Applied Christianity-4: Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control …”

“I just can’t shake this headache,” my co-worker said.

I walked over to her desk and stood behind her with my hands on her shoulders. “Do you mind?” I asked.

“No,” she said. Susan and I had a very comfortable working relationship, and we’d been known to hug each other or pat each other on the hand or shoulder. So I had no compunction about going to her and she had no problem with it.

After a moment, she asked, “Are you healing me?”

“I’m not, no.”

After a minute or so, I went back work. Maybe fifteen minutes later, I heard her tell another co-worker, “Hmm. My headache’s gone.”

I suppose I had every right to leap to my feet and shout, “HEALED by the POWER of the HOLY SPIRIT!”, but I restrained myself.

Applied Christianity is about taking the faith in which you walk, understanding the power of the Holy Spirit that’s been sent to you when you accepted Jesus Christ into your life, and using that power to effect positive change. Those changes could be in other people’s circumstances, they could be in your own circumstances so that you can carry out the Great Commission, or they could be stepping into a battle in the spirit realm that can have an impact on people thousands of miles away.

I don’t really know what Susan’s faith was at the time (and I haven’t seen her in over ten years, so I have no idea what it is now), but the healing of her headache happened, in large part, not necessarily because she believed it could happen, but because I believed it would. Charismatic Christians refer to “standing in the gap” — using your faith to bridge the “faith distance” between God and someone else.

Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

— Mark 2:3-5

We don’t know how the paralytic felt about Jesus or the likelihood that he would be healed. What we do know is that, when Jesus saw the faith of the man’s friends, the healing miracle took place. So while it helps to have both the healer and the heal-ee on the same page, faith-wise, it’s not an essential ingredient, so long as you (the one commanding the healing) have faith and do not doubt.

Consider:

  • I believed the Holy Spirit would heal Susan’s headache, even though I didn’t know how strongly she believed it.
  • A man of equal faith to mine — if not greater — asked me to pray over him before he went for a pre-surgery examination for kidney stones. We were both in agreement. He called me the next day to say that the doctor ran an ultrasound and did not find any kidney stones.
  • A woman I know was praying about her brother’s heart condition. He had applied to have MedicAid in the US pay for a pacemaker and she was praying for MedicAid to come through. But then, she was inspired to pray “create in my brother a new heart”. MedicAid turned the man down; but the doctor re-examined him and said he didn’t need a pacemaker, after all. “It’s as if you have a new heart!”
  • My father, who at one time had dismissed Holy Spirit healing as a “load of crap”, was to have the tip of one finger amputated due to severe nerve damage. My daughter quietly prayed over him as she held his hand. When it came time for the amputation, the doctor removed the bandage and did a double-take. “There’s nothing wrong with this finger,” he exclaimed. “Get out of here!” The damaged tip had been healed.

And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

— James 5:15 (KJV)

I cited the King James Version of that verse, because the language is unequivocal: “the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up”. “Will” (which other versions use) suggests that it’s a “desired” act, but “shall” leaves no doubt that that will happen.

I mention healing miracles, but that’s only because that’s been the kind of miracle that I’ve seen most often, first-hand. The fact is, God is standing by, waiting for us to call Him into circumstances that are beyond our (worldly) control and let His Will prevail. It could be healing the sick, or restoring relationships or bringing peace in far-away lands. Put your faith to work. Be patient. Expect God to work it out for His glory. Glorify Him when it happens.

The great sleight-of-hand – 2

I’ll resume the “Applied Christianity” topic, which had been coming out on Mondays, tomorrow.


On Saturday, I raised the notion that the flurry of presidential decrees signed in the United States over the past week might be a sleight-of-hand to keep us from seeing what’s really going on. I don’t know that for certain, but when there’s that much attention being directed to areas that are so narrow, yet so divisive that they have people at one another’s throats, I start to wonder what we’re not supposed to be looking at.*

It reinforces Paul’s point that we must pray for those in authority, so that we will live in peace.

But another key point is that the Executive Orders that the president has signed lead to the question, “Is this what Jesus told us to do?” If you’re a professing Christian, shouldn’t you be considering that, first and foremost?

From where I’m sitting, none of these decrees is supported in anything the Bible tells us to do.

Cracking down on “undocumented immigrants”.  

And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

— Leviticus 19:33-34

Barring Muslims from immigrating but accepting Christians.

… you have put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

— Colossians 3:9-11

General protectionism: sealing off borders, keeping out “the wrong sort”, etc.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you ….”

— Matthew 28:19-20

And yet, so many religious leaders are supporting these positions and called on their “flocks” to vote for the man who is now president on that very basis.

Is it mystifying? Not really. Many people identify themselves as Christians on the basis of what they hate. That’s because the Bible tells us that God hates those things. But there are two other things to consider. One is that God tells us to leave the hating to Him — “vengeance is Mine,” He says. The other is that we’re ambassadors of Christ, and as such, Jesus calls us not to hate, but to love unconditionally; to reach out to the stranger, the foreigner, the people who are Not Like Us and in so doing, lead them to Christ and thus into the relationship with God that He wants for us all.

And that’s an Executive Order that “trumps” all the others.


*Jack Knox, in the Victoria Times Colonist, may have spotted at least one of those things we’re not supposed to notice: keeping meddlesome things like facts away from the table.

The great sleight-of-hand – 1

I’m a sucker for a good magic act. I enjoy “Penn and Teller: Fool Us” — or I did, before Penn Jillette, a proud and avowed atheist, turned one of their tricks into a rambling, God-denying diatribe — and sat, gape-mouthed, in the London Palladium while a conjurer put an exclamation point on his act by making himself disappear. Card tricks blow my mind, and I used to have great fun at parties, asking a certain friend if he happened to have a quarter, and then watching while he produced the quarter from … well … anywhere. (My daughter, who was three at the time, spent the next five minutes patting her ear to see if she could dispense another quarter.)

Part of the success of the trick, of course, is that you don’t see what the conjurer is really doing with the coin: getting you to pay attention to something else while the coin is slipped up the sleeve.

But I think we’re witnessing one of the bigger sleights-of-hand right now:

trump-signing

False christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.

— Matthew 24:24-25

The President has been busy this past week, governing by Executive Order: build the Mexico Wall; pull out of NAFTA and the TPP; bar Muslims from the US (but allow refugees who are Christians to come in*). His vice-president appeared at the March for Life — the annual anti-abortion rally. The president has declared federal funding will be cut off from “sanctuary cities” — places where undocumented immigrants are allowed a measure of protection from deportation.

These actions appeal to many professing Christians and especially the religious leaders who called on their followers to vote for him, even though none of these actions is supported in anything that Jesus told us to do. What’s interesting is that these actions are highly controversial, have divided the nation and are focusing major attention on those particular areas.

Which makes me wonder, what’s he really doing?

We see the “sign and wonder” of a president who wastes no time to “git ‘er done”. The people who supported him are satisfied because he’s following through on what he said he would do, and the people who didn’t support him are marching in the streets and focusing their attention on how to combat him now and win the mid-term elections in 2018.

But while we’re looking at this, what does he not want us to see? What coin is he slipping up his sleeve — and which sleeve, for that matter?

I have no idea, but God knows full well what’s going on, so it brings us back to Paul’s advice to Timothy:

I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

— 1 Timothy 2:1-4

And here’s why: as we turn to God in prayer and lift up all those in authority (note the “all”), He protects us, keeps us in peace, and gives us wisdom and the revelation in due time. Our focus turns to God, and not to the man and his actions.

Jesus tells us that the deception of “the elect” will be one of the signs close to His return. That makes praying and drawing closer to God all the more important — for ourselves, and for those around us — no matter how they voted.


*There’s a new one for the Border Protection Training Manual: aside from being able to determine who’s lying about carrying contraband or plans to carry on business when he says he’s “only on vacation”: “Can you discern who has truly received Christ in their heart?” Or would wearing a Cross or quoting Scripture be enough?

The Fourth Man In

flamanfightThis is continuing the “hockey analogy” theme in the title of this blog. In hockey, being the third man in a fight gets you thrown out of the game — it’s not fair (duh) and makes it harder for the linesmen to restore order (double duh). But in our walk, it’s considerably different.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”

They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”

“Look!” he answered. “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire ….”

— Daniel 3:24-25

The three men, of course, are Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, Daniel’s three friends who refused to bow down to the golden idol Nebuchadnezzar had built for himself. As punishment, Neb-etc. has them tied up and cast into a fiery furnace — one that’s heated up to seven times the usual temperature and so hot that the soldiers who got too close were burned up.

There are those who say we’re now living in a “post-Christian” era: that the world has fallen far away from God, and those of us who still cling to Jesus Christ find ourselves on the outside, vilified, ignored or discredited.

I’m not talking about what happens when someone talks about the Bible’s references to sin. Even standing on one’s faith can get you shunned by others in the world. A couple of months ago, when I wrote about the link between atheism and populism, an online troll tried to take a shot at my statement that the premise of that article had come from the Lord. How did I know that I didn’t think of it myself, this person asked? A simple, two-fold response: (1) I’m not that smart and (2) it came during a time of Bible reading and prayer — who else could I have heard it from?

Giving God praise for anything can bring snarky responses. One friend asked me how I was going to tell some people about a difficult decision I had made. When I said, “I’m going to have to give this one to God,” she got positively hostile. “You’re a good person,” she said. I’m not sure what her point was.

When I shared with another friend about how “wisdom from above” played a key role in the success of something, her response was “benignly muted” — which, in fact, was pointedly not “benign”. A friend of mine told me of a time he gave God praise for healing his daughter, and a doctor laid an attack on him that I think surprised them both.

The temptation, in order to conform to the world, is to bury the idea of God helping or communicating with us. This may be convenient for us, but it also buries the message that God is standing by, wanting to help us — calling to us to call on him, in fact.

We are, indeed, cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to renounce our faith. The ruler of this world is trying to crank it up to “MAX x 7”, to get rid of us once and for all — and make an example to anyone else who wants to stand on the Word of God.

So we have to remember: there’s one more Person in the furnace with us.

shadrach-meshach-abednego

And just as it is with the principle behind the “third man in” penalty in hockey, it gives an unfair advantage — as Graham Cooke says, “one person, plus God, is always the majority”. Because

Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire … on whose bodies the fire had no power: the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected and the smell of fire was not on them.

Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him …!”

— Daniel 3:26-28

So let’s take courage as we go into this fire, knowing that, not only do we have God in there with us, making sure we don’t get touched by the heat and flames, but that others will see our faith and will bless God, as the great Nebuchadnezzar did.

 And now — for your dining and dancing enjoyment: Larry Clinton and his Orchestra, featuring vocalist Ford Leary, with Shadrach – Meshach – Abed-Nego.

“Qualifying” for Salvation?

hoffman-christandtherichyoungruler

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” [Jesus] said “… if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

He said to Him, “Which ones?”

Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal’, ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

— Matthew 19:16-22

I have to give credit where it’s due, for a couple of reasons. There is a Standard Teaching that goes with this account — that the young man (sometimes called “The Rich Young Ruler”) was sorry because he was being forced to choose between Eternal Life and his great possessions and he, alas, chose the possessions — the things of the world.

rainbow-mission
Rainbow Mission used to be in the second doorway from the right. This Google Maps photo doesn’t depict the squalor of the area, and yet the people living in that squalor have shown some remarkable insight.

So one evening, I was about to preach this at Rainbow Mission on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (skid row), when a chap at the back piped up, “Maybe he was sorry because he had so many possessions, he didn’t think he could ever get rid of them all so he would never qualify for Jesus?”

I was stopped dead in my tracks.* Over the next few days, I took a hard look at that passage and something leapt out at me: Jesus’ instructions are not consecutive actions. They’re parallel actions.**

Go … sell … give … follow. They all happen at once: selling the possessions was not a pre-requisite. The idea that it could be is a lie from the devil, to make us think that none of us could ever be good enough for Jesus.

Indeed, if the young man sells all his possessions and hands the proceeds to the poor, guess what? God will provide him with more possessions for him to sell to benefit the poor, so he never would run out of possessions. But in so doing, it’s now confirmed that his treasure is in Heaven and not in his possessions; and at the same time, he’s now following Jesus.

Now, “possessions” doesn’t simply mean “worldly goods”. “Possessions” can also refer to the baggage of our lives — the sin and shame and guilt we carry around; the things that possess us, if you like. Jesus doesn’t tell the young man to give that away — after all, who’d want it? He says he has to sell it. But if he can’t give it away, who’d want to buy it?

Oh – you’re one step ahead of me: Jesus.

And we know that Jesus bought our baggage — our possessions — for a price: His Blood.

So what He’s really telling the young man is, Let Me buy your baggage from you, and you take the proceeds and give that to the poor — the poor in spirit.

And how could the young man do that, without following Jesus?

One of the Great Lies is that we have to give up something in order to follow Jesus. That’s not true: rather, we’re exchanging something nobody would want — least of all, us — for something only One Person would want — and only One Person could afford.


*This was by no means the first or only time someone on the Downtown East Side posed a question that turned into a revelation. The level of education, intelligence, inquisitiveness and Biblical knowledge in that area has always astounded me.
**Actually, we don’t know that the young man rejected Jesus. Jesus tells His disciples how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom, but it’s still possible that the young man went away sorrowful, had a good think about it, and ultimately chose Jesus. One of many good questions for when we reach The Other Side.

“Let’s talk” … about Hope

Remember: today is the day of Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk campaign. Among other things, Bell will donate a nickel to mental health research for every Tweet and Instagram post that uses the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. (This is not a paid advert, by the way: Hope in Christ is a powerful antidote to many of the mental illnesses in our world, and this is a way of promoting that conversation.)

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.

1 Peter 3:15-16

So … you’re talking with a friend who’s evidently going through a rough time, on the principle that you’re both confessing your issues to one another, as James calls us to do (James 5:16). Now we have to be cautious of two things.

First, that this doesn’t become a mutual pity-party. Let’s say that you’ve led off, as I suggested yesterday, hoping to induce the other person to talk about their issues since you’re entrusting them with yours. But while one reason for the conversation is to let the other person know that he or she is not alone, either in feeling as they do or in battling a world that can seem very hostile; as an ambassador of Christ, you don’t want the conversation to turn into an exchange like:

“Life sucks.”

“It sure does.”

“Yep. Sucks for me.”

“I hear ya: sucks for me, too.”

You wind up both getting depressed, and that’s not going to help anybody.

The other thing you want to avoid is leaping into an effort to lead the other person to the Lord. No one wants to think they’re someone else’s “project”, and if someone is depressed, grieving or otherwise on the ledge, they’ll feel less like you’re taking an interest in them, and more taking an interest in you.

That being said, talking with someone who’s in rough emotional shape is a great opportunity to minister, simply by explaining why you have hope. Remember? As Christians, we have hope in the Lord: we know that whatever we happen to be going through, whether it looks “good” or “bad” to us, God is working out a Plan, and if we stay close to Him, we’ll see how

All things work together for good, for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

— Romans 8:28

So rather than fall into the morass of a mutual depression society, you have an opportunity to explain why you still have Hope. But once you do, let those words float in the air, giving the other person the opportunity to reach out and grasp them. That’s why Peter says we need to give our “defense” with “meekness and fear”, not shoving it at the other person, not pushing them to accept Jesus on the spot; certainly not suggesting that you’re more special than the other person because you have found this hope in Christ.

Peter’s description of this as a “defense” is interesting, because that’s the same context Jesus uses when He foretells a time when we’ll be hauled in front of councils or other judicial bodies to defend out faith. Jesus says that, when that happens, we need to let the Holy Spirit guide us in what we say and say nothing more and nothing less.

When you talk with someone, don’t expect to have all the answers. If you are led to witness about the reason for your hope, consider it as a seed and pray that it finds fertile ground and that others will come along to water and tend it as it takes root. This video has myriad interpretations, but it’s important to bear in mind — even to the point of talking about your own “nail”, rather than the other’s.

Remember: as followers of Jesus, we are in a unique position. We know that worldly struggles are only the signs, the shadows of the all-out war going on, on a plane we can’t see with our physical eyes, and we know how, as many others do not, how to defeat that enemy.

For though we walk in the flesh we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons or 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,  ….

— 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

One more thing. James reminds us to “pray for each other”. No matter how the conversation goes, remember to pray for the other person, and ask them to pray for you. Remember: “where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20)

Can’t go wrong with that.

“Let’s Talk — I’ll go first”

“Hey. Are you alright?”

“Yeah – I’m OK.”

“You sure? You seem –“

“I’m fine, alright?”

“Whaddev.”

If someone is depressed, grieving, “holding something in”, or going through any other signs of mental illness, one of the hardest things is to get them to talk. Even if you make it as crystal clear as possible, without equivocation, that you are there for them to talk to and that there’s no issue too small or insignificant to bring up, it’s likely they’ll simply say, “I’m OK” and leave it at that.

A couple of years ago, I heard a friend of mine, Nanci Luna Jimenez, who runs seminars in “transformational leadership”, point out that if someone is constantly listening, they’re claiming an unfair advantage. As I understand that remark, the listener is gathering all sorts of information from the talker, and is therefore “holding all the cards”. That says to me, that a barrier to “opening up” is the thought that the person you’re talking to will suddenly have something to hold over you.

This makes James’ advice, to “confess your faults one to another and pray for each other, that you may be healed” (James 5:16), important when applying your Christian faith to mental health issues. When two people are together and each is laying out his or her faults, sins, issues, problems or whatever, neither has the upper hand. They’re both baring their souls, making themselves vulnerable, knowing that the other person could easily exploit that vulnerability.

So as a Christian, trying to help someone in need, do you cudgel your brains, trying to decide how to wring ideas, thoughts, fears and emotions out of the other person?

No. I suggest you start by going first.

YOU: Hey – got a minute?

OTHER PERSON: Sure.

YOU: Can I talk to you about something?

By trusting someone with your thoughts, dreams, dark secrets, failings and other deeply personal stuff, you’re giving that person value. You trust that person to keep confidence and to listen without judging. And you’re sending an even more important message: they can trust you.

Don’t fall into the trap, by the way, of thinking that your issues are in some way any less “important” than the person you’re talking to. I remember when the Lord told me I had to take His Good News to Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. I fought Him. I protested that my issues were nowhere near as dire as what people on Skid Row go through. I hadn’t been a drug addict, I wasn’t an alcoholic; I hadn’t been homeless (except for those two weeks in my car). What did I have to offer them that they could possibly relate to?

His response was immediate. “What did happen nearly killed you, didn’t it?”

“Well, yeah.”

“And I saved you, with My Son, right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“That’s all you need.”

In other words, don’t succumb to paralysis by analysis. Don’t let the thought that someone is in worse shape than you are keep you from starting a conversation by airing out your own problems to him or her.

Bell Canada’s annual “Let’s Talk” campaign reaches its peak tomorrow, but the talking should go on all the time. And when you sit down to talk, I suggest you lead.

One more thing: I believe that treatment — be it medication, counselling or both — requires two important catalysts in order to bring true healing: love and hope in Christ. We may not be mental health professionals, but as followers of Jesus, we have the advantage of that knowledge, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, to minister it.

Let’s do it. Someone’s life could depend on it.

Applied Christianity-3: “Let’s Talk”

Now if you feel that you can’t go on
Because all of your hope is gone
And your life is filled with much confusion
Until happiness is just an illusion
And your world around is crumblin’ down
Darling, reach out, reach out for me*

— “I’ll Be There” (Holland-Dozier-Holland)

This week, Bell Canada is sponsoring another “Let’s Talk” initiative, to get people talking with one another about mental health issues. It comes at a most opportune time this year, following (as of this writing) two tragedies involving former soldiers — at least one, being a confirmed victim of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — and the retiring of jersey number 29, worn by UBC Thunderbirds’ women’s hockey goalie Laura Taylor, who committed suicide last year.

Scripture tells us that talking about our issues is the first step towards healing.

Confess your faults, one to another, and pray for each other, that ye may be healed: the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous [person] availeth much.

— James 5:16 (KJV)

(Other versions translate that passage as “confess your sins”, but “faults” is all-inclusive. You might not think that a particular “fault” might not be a “sin”, per se, so this rendering encourages us to put everything on the line.)

One of the reasons people don’t talk about their issues is that the enemy is right at their elbow, whispering his lies: “no one will understand”, “you’re all alone in this”, “you don’t really want to hear yourself say that”, even “suck it up, Prince Mischkin!”

Oh, yeah: “don’t you think Jesus has enough people with real problems to worry about? Don’t bother the Master!”

But talking to someone else about your issues — and sitting down and listening to someone else — is the essence of Applied Christianity. This is where we put our faith to work, calling on the Lord to heal our brother or sister in ways that worldly solutions can’t begin to touch.

Remember that James’ solution is a two-way street: you talk … the other person talks (more on that tomorrow). No one has the upper hand, no one sits and listens in order to pass judgment or even to offer well-meaning solutions. You’re both equals, and you both pray for each other, fervently, loving each other unconditionally, and believing without equivocation that God is hearing you and will answer, and you will both be healed.**

The website above lists some warning signs to be aware of. Sure, you may mis-read some signs or be accused by the other person of meddling, but on the other hand, you may be spot-on and someone’s life could be saved as a result.


*I do believe “me” in this case is Jesus. Thank God for Motown, which has managed to sneak so many Gospel messages onto the airwaves!
**I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: “righteous” does not mean “perfect” or “sinless”; Abraham believed God — believed what He said and promised — and that was “counted to him for righteousness.” If you believe God (not just believe in God), count yourself righteous!

GOOD – GOD = O

A new kind of atheism appears to be rising up. Rather than the mistheism that ridicules and belittles Believers, this one takes the approach that we don’t need God in order to be good. Furthermore, since there’s no God, there’s no heaven or hell and therefore nothing after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil; so we have to get out there and do the most good we can with the time we have.

What makes this all the more intriguing is that one of its main proponents is a former evangelist, the son of a prominent evangelist, who lost his faith (or perhaps, dropped it like it was plutonium) after a near-fatal bike accident.

It sounds nice and inclusive, except that Jesus is the most inclusive Man ever. He came for all of us, those who “do good” and those who do not-so-good. Once we receive Him and turn our eyes and hearts to Him, the things we do and the way we behave become good, by their very nature.

Besides, Jesus says no one is “good”. He baldly declares that we of the world are inherently evil (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13), and that there is no one good, except God (Matt. 19:17, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19). So basically, trying to “do good” and “be good” without the aid of the Holy Spirit is like poor old Sisyphus, eternally condemned to pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down.

sisyphus

What’s more, He sends us the Holy Spirit, which motivates us to do good things even when we don’t feel like it and the strength to do them beyond any ability we thought we had.

Point 2 is that I don’t believe “being good” is what this life is about. That pre-supposes “salvation by works”, and the Apostle Paul tells us repeatedly that our salvation

… is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.

— Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)

I believe life is about building our relationship with God. That’s why Jesus tells us to seek His kingdom first, and everything else that non-believers seek will fall into place.

“Come to Me, you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

— Matthew 11:28

Jesus doesn’t say, “Come to Me, once you have cleaned up your act and are doing nothing but good things.” The sins and sorrows of our lives are the labors and heavy loads we carry, and Jesus promises to take those off our shoulders.

Trust me: I’ve been there. So have you, probably. It grieves me that some people are being told that they’re basically stuck with the stuff of their past and there’s no way out.

A Psalm for tomorrow

Tomorrow, January 20, the United States of America officially gets a new president. For many people, and I confess, I’m among them, we are in a time of saying, sometimes through clenched teeth, “God is in control … God is in control …”

President-Elect Trump And Vice President-Elect Pence Meet With House Speaker Paul Ryan On Capitol Hill

But while the world would say we are helpless in the face of this political shift (which I don’t think is a “shift” so much as the heading of a sore that’s been ignored and has festered for a long time), we have to remember that, as followers of Christ, we are far from helpless. The Apostle Paul tells us to pray for those in authority, so that we may live peaceably (I Tim. 1:1-2) and reminds us how not to be afraid in any situation:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

— 2 Timothy 1:7

Prayer is a powerful weapon, and sometimes we don’t realize just how powerful it is. You may have heard an expression “pray the Psalms” — that is, if you’re not sure what to pray during your time with the Lord, turn to the Psalms and read them as if they’re your own prayer. Intriguingly, they often are.

As we find ourselves in this period of uncertainty over what the new regime will bring (and no matter whether you’re in the USA or outside, it will affect the lives of all of us), Psalm 140 leapt out at me this morning — as if it was exactly what I needed to read. The Word of God is funny that way.

Verses 1-3: Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;

Preserve me from violent men,

Who plan evil things in their hearts;

They continually gather together for war.

They sharpen their tongues like a serpent;

The poison of asps is under their lips.

Selah.*

david-saulDavid (who wrote that Psalm) could have been praying for us. He was on the run from King Saul, but there’s a reason why his song to God has been passed down over the centuries to us.

V.8, 11

Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;

Do not further his wicked scheme,

Lest they be exalted.

Selah.


Let not a slanderer be established in the earth;

Let evil hunt the violent man to overthrow him.

Notice that the prayer doesn’t actually name the “slanderer”, and we don’t need to, either. What the prayer pleads for is that a slanderer is not established: so anyone who is of that nature, regardless of whether he or she was elected and in a seat of power, will not be established. He or she might be in that seat for a season, but won’t be established, so long as we stand on that prayer request and trust that God will hear and answer.

Note, also, the call for “evil” to hunt down the violent man. In other words, the prayer is for that violent person to be “hoist by (their) own petard” (that’s Shakespeare) — in other words, done in by the very evil they walk in.

And here’s the kicker:

I know that the Lord will maintain

The cause of the afflicted,

And justice for the poor.

Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name;

The upright shall dwell in Your presence.

— Psalm 140:12-13

One of the many fears engendered by the US election has been that the poor, refugees, the sick and disadvantaged will be put at risk. This Psalm closes by declaring that we know the Lord will take care of them. To me, that means the Lord will motivate and provide for those who step up and defend, protect and care for such people.

We don’t “believe” that; we don’t “trust” that: we know that.

One more thing: I mentioned that David wrote this Psalm while he was on the run from Saul and his other enemies. Guess what? He came out victorious in the end. They were destroyed: he became king. God answered that prayer then, and He’ll answer it now to get us through whatever lies ahead.

Selah.


*”Pause and reflect.”