God keep our land …

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Coat of Arms © 1994 Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada.

‘Tis July 1, which means today is Canada Day — or, as it was called when I was growing up, “Dominion Day” or “Confederation Day”: the anniversary of the birth of this country.

Some call this “Canada’s 151st birthday” and there are many who quibble about the fact that not all ten provinces joined Confederation at once — BC was in 1871, Manitoba in 1870, Saskatchewan in 1905, Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t join until 1949 (the bad joke is that that’s why it’s always half an hour later in Newfoundland) — and others raise the spectre of dark pages from the country’s past, like the treatment of First Nations, saying there’s no reason to celebrate the creation of Canada.

To the former group, I say “you need to get out more often”.

To the latter group, I say this is a country that has taken massive strides to right those wrongs and move forward. Remember that God’s thoughts towards everyone, regardless of race or heritage, are thoughts of peace and not of evil (Jeremiah 29:11). We have to be careful not to let our thoughts get in the way of that.

Something that I think is important to note is that our country has embedded God into its official symbols. It’s in our national anthem: the English version says “God keep our land glorious and free”, and the original French refers to our country’s ability to carry the Cross as well as the sword. The preamble to the Canadian Constitution refers to the supremacy of God. The original name of Canada was “Dominion of Canada” — a reference to Psalm 72, in which verse 8 says, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea”. We don’t talk about “dominion” much anymore, but the Coat of Arms, above, bears the motto, “A mari usque ad mare” — “from sea even unto sea”.

And look at that Coat of Arms: what’s over everything? The Crown, yes, but what’s on top of the Crown, above all else? The Cross.

Our country is one of the most peaceable in the world — in fact, I can’t think of one more blessed with peace, freedom and prosperity. I believe that because God is still mentioned “officially”, this country hasn’t lost a war, has not suffered a major terrorist attack, and still produces enough food for all; it’s because God is still part of our official trappings that we have this innate leaning towards making peace in the world and welcoming strangers — because we and/or our ancestors were also strangers in a strange land at one time.

We have to be careful not to get smug and use this blessing in ways that go against the Word of God — and that’s a very real danger; let’s remember that every time we sing, “God keep our land glorious and free”, He hears us … and He does.

Profits from the prophets

Lately, I’ve been reading what are called the “minor prophets” — Zechariah, Malachi, Obadiah — those fellows; as opposed to Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel, who heard a lot from the Lord.

I think it’s important to read the prophets for a number of reasons:

  1. They predict Jesus’ coming and His actions — sort of a reverse-confirmation.
  2. They predict historical events that later happened — confirmation that they were hearing from God.*
  3. Those predictions came with warnings that these events would be the result of turning-away from God.
  4. The prophecies apply to our time, as well.

I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve read something in the prophets and said, “Wow! He could be talking about Canada!” or “Wow! He could be talking about Vancouver!” or “Those self-righteous gits in the Religious Right better watch out: this guy’s talking about them!”

BUT …

They also apply to us. The prophets have given us a mirror to look at, shining a light on things in our own lives that we ordinarily couldn’t see. If we read them properly, the prophets help us to see where we need to be corrected — things we need to pray about in our own lives, that the Holy Spirit will come in and heal us. It’s tempting to see how other people and other nations — and especially those we don’t particularly like — could benefit from reading and considering what the prophets have said, but the inconvenient truth is that before we do, we need to consider a little longer; think a little bit deeper, and say, “Are you talkin’ to me?”

Not that we’re not supposed to look at all the angles, but in this day and age, the best we can do is pray for them. We don’t have to be specific and point out their faults: that runs the risk of becoming like that Pharisee standing next to a tax collector and saying, “Lord, thank you that I’m not like him”. Just lift them up to the Lord for mercy and revelation. Besides, what you see may not be what God sees. You might be surprised at the result.

(Did I just say that the “best” we can do is pray? Funny how that always sounds like a last resort, or a desperation move, rather than the most potent and powerful weapon that we have — especially when you can get others to pray in agreement.)

Besides, people tend not to recognize the shoe that fits them, unless the Holy Spirit hits them over the head with it. And God knows that unless they truly press in to hear from Him, they’ll miss it altogether:

And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.”

— Isaiah 6:9-10

God knows that many people will miss the message, and He says it grieves Him when that happens. But that prediction is also there so that we who do hear it and pass it on (because that’s what we’re called to do) don’t get our expectations up and don’t get frustrated.

Some people question whether the books in the Bible are truly the Word of God, but you know where the proof of the pudding lies: those Scriptures had already been around for 800 to 1,000 years when the Council met and they still ring as true today as they did then.

As you read those prophecies (and I know I’ve said this before), there’s one important thing to remember. There was a common theme, spoken to different people at different times over several centuries, and it overrides all the warnings and talk of God venting His wrath on people for disobedience.

Things get better, and for those who draw near to God and walk in His ways (which are not hard), there will be peace and blessing forever.


BLATANT PLUG ALERT: Saturday, July 1, is the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Tomorrow’s post takes a look at the position God has in Canada’s official symbols. One could say it’s an “unsung” position, except that we do sing about it, every time the PA announcer says, “Now ladies and gentlemen, would you please stand for the playing of O Canada!”

Pure religion and the spot of the world

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

— James 1:27

That’s a theme that continues throughout the Bible — Old Testament and New — that one of the reasons why God created us is to help one another. We’re expected to reach out to those on tough times, or those “less fortunate”, and help and encourage them. Indeed, that’s a reason why wealth exists: the rich are expected to share that with the poor.

Defend the poor and fatherless;

Do justice to the afflicted and needy.

Defend the poor and needy;

Free them from the hand of the wicked.

— Psalm 8:3-4

But it’s not just about money. Yes, James says that we need to provide physical aid, like food, clothing, or shelter, but “defending” and “visiting” involves spending time with people, encouraging them and raising their spirits.

One of the biggest things I learned from ministering on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side was that anybody — including I — was one mis-step away from winding up in the same situation. The people I met were no different from me — they just made some questionable choices and then handled them in a way that ultimately damaged their lives. So the question that keeps coming back to me is, “What would I have done, given the same circumstances?”

James writes that we need to keep ourselves “unspotted by the world”. You’ll notice from those two passages that a “qualifier” is missing: the notion of deserving our help and encouragement. It doesn’t say, for instance, “Do justice to the poor and needy if they deserve our help.

The “spot” of the world would make us judge them that way. It would make us say, “He brought it on himself,” or “I managed to stay out of that mess — so can she”. The world makes us buy into the concept that drug addicts and drunks are evil people, or that any physical ailment can only be addressed with a physical cure. But that leads us to pass the responsibility for helping the poor on to “specialists” — people who peddle ideas like “harm reduction”, which, in effect, sends a message that certain people are unworthy of being healed so the best we can do is reduce the harm.

The “spot” of the world makes us look at those wealthier than we and say “they should be doing something.” It’s popular among some Christians to attack churches that appear to have a lot of money and say that the money should be spent on the poor — much as Judas Iscariot did when the woman poured expensive ointment over Jesus’ head. But when one makes that criticism, most often, it’s made without knowing whether the church doesn’t spend its resources on the poor. Much better to put your hand on your own plow and do what you can.

The “spot” of the world would also make us think that it begins and ends with money. It’s easy to fob off a poor person on the street with a five-spot, say, “God bless” the way a cashier tells you to “Have a nice day”, and move on, forgetting in the next instant that the person (or the five-spot) even existed. Rather, consider this:

And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.”

So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”

— Acts 3:4-6

The “spot” of the world would then make you believe that simply offering prayer or sharing the Holy Spirit, as Peter and John did, would be insufficient. But I have often been surprised at the way someone responds when you stop to talk to them about Jesus Christ and what He has done in your life — regardless of whether you give them money. The lame man expected to receive something from Peter and John. He probably thought that they would give him money, but it turned out that what they did give him was what he really needed.

Food not bombs

About a decade ago now (Gad! That long?), the building that houses Gospel Mission on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (where I pastored for seven amazing years) shared quarters with two other occupants. We were on the top floor; the bottom floor housed a coffee shop and a series of anarchist, anti-establishment protest groups.

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To be frank, they were of the opinion that the world stinks and somebody (although not they, themselves) should do something about it. (In less charitable moments, I called them the “rebels without a clue”).

When we took over the space in late 2007 to build The Lord’s Rain, one of the lasting images I had of the space as it used to be, was a shelf on which someone had written in black marker, “Food not bombs”. I believe that was the name of one of the groups that used that space.

The other day, I posed the question of what we do when we represent Jesus to the world: are we planting seeds in people’s lives — or weeds? In the same way, what are we dropping on people in the name of Christ?

The notion of “Food not Bombs” is a great one: Jesus calls us to turn the concept of revenge inside-out by responding to evil actions with love. As Paul puts it, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap coals of fire upon his head.” (Romans 12:20) (I read “coals of fire” as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit: releasing His will on the situation so that everybody benefits — not as a passive-aggressive way of getting back at someone.)

In other words, rather than respond to an attack — physical or otherwise — by hauling off and blasting the livingbejabbers out of the other person, let’s feed that person with the Word of God. Let’s respond with love, blessing and forgiveness, because it’s very likely that those very things are lacking in that person’s life.

The food of the Word nourishes and makes one healthy. Dropping the Word like H-bombs simply destroys. Your soul might get some satisfaction at the sight of some pride-laden mocker of God — or even some poor sap who hasn’t received Christ in the way you expect him or her to — getting smashed to the canvas with your Holy One-Two Combination, but it does nothing for the Kingdom and sets your own walk with God back several squares.

As Noel Jones says, “You could win an argument but lose a soul.” 

Bishop+Noel+Jones+LA+Preachers

Noel Jones

 

We are in times when people who follow Jesus are stereotyped, mocked and vilified. The temptation is to fight back — as happened to me when I read a Facebook post that slagged Believers in general and hurt deeply. I am still leaning heavily on the Holy Spirit to keep from launching a well-aimed, crushing riposte. (And I know that if I try to come up with something that expresses love and blessing, it will come across as sarcasm: best to leave this one to God, and if the Holy Spirit gives me the words, so be it.)

So consider what you drop on people who disagree with you or don’t share your faith. This battle is not ours to win: it’s ours to struggle, using the weapons Jesus gave us, remembering that really, it’s already been decided.


On further review … John Fischer’s post this morning also covered the topic of Divine judgment, as I did yesterday, although from a somewhat different angle. One can easily fault a person for straying out of God’s protective bubble, but more often than not, it’s a series of small, inadvertent acts that seem like a good idea at the time, that leads us away from that protection. Yes, in our pride, some of us do wander deliberately out of God’s protection by rejecting Him, because we can’t — or won’t — see the consequences. In all cases, the most reliable policy is to draw close to Him — and as James says, He will draw close to us. (James 4:8)

Punishment? Or exposure?

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!

Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.

— Psalm 36:7

The Old Testament contains repeated references to God either pouring out His wrath disobedient people and nations — as well as on those who oppose and try to fight His people — or declaring He will do so. Even today, when something bad happens to someone, there are those who would call it a punishment from God.

No doubt, when you consider the number of times we have kicked God in the teeth by disobeying Him and denying Him even when His existence and His blessings are so evident, He could be excused for getting JUST a bit wrathful, but what if we turned that concept on its ear and considered it differently?

He shall cover you with His feathers,

And under His wings you shall take refuge;

His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,

Even the Most High, your dwelling place,

No evil shall befall you,

Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling ….

— Psalm 91:4, 9-10

Or

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing …

— Matthew 23:37 / Luke 13:34

God is often compared to a mother hen, spreading out her wings to protect her offspring. And as He moves forward through eternity, those who remain obedient to Him stay within that protective “bubble”. Nothing will harm them. Those who stray out of that bubble leave themselves exposed to “the terror by night,” “the arrow that flies by day”, “the pestilence that walks in darkness” or “the destruction that lays waste”. (Psalm 91:5-6)

God won’t move to pick those people up — He can’t: His course is set and the choice is always ours, whether to follow that course or strike out on our own. That’s why He sent Jesus to pick us up and lead us back to that protective covering, the warmth and comfort of those Divine wings. Even so, there are those who refuse to go with Him — the ones Jesus laments “were not willing” — and they’re the ones who run into trouble.

Sure — it may appear that they’re Doing Just Fine without Jesus in their lives. Counterfeit blessings like financial prosperity, job success, happiness as the world defines it and a good reputation in the community can make people believe that they don’t need to be saved. Sooner or later, it catches up — and I speak from experience.

People who have strayed outside the bubble need to take up arms to battle the enemies that they face, fighting fire with fire and defending themselves with the sword. But it’s the Lord who gives us the green pastures and makes us lie down in them; who sets a table for us to sit down and dine, even while our enemies are surrounding us; when we choose to stay under His protection.

Oh, yes: the other counterfeit is the belief that being outside the protective bubble makes us broad-minded. But in fact, that “broad-mindedness” is nothing less than the consideration that anything but the Word of God is the truth. Our eyes become shut to the beauty and magnificence of God, His works and His love for us, not to mention the beauty and wonder of the different people who make up His kingdom.

So is “punishment” from God His wrath being poured out on us, or the result of being exposed by voluntarily coming out from under His wings and refusing the “lifeline” that is Jesus?

By way of an answer, how about this:

A thousand may fall at your side,

And ten thousand at your right hand;

But it shall not come near you.

Only with your eyes shall you look,

And see the reward of the wicked.

— Psalm 91:7-8

Weeds or seeds?

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who sowed a crop, but his enemy came and sowed weeds in among the good stuff.

So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 

But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.“‘”

— Matthew 13:24-30

As ambassadors of Christ, our job is to propagate “Eden” around the world — to spread the Gospel and help people have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ parables talk a lot about seeds, and relate seeds to the Word of God.

Our words have power, both to create and to destroy, so we need to be careful what seeds we sow into other people’s lives. Do we speak words of encouragement and life, or do we use those words to cut people down? If spoken in the name of Christ — that is, in an attempt to “convert” someone or “save” them — negative words can have the opposite effect and push people away. You don’t want to cause people to bow out of a race they had just begun to run.

We need to plant seeds — not weeds.

And the good seed does not involve pointing out sin — even though that’s our natural instinct — nor is it “affirming” someone’s behavior; it’s anything that directs them towards Jesus, trusting that the Holy Spirit will do His job, making the changes that person needs. We pray that the seed we plant will be good, and do our best to avoid sowing soul-choking weeds along with it.

Now, this might get you thinking back to conversations you might have had with others, wondering if you’ve planted any “tares”. But consider this. The funny thing about the tares Jesus talks about is that you don’t know until they’re fully grown whether they really are tares. Otherwise, the farmer in Jesus’ parable would have told the servants to yank them out right away.

In other words, don’t go rushing back to people you might have witnessed to in the past, trying to un-do any damage. That’s a mug’s game, to begin with.

“It’s as easy to recall an unkind word as it is to bring back a bullet from a pistol.”

— Fred Allen, humorist (1894-1956)

For one thing, you may have a different perception of what you said than they do.  For another, they may have taken it “the wrong way” at the time, which is the work of the enemy; but on reflection, the other person may come to see things differently.

If you try to “dig up” what appear to be weeds, you may rip out the good things you said, too. But you can pray for the Holy Spirit to work on those words and, over time, what appeared to be soul-destroying weeds would turn out to be a word that someone has really needed.

The key is love. Speak words of encouragement and not criticism; testify about Jesus and how He saved you, rather than take it upon yourself to expose their sin. Jesus reminds us to “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Our works include our words, so as you sow those seeds ask yourself: do they glorify God?

God and the HR Department

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from “Metropolis” (1927)

A friend of mine is currently going through what some might describe as hell in the workplace. A younger worker is after her job; her boss won’t back her — or anyone else, for that matter; and she’s too far away from retirement to say, “I’m too old for this c**p,” and walk.

My friend is by no means alone. I went through something similar; so have others I know. It’s soul-destroying.

Let’s face it: having a co-worker out to get you and a boss who doesn’t have your back, in spite of your doing a commendable job, are two pretty clear signs that your days with the organization are numbered. You’re tempted to quit, but if you’re of “a certain age”, with responsibilities to match, you’re scared to make a move. You have no control over the situation and I know from experience that trying to take control for yourself has negative consequences.

So where do you turn? How about asking, “What would Jesus do?”

That question sounds fatuous, but really, it’s a reminder to look into the Word of God. What does It say about employment?

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.

For what credit is it, if 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 ….

1 Peter 2:18-23

“Be content with your wages.” (John the Baptist, speaking to soldiers as he was baptizing.)

— Luke 3:14

The idea that being a faithful and diligent employee glorifies God comes up often in the Bible. That tells me that Jesus would do three things: (1) hang in there; (2) do the job as best as He can without complaining; and (3) give the situation to God.

Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”

— Luke 22:42

So you keep working to the best of your ability and if they want to be rid of you, they have to let you go. Here in Canada, firing “not for cause” usually means a nice severance package.

Now, beware: because that can be passive-aggressive: “Make them make the first move and it’ll cost them dearly.” But that’s not what this is. The passive-aggressive approach is founded in pride and serves mammon, rather than God. It also might lead to your getting arrogant and being fired “for cause”, and you get nothing for it.

But if you do this as a service to God, you still have a job and you’re still taking garbage, but now, you’re doing it not for personal, somewhat vindictive, pleasure, but for God’s glory.

Taking that approach does something else: it puts you in a state of obedient humility. You’re obeying your employer and putting your co-workers (including — or especially — the upwardly-mobile one) ahead of yourself, and in so doing, you’re obeying God. What’s more, your mind is opened to the possibility that maybe you were responsible for your being “on the outs” with the company.

When you “give it to God”, He will find a way to show you the answers. You may not know it at the time, but the company may be about to run into some stormy seas and He’s getting you out before it goes under. You also know that He’ll take care of you, whatever happens. You may even (are you ready for this?) keep that job, but find that the situation improves.

When the time is right, it will be God who moves you out of that position. And as we’ve said before, when He moves you out of something, He’s moving you into something else — and ultimately, it’s a whole lot better than where you were.

Not helpless!

God is dead.

(Signed) Nietzsche

Nietzsche is dead.

(Signed) God

— graffiti in a university washroom

I heard an interesting expression the other day, in a talk by a registered counsellor: “learned helplessness”.

It grew out of an experiment many decades ago, in which a dog was placed in a cage with a short wall in the middle. The floor on the dog’s side was electrified, and the researchers sent a jolt of electricity into the floor to make the dog jump. The dog would jump over the wall to the other side.

They’d do it again; the dog jumped again. They made the wall a bit higher; the dog would jump higher. But once the wall got too high for the dog to clear, the dog gave up. He wouldn’t bother jumping anymore and resigned himself to getting electric shocks.

The principle was then applied to prisoners of war. First, they’d be denied the basics — like decent food — and then they’d start getting letters from home with bad news: your wife just left you; your kids have died; that sort of thing. With nothing to live for, they’d cease to be a threat.

“Learned helplessness”.

These days, you can’t pick up the paper, turn on the TV or radio, or go online without getting awful news. It could be terrorism, war, environmental destruction, over-priced housing and under-housed people, unpredictable world leaders doing strange things, courts ruling and churches teaching that things that are patently wrong are really “rights” (I’ll spare you the laundry list of what I see as “patently wrong”, because it may not be your view and that’s not the point here).

With this constant barrage of doomspeak, it’s easy to get de-sensitized and eventually punch-drunk. You don’t know what’s going to hit you next or where it will come from, and you reach a point where you don’t care anymore.

And the cherry on top? The growing number of people — scientists, celebrities, talk-show hosts; the influential people in our society — who say there is no God or if He is, He isn’t something to be worshipped. These are not just atheists, but mistheists, attempting — whether they realize it or not — to make us doubt whether there is any kind of life after this one.

This is all spirit-realm stuff: this de-sensitization is a concerted effort by the enemy to put us in a state of “learned helplessness”.

So now that we recognize what we’re up against, we can resolve not to let that happen.

I don’t mind saying: there have been days (interestingly, the same day that I heard this counsellor speak) when I’ve felt like saying, “Take me now, Lord!”, wondering how much more I’m supposed to endure. And of course, that’s the fall-back position for the enemy: he’d love to see me check out and wait to be “raptured-out”, as some say, because then I’m really no use to God.

No: this is exactly the time and place where we are supposed to be. This isn’t about me — and it’s not about you: it’s about the people around us who need to be encouraged by the Gospel and the good news that #YourLifeMatters. We are alive in such a time as this (as Mordecai told Esther) because we’re the ones who can endure and keep spreading the Gospel. This is not a time to fold up.

Therefore do not cast away your confidence [strong faith; beyond believing to knowing], which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him.

— Hebrews 10:35-38

Whatever the enemy may try to put on our hearts or into our minds, we know better. So no – we are not helpless: God is there, and will fight for us so long as we stay true to Him. Read the Book of Revelation all the way to the end and realize that its message — the message of the whole Bible, in fact — boils down to two words:

WE

WIN

If there was ever a time to keep reminding ourselves — and others — of that truth, it’s now. Let’s call it “Learned Help-full-ness”.

A “Who” … not a “What”

Recently, a young couple I know corrected someone who said their son was autistic. “No,” the mother said, politely but firmly, “he is a child who has autism.”

She, her husband and their daughter are very strong in faith, and understand the power of words. For their son to be healed, the first thing to go — and one of the things one can readily control in the situation — is the label. “Autistic” is a label. “Autism” is a condition.

A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

— Proverbs 18:20-21

It’s easy to hang a label on someone: drug addict, adulterer, murderer, alcoholic, liar. Those kind of labels are generally related to an action or a habit. But does what you do define who you are?

Who you are is a child of God. That’s eternal.

What you do is something temporal. The problem is, we tend to identify ourselves in terms of those actions or habits; and if those actions are things that God has told us we shouldn’t be doing, then we have hung a label on ourselves that is very hard to shake. It becomes our identity, and over time, we become proud of it and don’t want to let go of it.

In so doing, we’ve denied ourselves the power of Christ to bring us into line with God’s will. We acknowledge that we do these things and that we’re incapable of stopping — “I just can’t!” — and indeed we are. That’s why God set up this little “out” called Repentance and Redemption. It’s real: I’ve been there and I’ve seen it happen in others.

All this being said, there is a time when we need to hang that label on ourselves. It’s that time when the Holy Spirit starts to turn that light on in our lives. We look in the mirror and start to see what others see. “My God, I’m a … a … rat-fink!” Then, once we realize others are hanging that label on us, we stop using it and start declaring that we are a child of God, saved from our past by the Blood of Jesus Christ. Getting rid of that label is vital, if we’re to move forward.

The stakes are high — eternally high. We’re talking about words, but the Proverb says those words are the key to death and life, and whatever words you choose — particularly about yourself — are the words that will come to pass. You want death? You want separation from God? Keep talking “death talk” and identifying yourself by your actions or your past.

You want life? Speak it out in words of praise, love and joy: praise for God, love for others and joy in your life.

Somebody knows …

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen / Nobody knows the sorrow.

— 19th Century Negro Spiritual (check out Louis Armstrong’s recording)

Did you know that you can’t surprise God?

Jesus says that He knows what we need even before we ask Him for it (Matthew 6:8), and it’s the same thing with the pain and the sin we go through.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

— Hebrews 4:12-13

Let me put it to you this way: if you’ve done something wrong and you drop to your knees and say, “Father, I have sinned against You,” you can bet that He won’t reply, “REALLY?”, clutch at His chest and look for a place to sit down. He already knows.

But just as with our needs, confession involves speaking out of our mouths what we’ve done, so that we hear it for ourselves, from ourselves. Indeed, since Jesus conquered death, pretty much the last line of attack the enemy has is to prevent us from speaking out our faults and misdeeds so we can hear them. Much better, from his point of view, to keep them inside like termites.

But look what the writer of Hebrews says next:

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

— Hebrews 4:14-15

That’s part of the glorious paradox of God. His Son is fully God — but is also fully human, which means He’s been through all the things that we experience. The battles we fight with the flesh, He fought, too, and the weapon He used to win those battles is the same one He’s given us: strength through the Holy Spirit. That way, when we turn to Him, we can’t say, “But You don’t understand!” He does. And we can’t say, “Sure, but You’re the Son of God! You have power we don’t!” He doesn’t.

In other words, SOMEBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE YOU’VE SEEN! SOMEBODY KNOWS THE SORROW! 

The difference is, Jesus’ response to the trouble was without sin. He didn’t fall into alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual immorality or any of that stuff*, but He knows the root causes — the loneliness, the despair, the frustration and loss — that make those things the solution in our lives. And that’s really what counts.

What also counts is that God wants us to be set free from the things that hurt us; He wants to heal us and help us move forward; and because nothing is a surprise to Him, we can face Him in our prayers without worrying that we won’t measure up or that He’ll turn us away:

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

— Hebrews 4:16

No shuffling feet, cap in hand, tugging the forelock and simpering what rogue and peasant slave we are (do you realize one word missing from The Lord’s Prayer is “please”?), and step up confidently, knowing that whatever we’ve been through, He’s been there too, and He’ll show us the way out.


* I list those as sins not to condemn anyone, but because they involve relying more on something of the world than on God’s strength. Sadly, so many of us don’t realize — or have been hoodwinked into disbelieving — that God’s strength is an option.