pestilence:

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

— 2 Chronicles 7:14

Notice He doesn’t promise to protect us. He promises to heal the land.

That’s something we can do right now, with an iron-clad guarantee. It’s a job that’s too big not to hand over to God. And as I’ve said before, can turning to God possibly be any less effective or time-consuming than waiting for governments to act?*


*That’s a point I make in my e-book, A Very Convenient Truth: or, Jesus Told Us There’d Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program! It’s available through online booksellers, or click on the link to order it.

Why not say “Jesus said …”?

Last week, I was at a (virtual) conference, in which an Indigenous elder shared “learnings”. She talked about kindness towards others, striving for peace, understanding, and justice. And I couldn’t help thinking, these were all concepts Jesus had called us to embrace. Mind you, she lost me when she referred to animals as being our brothers and sisters — which is not Scriptural — but for the most part, I was struck by the fact that pretty much anything she said had been said by Jesus.

Actually, I was even more stuck by the fact that no one there seemed to notice. Maybe they did, and, like me, didn’t say anything. But it hits me every so often, that people will listen to the words of an ordinary human being, whether that person is an elder, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Wayne Dyer, or Joni Mitchell, as if they are Wisdom itself, but the words of the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, are almost actively ignored.

There are a couple of reasons that come to mind. One is that Jesus Himself not only talked of peace and love, but also of Eternal life and the inevitability that we will have to face His Father and account for our words and deeds.

Theoretically, such conversations are a great door-opener — “You know, Jesus Christ said that, and He also said ….” — and share something of the Gospel with the person, like the parts where Jesus says we have to repent — which means we have to admit we’ve sinned — or that we need to forgive the people who wrong us, or the Big Sir won’t forgive us for what we’ve done to Him.

Mind you, people like to cite Great Quotations that they happen to agree with, and stuff like owning your sins and not holding a grudge or desiring revenge don’t always go over well. So if our “sharing’ is greeted with rolling eyeballs, sighs or even an indication of indulgent disinterest (body language can be a big telltale), there must be a reason.

I think it’s because sometimes, our words aren’t reflected in the way people who identify as Christians behave. Heck: does our own behaviour reflect the words we like to recite? Do we sacrifice self for the sake of others? When we speak truth, is it done lovingly, or in a way that belittles or tries to demonstrate our own superiority?

When we do “sacrifice” ourselves, do we do it to show off how “good” we are, or do we do it, almost hoping no one notices? And if someone does, do we take a bow, or point the finger of credit at the Holy Spirit?

In other words, are we representatives of Jesus?

If we can accomplish that, people will be naturally attracted to our light and glorify God. That’s what it’s all about, anyway, right? When that happens, it won’t matter who said what: people will know the Truth … and be set free.

… and this is why we pray

This item from Slate is something one needs to take note of: not for the alarming and well-documented information, but for the implied call to arms. I don’t mean like the guys in the photo: I mean like the way we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are supposed to take up arms.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

— 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

We need to pray, pray together, pray on our own, pray in agreement with others we don’t even know, that people’s hearts will be turned towards Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace, the Great Equalizer, the Great Advocate and Mediator who brings the true Will of God to any situation.

What’s really sad is that so many of the people associated with this “incipient insurgency” identify themselves as Christians, called to wage some kind of holy war against a whole lot of things they believe the “others” are in favour of. Yet they would be hard-pressed to show anything in their words and actions that indicate they follow Jesus. As Jesus told the religious people of His day,

“But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.

“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.

“But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

“I do not receive honor from men.

“But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.”

— John 5:38-42

But I digress. We need to pray for eyes to be opened for a revelation of the true Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the only One who can save us.

If you are unsure what to pray in this, remember that we need to focus not on being anti-war, anti-racism, anti-injustice, but on being pro-Jesus. Paul gives us a good start.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

— Philippians 4:8

(Alert readers will notice that that is the verse immediately following the passage I quoted in Friday’s piece, about peace that surpasses understanding.)

Even more important, we need to live as though we are followers of Jesus: loving God above all and putting the interests of others ahead of our own — especially those who we disagree with or find threatening. We must not get discouraged, but, as Paul says, focus on the noble, just, pure and lovely things of life. When we do that, we line up on God’s side, and we can trust that no insurgency, even the “inchoate”* ones, can last,


*Since you’re probably wondering, “inchoate” means “only recently or partly formed, or not completely developed or clear“, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

Stir-Crazy: it CAN be beaten!

NB: This is a slightly different version of the “Spiritually Speaking” blog post published Sept. 9. You can read that version here.

My online news feed brought some cheery news this past week. (Not: why, oh why do I keep reading the online news feed?) “They” figure we’re headed for another wave of Coronavirus outbreaks, with more lockdowns and other regulations. Given that I know people in different parts of the world, who haven’t been out of the first lockdown yet, this is like another kick in the teeth – more cause for depression.

That, by the way, is what “they” say is another by-product of the Coronavirus pandemic: depression from being in isolation. “I miss the hugs” is an oft-heard refrain. I’m not exactly sure where the expression “stir-crazy” came from — I mean, I know it’s defined as an episode of mental instability caused by prolonged periods of confinement – but how prison became got the slang term “stir” is beyond me; regardless, it’s showing itself in a variety of ways among people.

But it can be fought — and conquered. How?

EXHIBIT A: After King Herod had made the Apostle James the first Christian martyr, he saw that he was onto a good PR ploy with the people and arrested the Apostle Peter.

Peter was, therefore, kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers, and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.

Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison, and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands.

Then the angel said to him, Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.”

So he went out and followed him and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.

— Acts 12:5-9

And it took until they were well away from the prison that Peter came-to and realized it was no vision.

EXHIBIT B: The Apostle Paul and his mate, Silas, were arrested for causing a disturbance in Philippi (Paul had cast out a spirit of divination from a young woman, thereby depriving her “handlers” – spirit pimps, you might call them – of a rather lucrative income). They were put in a cell in the innermost part of the prison, with their feet in stocks.

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing humns to God and the prisoners were listening to them.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.

And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.

But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “So yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

— Acts 16:25-28

EXHIBIT C: The prophet Jonah, trying to avoid an assignment from the Lord, got on a ship to go in the other direction from where he was supposed to go – Nineveh – but a great storm came up and the ship and its crew were threatened. Jonah confessed that the storm was a result of his disobedience and let the crew toss him overboard.

The storm died down, and a large fish appeared and swallowed Jonah, and in the three days and three nights that he was there, he prayed.

And he said, “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.

“For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me.

“Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

“The waters surrounded me even to my soul; the deep closed around me: weeds were wrapped around my head.

“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.

“Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.

But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”

— Jonah 2:2-5, 7-9

Eventually, the fish spat Jonah out onto dry land, and onto the route to Nineveh.

What’s the common thread here? When faced with this forced confinement, rather than bewail their fate or even dwell on how much they might have deserved it (as Jonah might have done), they prayed. Peter was so confident that God was in control of everything, even though he might have been unjustly executed the next morning, that he slept so soundly, that the angel had to hit him to wake him up. Paul and Silas kept everybody in the prison awake with their singing and praising. Jonah declared his dedication to God. And all three of them were miraculously released and set off to do the work God had intended them to do.

We need to cultivate that mindset as we look at the possibility of more lockdowns and restrictions on our activities. Sure, there are people, some of whom are self-identifying Christians, who want to buck the system and claim there’s some kind of nefarious conspiracy to limit people’s freedoms; but that takes away the possibility that God has something going down.

There are some sidebars worth noting. One, is that, when Jonah went overboard into the ocean, he was out of his element. But the fish wasn’t. Being in the fish gave Jonah a measure of safety and comfort for three days and nights, which gave him the opportunity to reflect, pray, praise and get his head back together. Praising God during times like these effectively allows Him into the picture and demonstrates our hope and faith.

It can be safer in the fish.

Here’s another: Paul’s and Silas’ singing was so loud and fervent, the other prisoners didn’t just hear them, Scripture says they listened. That means they took note of the fact that these two were praising God at a time when things looked pretty bleak.

Then, when the earthquake burst open the doors and broke the chains in Paul’s and Silas’ prison, they did not make a run for it and lead the other prisoners with them. Rather, they stayed put, and prevented the jailer from killing himself. Paul’s first concern was for the people around him and, in particular, for the jailer, who would face dire consequences for something that wasn’t his fault (the soldiers guarding Peter were executed for letting him get away). Paul seized on an opportunity for ministry.

And the jailer, his household and the prisoners became the church at Philippi, to which Paul later wrote,

Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

— Philippians 4:4-7

With the possibility we could see renewed restrictions on our physical freedom, here are three examples we can follow to keep from going stir-crazy: keep looking up and out, keep praising God in a way that others — indeed, other prisoners — listen and take note.

In return, we are promised that we will be able to relax, think more clearly, and eventually, get “spat back out” onto the route that takes us to where we’re supposed to be going.

When you run out of things to say … say “Thanks!”

(A version of this appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist on Saturday, Sept. 5.)

Last week, I was in on a conference call, in which one of the leaders had a minor meltdown. She and a colleague had spent six months working pro bono on a project that was dear to their hearts, and while others had cheered her on and pledged support, when the time came for people to step up, no one – as of that meeting – had actually followed through.

Her frustration and hurt were not misplaced, and reminded me of the ten years I had spent, ministering on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. During that time, I would often hope that churches in other parts of the city would catch the vision and commit to helping out – not so much with money, but with people; treating Skid Row as a mission field, just like exotic locales in Africa and Asia.

It didn’t happen. Over the years, I can count one person from my own church who became a dedicated volunteer at The Lord’s Rain – the showers facility located at the now-demolished Gospel Mission building on Carrall Street.

But what did happen was that a wonderful, motley crew of people stepped up to help. Working alongside me alone (The Lord’s Rain was only part of Gospel Mission) were John, Danilo, Gary, Ken, Amelia, Joe, and others, all coming in from different walks of life – some of them from The Street itself! The reality was, these were the people who were supposed to be there according to God’s plan; any plan I might have had, clearly, was not His. So any frustration over what we didn’t have was overshadowed by gratitude for what we did.

We often spend so much time looking at what we lack, we forget to be grateful for what we have. I believe that being grateful for the motley crew I mentioned was one reason The Lord’s Rain kept going despite worldly odds. Funds to keep the lights on and the water hot would arrive exactly when we needed it, often from unexpected sources. So would supplies and people to help in crucial situations. Our senior pastor, Barry Babcook, was fond of saying, “God always comes through in the eleventh hour, fifty-ninth minute”: of course, it would only seem that way to us humans, but it would be Right On Time for God. The “attitude of gratitude”, to use a cliché, was the key.

Consider this:

“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”

Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.

— John 6:9-11

But later, John has his own way of referring to the location where it happened:

… other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks …

— John 6:23

What stood out to John was not that someone waved a magic wand and – SHAZOOM! – enough food materialized to feed everyone with plenty left over for breakfast the next day, but the fact that Jesus “took the bread, and gave thanks” for what there was, and what was about to come.

The moral of the story: magic wands are hard to come by, but anyone can give thanks.

“Count your blessings” may seem like a brush-off, a way of dismissing someone else’s misfortune, but taken seriously, this is something worth considering – and something I need to remember, myself. When a sense of lack starts to overtake you, take a moment and consider what you do have, thank God for it, and leave the rest to Him. What follows, I can almost guarantee, will be something greater than anyone could ever ask or think.


As an aside, staff at the organization where the person I mentioned at the beginning was getting no support stepped up and “got mean” with the people who were expected to help her. As of this writing, everything she hoped would be covered has been covered.


You can find out more about the people who labored with me on the Downtown East Side in my book, God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People amid Poverty. Just click on the link to order your copy.