Populism, atheism & evil – the enemy’s Big Three

This is based on a word from the Lord I received yesterday morning. I won’t pretend to quote it word for word, but this is the gist, and I’ve injected as little of my own thinking into it as possible.

[Jesus said,] “This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

— John 3:19-20

This past year has brought a rise in “populism”, the “me first”, protectionist, anti-different-people movement that the social commentator, Walt Kelly*, described as “self-righteous-self-interest-and-to-hell-with-everybody-else”. At first, I was a little taken aback by the suggestion that it was a sudden phenomenon that we saw on November 8, 2016. Until yesterday morning, I believed that the people supporting the likes of Donald Trump, Brexit advocates and the far-right movement in France had always been around, but had never truly been listened-to, and had finally found a way to say, “no mas!“.

But the Lord showed me that this change is, indeed, sudden; but its root has been developing over decades; something that may surprise you, as it did me: atheism.

The rise of atheism over the past half-century or so (the Lord says) paved the way for populism. Populism can’t survive without it, because if people have hope in something beyond the world and know the depth, breadth and height of the love God has for them, then political ideas based in hatred and fear can’t get traction. So Job One is to get people believing that there is no God and that even if there is, mankind is smarter than He is.

It doesn’t help that so many people have used portions of the Word of God to justify evil acts and attitudes, and that such a cult of “mystery” has built up around the Bible that ordinary people, for whom the Bible was given in the first place (God loves us so much that He wants us to know all that we need to know about His plan and not be surprised by things that are going on) seem too afraid to crack it open and read it for themselves.

And now comes the darkness that is “populism”. In this darkness of manufactured fear and hatred, people who had been doing their evil deeds in darkness have begun generating their own artificial light, and as their numbers grow, that light gets brighter, so that it will distract people from looking at anything else.

Why not? Humankind has been trying to replace God for some time, from trying to take control over death and life, to judging who is worthy of being healed and who has to settle for “reduced harm”, to the Frankensteinian concept of making human bodies immortal, as was reported recently from Switzerland. Why not try to out-shine the light of Christ at the same time?

Shining their artificial light, these evildoers form their own protective wall, like the old “Flying Wedge” formation in football, so people can’t see what’s really going on.

Their opponents, for their part, are well-intentioned and sincere, but many of them have also tended to espouse a humanist, God-denying worldview. Whatever light their own goodness generates is no match for the false light of the populists.

So we have Populism, Atheism and Evil: the antithesis of Faith, Hope and Love. Consider:

POPULISM – put your trust in a handful of people

FAITH – put your trust in God

ATHEISM – “More than this,” as the old Roxy Music song goes, “there is nothing.”

HOPE – life is about so much more than what we can see around us

EVIL – the antithesis of God

LOVE – the quintessence of God

This seems like a well-planned, coordinated effort, but it has this one fatal flaw.

God is now shining His light on it.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [understand, overcome, perceive, can never extinguish] it.

— John 1:4-5 (amplified from NIV, YLT, and NLT)

Wow. Look at all those things darkness cannot do to the Light of Christ. The enemy’s sure-enough trying, but it’s not going to work.

The Light of Christ is stronger and brighter than anything the enemy can throw at us! If we focus on that, we will not just endure, but conquer and bring others along with us to higher heights!

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

— 2 Corinthians 2:14

Always. Triumph. In every place.

Thank you, Lord!

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*Walt was known as a cartoonist, mainly for a comic strip called Pogo, which flourished from 1948 to about 1972; but through that medium came a lot of insightful and incisive social commentary. Among his more notable quotes (through his characters): “Statistics don’t lie when there’s only one set of books — yours”, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Waiting for us to wait on Him

“‘Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid; do not be afraid of him,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am with you, to save you and deliver you from his hand. And I will show you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and cause you to return to your own land.’
“But if you say, ‘We will not dwell in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the Lord your God, saying, ‘No, but we will go to the land of Egypt where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor be hungry for bread, and there we will dwell’ — then hear now the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah … the sword which you feared shall overtake you … the famine of which you were afraid shall follow close after you in Egypt …”
— Jeremiah 42:11-16 (edited)
And do they listen? Noooo!
nebuchadnezzar-1They pack up and head for Egypt, where they figure things will be better, and guess what? They weren’t. Everything Jeremiah warned them about — everything they had feared — happened.
In the Book of Job, he says, as the latest bad news hits home, “That which I have most feared has come to pass.”
This is kind-of like the current fear about climate change and such environmental crises. Despite the fact that the Word of God — coming to us through the Bible and to the “remnant of Judah” via Jeremiah at the time when Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Jews — promises that if we stay with Him, He will see us through, we ignore it and decide to grab the wheel and drive the bus ourselves.
And guess what? Things get worse.
Have you noticed that, for all the actions of the past 70 years to try to save humankind from itself, things seem to get worse? The threat of nuclear war, terrorism, racism, sexism and a bunch of other social ills is as much a part of our society as ever — even moreso. And over that same time, our society has drifted further and further away from God, insisting that we know better than some “book that was written 3500 years ago”.
And — at the risk of redundancy — how’s that working out?
Rather than reacting out of fear, we need to walk in faith that God actually knows what’s going on and promises to bring us through it.
But unlike most of God’s promises, there’s a string attached to it.
When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or sent pestilence among My people, 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 sins, and heal their land.
— 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
Usually, God makes the first move when it comes to His promises. Whether it’s by creating everything or by sacrificing His Son, He usually does something and then says to us, “OK — your turn.” Our “turn” may involve receiving what He’s done — but He’s already done it.
Not so with this promise that He makes to Solomon, and it’s a promise specific to the state of “the land” — i.e. the environment. “If My people … will humble themselves ….” He’s standing there, waiting for us to wise-up to the fact that the environmental issues are too big for us to handle with our own knowledge, intellect and technology, and too important not to hand over to Him.
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This is the premise of my e-book, A Very Convenient Truth, or Jesus Warned Us There’d Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About the Environment and Get With His Program! It’s available through Smashwords or any online bookseller.

The time of whitest fields

camille_pissarro_-_the_harvest

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for the harvest!”

— John 4:35

When Jesus spoke those words, He was looking at Samaria: the land of the spiritual outcasts — lost in every sense of the word. But rather than looking at the city in disgust and its residents as people to be shunned, He saw Need and Opportunity.

I know “opportunity” seems like a strange word in that situation, but for someone mandated to spread the Gospel and lead people into the Kingdom (or at least, be a signpost for them), that’s exactly what a place like Samaria is: lots of people who need to hear the Gospel and know that there is Hope beyond what they can see with human eyes.

More and more, our world is turning into Samaria, so let’s kick off this week with a call to action. In the past year, we have seen how the world offers little hope. All the worldviews, belief systems, mantras and legislated social “progress” have failed to prevent terrorism and economic setbacks, or to create the “heart change” necessary to overcome racism, sexism and the variety of “phobias” we see around us.

Nor are they providing the hope to know that there is something much greater going on now — and to look forward to in time to come.

And then there’s Jesus. The Gospel that we are loved by the Creator of all things, that His love is expressed in the fact that He took on human form in order to walk among us, establish relationships with people and then assume responsibility, through His sacrifice, for all the things we’ve done (or ever will do), is the Last One Standing. When all else has failed — and it has — this remains the only Truth, the only Way and the only Life.

The fields are now white for harvest, and it’s time to get out there and tell people why we have hope; why we can walk in love, peace, joy, patience, etc., etc., in the face of all that’s going on.

It’s a hard slog, no question about it: the world has very carefully pre-disposed people not to hear the Gospel. The mantra, “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual”, can shut down any talk of Jesus. So can the glib rejoinder, “I was born OK the first time”.

(Response to that rejoinder: “Why settle for OK, when God has so much more for you?”

Response to that mantra: “Which spirit would that be?” Hint: There is no Door Number 3.)

You and I were born into this time for exactly this reason: we have the testimony, the faith and the power of the Holy Spirit within us to push past the obstacles the world will throw in our way.

And He Himself have some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God … that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine … but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ ….

— Ephesians 4:11-15 (edited)

Sure, it’s scary: we could be (say it’s not so!) laughed at, shunned or otherwise persecuted. But if it weren’t scary, daunting or difficult, we wouldn’t need to rely on the Holy Spirit and we’d be doing this in our own strength. And we’ve already seen how well that works.

“When they go low …”

 

When they go low, we go high.

— Michelle Obama, at the 2016 Democratic National Convention

high-roadThe First Lady’s sentiment is a cornerstone of the Christian approach to the world: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”*.

For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

“Who committed no sin,

Nor was deceit found in His mouth”

who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously ….

— 1 Peter 2:20-23

But there is an important question here: a question of the heart. Why are you “going high” when someone else “goes low”?

(Some would suggest that, in the US election campaign, no one went particularly high. My mother-in-law said in the summer “(Hillary) better start talking policy,” and those words were strangely prophetic. She allowed herself to be dragged into the mud-slinging, name-calling, ad hominem rhetoric of her opponent and eventual winner, when “going high” would have meant shrugging off the personal attacks and pressing policy and platform.)

Recently, I’ve made reference to C.S. Lewis’ take on loving others as Christians are called to do. In Mere Christianity, he wrote that we shouldn’t bother about whether we actually love someone, act as if we do, and the heart will eventually change. Let’s look a bit deeper.

If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his “gratitude”, you will probably be disappointed. (People are not fools: they have a very quick eye for anything like showing off, or patronage.) But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less.

— from Mere Christianity, © 1952 (renewed 1980), CS Lewis Pte. Ltd.

The same thing applies to “taking the high road”. If we do it because we want to show off that we’re that much better than someone else and expect some kind of medal, or to claim some kind of passive-aggressive advantage over that person, we’ll be disappointed with the results. We’ll also come off as a self-righteous prig.

But if we do it because it’s what we’re called to do because we’re Christians, we know we’re being proper ambassadors of Christ and we can get on with what we’re supposed to do. The people in the world who are supposed to notice will notice; definitely, God will notice.

There’s another element to the Christian way of taking the high road. If someone “goes low”, you don’t just “go high”: you go high and lift the other person up to your level. Jesus is The Great Equalizer, in whom there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

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*Just as I wrote that, something occurred to me. I had always interpreted that statement of Jesus’ as a simple acknowledgement that His persecutors really weren’t aware of what they were doing or who was really pulling the strings. But I remember the deeper meaning of the word “know”, which is to have intimate understanding of something or someone (hence the sexual connotation of the word). Jesus is saying that His persecutors were not intimately aware of their actions; their hearts were truly not in those actions, therefore, how could they be held responsible? In the same way, we need to declare before God that the people who torment us do not know what they do.

“Who says I need Jesus?”

(See if you can spot the subliminal messaging in this post.)

“If I didn’t have Jesus, I’d be a basket case.”

Not the most elegant testimony, I imagine, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.

I was in the process of being sacked from my job at a radio station in Vancouver, and the head of Human Resources had flown into town from Edmonton to thrust in his sickle and separate the tares from the grain. I was one of the tares. I think there was one other on-air guy who was being handed The Envelope that day. Larry (I think the HR guy’s name was) asked me, “Are you going to be OK getting home?”

“Sure,” I said. “I still have an hour left on my bus ticket.”

“No … I mean … are you going to be OK?

I contemplated telling him I’d be walking home across a VERY HIGH BRIDGE and if he didn’t hear reports of a traffic backup on that bridge, he’d know I got home safely … but decided against it. Instead, I told him my source of Hope.

We need to be ready and willing to express the source of our Hope, and show and tell as many people as possible — especially those who think that they “don’t need Jesus” because they have all the outward signs of blessing and prosperity. Saying “everybody needs Jesus” sounds fatuous at the best of times: people need to see the effects of Christ in Action in the way we live our own lives.

By that, I don’t mean that we strive for prosperity or any other outward signs of blessing, ourselves, planning on glorifying God when it happens. I mean, we strive to display an attitude towards life and the world that goes above and beyond simply reacting to the world in the way the world would expect us to react.

There are so many things going on these days that can depress and discourage us.President-Elect Trump And Vice President-Elect Pence Meet With House Speaker Paul Ryan On Capitol HillIt’s incumbent on us Christians to set an example of those who can rise above the world because of our relationship with Jesus Christ, which is available to anybody.

Sometimes, this means forcing ourselves to behave in a certain way, for the glory of God.

Let’s consider again the Fruit of the Spirit.

sermon-2016-11-20

Our calling, as ambassadors of Christ, is to bear that fruit, and as I suggested the other day, the way to bear that fruit is to act in a way that reflects it. We may not actually feel love, joy, peace, patience (longsuffering), etc., etc., but that’s not the point. We now have a set of touch points, which define whether we’re walking in the Spirit, and now we pursue them.

So in the face of these things that depress us,President-Elect Trump And Vice President-Elect Pence Meet With House Speaker Paul Ryan On Capitol Hill it’s time for us to put on a bit of a show. Exude those fruits of the Spirit and be ready to point others towards Christ. I’m not talking about being “shiny happy people” who don’t get depressed or bummed-out by things; but people who, even when depressed or bummed-out, know where to turn for hope.

If we’re sick — glorify God. If we’re depressed — glorify God. If we’re anxious or angry about a situation  — glorify God.

We are not of this world. We handed over that mantle when we accepted Jesus and received the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to walk in love, joy, peace, patience, self-control and all that when times are good and you can see the possibility of something better. But walking that way when times are troubling President-Elect Trump And Vice President-Elect Pence Meet With House Speaker Paul Ryan On Capitol Hill and you can’t see anything better takes effort, determination and total reliance on the Holy Spirit in order to pull it off. “Hope that is seen is not hope;” Paul writes (Romans 8:24), “for why does one still hope for what one sees?”

There has never been a better time to express to others that there is something different to aspire to — something better and higher. Once we and others grasp that, issues of the world lose their hold on us and we can actually take a deep breath and determine how to address them.

You here without the Lord, how do you cope?

For this morning, we don’t mourn like those who have no hope.

— from Breakfast, by The Newsboys

So now, we have an answer to the question, “Who says I need Jesus?”. Response: “because without Him, what else is there to hope for?”

Thanks!

Being Canadian, we’ve had Thanksgiving in October, earlier than in the US: I’ve always presumed it was because, being further north, harvest time comes earlier. By the time November comes around, much of the country is snow- and ice-bound, which takes away some of the feeling of thankfulness for a lot of Canadians. Apparently, the real reasons are a bit more complicated and political than that. I like my version better.

How about that? I’ve digressed before I’ve even started!

Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”

… 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 6:7-9, 11

 It was just another day at the office for Jesus; and another “ooohh — aaahh!” moment for the people who had followed Him to that remote location. That’s assuming, of course, that the people knew the “crisis” that was going down in the background. Who knows how many people knew there was very little food or money to provide for them? Chances are, most of the people probably figured there was a catering caravan someplace that they didn’t know about.

Whatever the case, there was something about that incident that stuck out in John’s mind when he witnessed it, because not long after it, he writes about “Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks ….”

“… after the Lord had given thanks.”

John got to the root of how the miracle of provision manifested: Jesus gave thanks. More to the point, He gave thanks in general: not for transforming the seemingly small worldly provision into more than enough for everybody; not for anything specific. He just gave thanks.

There’s so many things we can be thankful for, and I’m not just talking about the good stuff, which is easy to be thankful for (and don’t forget that when we say something is “good”, it mainly means that it looks good to us, at that time).

empty-platter

“Thank you, Lord, for ….”

In fact, we can be grateful to God for everything. If we suffer a setback, we can thank Him for lessons learned; if we find we’re surrounded by people we don’t agree with, we can thank Him that there’s a reason why He’s chosen us to be in that company; if we’re in any kind of difficulty, we can thank Him for the things we’ve learned in the past that brought us to such a time as that.

Above all, we thank Him because His glory is about to manifest. “This sickness is not unto death,” Jesus says when He hears about Lazarus, “but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4).

Giving thanks before the fact is a sign of believing. We declare that God is in control of everything around us, that whatever He’s doing, we’re on His side.

When I was pastoring on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, a man named Abraham stood up at one service and declared, “I am grateful to God that I am homeless. I am grateful to God that I don’t have a job and I don’t know where my next meal is coming from. I am grateful, because I know He is taking care of me, no matter what.”

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with 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 4:6-7

Abraham had that “peace of God”, thanking Him for a situation where others would lean on their own understanding and find anything but peace.

As I say, it’s easy to thank God when He’s done something, but this Thanksgiving, let us, like Jesus, learn to thank Him before He’s done anything.

The Nick Buoniconti Factor

“And whoever does not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”

— Matthew 10:14-15

It will follow as the night the day that, as we go out, sharing the Gospel by whatever means necessary, we will run into brick walls called “unbelievers”. They will shut us down, whether softly with a remark like, “I’m not religious – but I am spiritual” (translation: “Go away!”), be more overt, saying something like “I never felt the need to endorse a higher authority” or simply telling you to sod off.

And it may not be a case where you’ve button-holed someone to lay a heavy “repent and receive, or rot” message on them. You may be sharing your faith meekly and honestly, pointing out how God has obviously been watching over them or how His Word has foretold some of the stuff happening these days, and they tune you out. Take heart: you have run into The Nick Buoniconti Factor.

Who is Nick Buoniconti, and why does he have a factor?

buoniconti

Nick Buoniconti, #85

You would probably have to be over 50 to remember the Miami Dolphins of the early 1970s. They played in three straight Super Bowls — 1971, ’72 and ’73 — and won the last two, going through 1972 unbeaten and un-tied. Nick Buoniconti captained the “No Name Defence”, and Miller Lite Beer used that as a hook for a commercial.

 

The unbelieving brick walls are under the influence of The Nick Buoniconti Factor. They struggle to find an answer, and even when they hear the answer is Jesus, even when they come face-to-face with it, have it handed to them on a silver platter, say, “No … that’s not it …”

And you know what? It’s not about you. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” Moreover, God has known from the beginning that some people will be too thick to see the truth. When Jesus is asked why He spoke in parables, He said,

“Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the ingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given … because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says,

Hearing you shall hear and not understand,

And seeing you will see and not perceive;

for the hearts of the people have grown dull,

Their ears are hard of hearing,

And their eyes they have closed,

Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,

Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,

So that I should heal them.”

— Matt. 13:11, 13-15

Praise God that it’s been given to us to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom, just as it was to the disciples! He gave us His word on paper and has promised that we can gain understanding directly from Him, via the Holy Spirit. That being said, I’ve long puzzled about the idea that God appears to have written off certain people before the fact. Or is He actually warning us that some people will not make the choice to turn to Him, so that we won’t get discouraged in spreading the Gospel?

It’s important that we don’t allow ourselves to be put off our stride by setbacks and people’s refusal to receive what you’re sharing with them, because we could succumb to the human tendency to keep pushing until we get the result that we think we’re supposed to get. We could be determined to push someone until we hear them confess Jesus and/or say the Sinner’s Prayer and have the pride-based distinction that we “led them to the Lord”.

That begs the question of whether someone has truly chosen to receive Christ, or simply said the Sinner’s Prayer in order to get us off their back.

The other tendency is to try to convert someone using human-based arguments rather than faith, because human arguments quickly degenerate into a matter of “who’s right” rather than “what’s right”.

When I read Jesus’ advice to “shake the dust off our feet” and move on, I think of the image of a farmer, planting seeds and then shaking off the dust before moving on to the next furrow. He doesn’t stand over the seed and stare at it (or shout at it) until it takes root, sprouts and grows; he moves on and plants more seed, trusting that God will take it from there.

And so should we. We sow the seed, and trust that it will find fertile ground and, because God has already told us that there’ll be those who never will “get it”, not get discouraged if they dismiss us. We just pray and believe that someone else will come along to water and fertilize the seed, because even though God knows some will choose not to believe, it is still not His will that anyone should be lost. (Matthew 18:14)

Fill ‘er up — and keep filling!

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here

Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.

Holy Spirit by Francesca Battistelli

The hauntingly beautiful song is a prayer, and what’s interesting here is that the person uttering the prayer is not necessarily a “first-timer”. She’s already received the Spirit, and yet is still asking Him to fill her, the place, everything around her.

And even if this is her first time inviting the Holy Spirit into her life, it won’t be her last.

Yesterday, we talked about walking in the Holy Spirit — the “Nike Theology”, in which we know the fruit of the Spirit and so we “Just Do It”, i.e. start bearing that fruit, even if we don’t happen to “feel” it at the moment.

sermon-2016-11-20In other words, start acting as if we love people, are filled with joy, bring peace to a situation and are patient, and little by little, those things will become embedded in our lives.

While bearing the fruit is the action, the Holy Spirit is the fuel that drives the engine (talk about mixed metaphors!) and as it is with any engine, that fuel needs to be replenished. All of that fruit takes an effort to bear, and one can get tired of putting out that effort. The Holy Spirit is the strength and inspiration that we need to keep on bearing it.

A tree needs water, light and fertilizer to keep growing and bearing fruit — same thing with us, as we bear the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides all of that — both through strengthening us from within and through putting people in our paths who provide encouragement and just the right word at the right time.

The Holy Spirit also provides two other “intangibles” that keep us going: the prompt for when it’s time to rest and re-charge; and the prompt for us to be that source of encouragement for others.

So whether you received the Holy Spirit half a century ago, or were baptized in the Spirit just now by listening to that song, keep filling up. It’s a tank that never runs dry (John 4:13-14) and the filling station is open 24/7!

Never More Important …

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

— Galatians 5:25-26

Walking in the Spirit is part and parcel of being a Christian. As followers of Christ — as His ambassadors, in fact — our duty is to represent Jesus in the best possible way, providing a light that attracts people to us so we can point them to Him.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is Part One of the process of walking in the Spirit: we receive the Holy Spirit through faith, but we know that faith, without corresponding action, is useless (“… faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” — James 2:17). So the corresponding action is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit that Paul outlines:

The fruit of the Spirit is

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • longsuffering
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control

Against such there is no law.

— Galatians 5:22-23

How do we bear that fruit? One thing to consider is an anecdote about Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier, as they were shooting the film Marathon Man. Hoffman arrived on the set one day looking an absolute wreck, to shoot a scene where he had to look and be particularly fatigued. Sir Larry asked Hoffman what had happened, and Hoffman replied that he had forced himself to stay up for three days and three nights so he could “get into” his role.

Olivier replied, “Just act it, old chap!”

That pretty much sums up the way we bear fruit of the Holy Spirit. We know what the fruit is supposed to be, and for the first bit, it takes conscious effort on our part to bear it. CS Lewis says that, since we, as Christians, are called to love our neighbour, we shouldn’t get hung up on whether we actually do love him or her: just act as if we did. The more we do that, the more we grow to love them.

I call this “The Nike Theology”:

nike-ad

I have a little experience in this. There would be people who came into Gospel Mission in Vancouver who would make me cringe, inwardly: they were generally trouble, largely through being drunk, stoned, obnoxious, violent, profane, or all of the above. But outwardly, I would act like I loved them unconditionally. (That may sound hypocritical, but in fact, it’s working to fulfill a Commandment that is, because I have to be commanded to do it, not a natural act.)

And you know what? I would grow to love them. I would even start to like some of them. (We humans tend to look at loving someone as being a natural progression from liking them. But with God, loving and liking are two different things: He loves us no matter what; there are times, though, when He doesn’t particularly like us.)

It has never been more important to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit than it is now. There is so much to fear in the world: wars, terrorism, climate change, the US election, situations in Canada; the only place people can turn right now is to Jesus, and it’s up to us — His ambassadors — to let them know that He is real and is the only source of Hope in our world. Everyone, no matter who they are, how they vote, what their religion might be or what the colour of their skin is, needs love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, a soft answer and understanding (patience and self-control). We are called to bring that to people and we are capable of doing it, if only because the Holy Spirit in us gives us the strength, the motivation and even the words to do so.

And the exciting thing is, we are alive at this time, in this age, in this place, with this assignment!

Let’s do this!

Entertaining Angels

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.

— Hebrews 13:2

I was in her presence for maybe ninety seconds, but I remember her more clearly than people I’ve known all my life.

About my age. Shoulder-length, dark hair. Glasses. Pretty, in a plain sort of way (or plain, in a pretty sort of way – take your pick). Blue t-shirt. Blue jeans.

And she was an angel.

I don’t mean “angel” in the sense of a vision of loveliness, spotted from across a crowded room, or the shadowy figure who gave me a tiny hit of morphine when I was in hospital once.

I mean “angel” in the sense of … well …

In the first couple of years after graduating from university, I tried to make it as an actor and writer, and had some moderate success — just enough for me to keep my eyes open for regular, paying work. I landed a job writing for a TV series featuring a charming maladroit, Stan Kann. It was the closest thing to a “reality” show at the time: much of the entertainment value of the show came from putting Stan in the midst of something physical and technical. Having a kitchen scene was a frequent ploy; so was anything to do with putting something together.

In one episode, we decided to put Stan among some exotic pets — special hamsters, a rare breed of lapdog, and … a boa constrictor.

The 6′ boa arrived in one of those purple velvet draw-string bags that usually hold a certain brand of rye whiskey. I took charge of the snake and decided to show off my daring and savoir-faire by wearing the snake.

A little background: when I was in the sixth grade, the then curator of the Stanley Park Zoo in Vancouver came to give a talk to my science class. He showed us a great horned owl and also brought out a boa, which he placed around his neck.

“The idea,” he said, “is to remain calm at all times. That way, the boa won’t get nervous and tighten up on you.” He let some of us (including me) try it, and because he was calm, we were calm, and so (thankfully) was the snake.

He took the snake back and continued his talk but occasionally his face would start to turn red and he would tug a little at the snake, like Rodney Dangerfield adjusting his collar.

“Remain calm” stuck with me as I pulled the boa out of the bag and draped it around my neck. “See?” I told the others on the crew. “No problem at all.”

The snake and I went for a walk — up to the reception area where the studio audience was starting to gather. The receptionist freaked. When she calmed down, we looked down into the newsroom, which we could see from the reception area. “I dare you,” she said. “Go into the newsroom and stand beside the camera while Pamela (Martin) is reading.” We had a good laugh and then decided against it.

I dropped the snake back into the bag and sauntered down to our studio. We did the show, everyone had a good time; and when it was over, the audience came onto the set to meet Stan, the co-star (June Lockhart) and host Doug Paulson, and look at the animals.

I got the snake and draped him (or her) over my neck again. And that’s when I ran into what they refer to on TV as “circumstances beyond our control”. A bunch of kids came over and started taunting the snake — tapping it on the head, hissing at it. They were Just Being Kids — not malicious, or anything — but I quickly found out that it was impossible to remain calm while trying to convey to these kids the importance of NOT GETTING A SNAKE EXCITED WHILE IT WAS AROUND MY NECK.

The snake got excited. The tension around my neck increased, and my Rodney Dangerfield impression was no match for the solid muscle that is a boa constrictor.

And that’s when the girl appeared.

I have no idea where she came from, but she was suddenly right in front of me. She bent down and looked the snake in the eyes and talked very quietly to it, stroking its head. I felt the snake start to relax, moved the opening of the bag so it was just under his tail, and as soon as I was able to, gave a little shrug and the snake dropped into the bag. I pulled the draw-string tight.

Grateful and embarrassed at once, I looked up to thank the girl. And I couldn’t see her. Not even a brunette head, receding into the crowd. Nothing.

It took me a good twenty years to realize who she really was, because here’s the kicker.

I was not “saved” at the time.

I was not Born Again (in fact, I still thought it was cool to ridicule Christians) and wouldn’t have recognized an angel if it had appeared with a pair of wings, a sword in one hand and a business card in the other saying “Warrior Angel.”

But saved or not, I was still one of God’s kids, and He made sure an angel was in place to save me from getting boaconstricted — just as He would for anybody else! There would be time enough for me to realize what was going down — twenty years — and then to give God the glory — including now, nearly 40 years down the road.

Think about the times when you’ve been in a tough spot and somehow, you’ve been extricated for no apparent reason or without “deserving” to be rescued. Even the times when you sit back and say, “well, it could have been worse” … somewhere nearby, there was an angel; always, there was God, saying, “let My name be glorified by this person’s rescue!”

The writer of Hebrews cautions that we have to beware of how we treat people we don’t know, because they could be angels in disguise. And — to take it deeper — they could wind up being the very ones who show up when we least expect it — and most need it.

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How about you? Do you have an “angel encounter” to share? I believe there’s a “comment” box below ↓