‘Tis the season … for symbols!

I strung up our Christmas lights this past weekend. This was also the weekend when a grocery cashier asked me, “Are you ready for Christmas?” “It isn’t even December yet,” I replied and we both had a chuckle. But Christmas does seem to be coming earlier this year, and not because the Christmas displays have been going up since Hallowe’en; I think that, with all the stuff going on in our world this past twelvemonth, we can’t wait to celebrate something.

The dental hygienist I told you about a couple of weeks ago had been sharing about her doubts and “intellectual” critiques of the Bible and Christianity. One of her statements was the stock response to Christmas: “Well, you know, Christmas is really an ancient holiday that The Church used to make Christ acceptable to pagans.”

“Or,” I suggested, “I look at it as God reaching out to pagans with the message of Jesus, using whatever language they understand.”

And I believe that’s the case: the symbols associated with Christmas may have been co-opted from pagan religions, but it’s important to remember two things: (1) God will use any means possible to get His message to us; and (2) Who created the pagans? So let’s consider:

The Christmas Tree. This may have been some throwback to pagan rituals, but if you take a hard look at it, it’s the perfect metaphor for God and Jesus. It’s a tree — rooted in one spot, unmovable. It’s an evergreen tree — constant and verdant. It reaches up to heaven while its branches reach out to us, as God did when He sent Jesus. The tree provides protection for all creatures, without discrimination. And of course, the image of the tree foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.

Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

— Luke 2:34-35

Christmas Day. There are some pea-pods who will point to historical evidence that Jesus was actually born in the Spring, and that the celebration of Christmas in December was established to distract pagans from celebrating the winter solstice.

OR … it gives new meaning to a pagan festival of the return of light to the world in the midst of the darkest time of the year. This is a chance to talk about the real light of the world. Once again, it’s an example of God, using language people can understand, to reach out to us.

Christmas Lights. Yule logs, candles and bonfires may have been part of pagan midwinter celebrations, but like Christmas Day in December, they symbolize of Jesus as the “Light [shining] in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:5)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It’s one of those warm-fuzzy stories about someone who was bullied because he was “different” and then does something to bring his former detractors onside. Lovely. Except for one thing: the only reason “the reindeer loved him and shouted with glee” is because his deformity turned out to be “good for something”. If fog hadn’t socked-in the North Pole that night, they’d be taunting and bullying Rudolph to this day. “Being useful” is a utilitarian, very worldly, concept — and God and Jesus really don’t care how “useful” you are: you’re God’s child and Jesus’ brother or sister, no matter what.

Santa Claus. I think St. Nicholas himself would shudder at the personality cult that’s built up around him. My children used to ask, “Is Santa Claus real?”, and we’d say, “the spirit is real – the spirit of giving to others and blessing children”, but we’d try very hard to avoid connecting the fat guy in the red suit at the mall with anything resembling reality.

But Santa discriminates. The myth is that only good little girls and boys get presents for Christmas, and that is antithetical to Jesus’ message. For one thing, what does that tell the children of poor families, whose parents can’t afford many (or any) presents? Are poor children bad? But as with Rudolph, it’s also tantamount to preaching “salvation through works” and ignores the fact that God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice are for all of us, no matter what we’ve done in the past. God loves all of us, whether we do good things or bad things, and “gives liberally, to all and without reproach,” to anyone who asks (James 1:5)*.

The gift of Jesus Christ is invaluable and to all and for all. And that’s what we need to keep reminding people through this season.

*I know James is referring to the granting of wisdom in that particular passage, but why wouldn’t that apply to any request in any situation?

The obedient devil

Satan. The Enemy. The Adversary. That Old Serpent. But “The Obedient One”?

I’m just going to run this up the flagpole to see who salutes, as it were. At church the other day, we started looking into the Book of Job, and something struck me.

Satan is more obedient to God than we are.

And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that [Job] has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

— Job 1:12

And what happens? Satan causes all sorts of calamity to come on Job: his children and servants are killed — save for the servants who escape to tell him the bad news — his livestock are stolen. But Satan doesn’t touch Job or, in fact, harm Job’s wife.

That’s an interesting one: I believe it fits with the principle that when a man and woman are married, the two become one flesh, so harming Job’s wife would be tantamount to harming him.

In the next round, horrible boils break out all over Job’s body from head to toe, but since God instructs Satan not to take Job’s life, Job lives through it.

In short, Satan obeys God.

Indeed, Satan plays his role as the Tempter in the same way that he did with Jesus. In this case, though, rather than tempt with promises of power and worldly authority, Satan is tempting Job to give in to the overpowering urge to “curse God and die” — to go on a tirade and tell God you hate Him and will never believe in Him or follow Him again. It would be a soul-satisfying outburst, and I’m sure a lot of us have felt that urge at times; but Job resists.

Interestingly, if things come in threes, after Round One — the deaths and lost property — and then Round Two — the boils — there is one more temptation. That is, for Job to come into agreement with one or more of his friends who come to “console” him. Each of the friends has some valid points in their assessment of the cause of this misery, so it could have been easy for Job to say, “You’re right” to any of them, and he — and we — would miss out on God’s true lesson.

But this isn’t an analysis of the Book of Job. This is about the role Satan plays in the story and how he’s been playing his part, obediently, ever since he got kicked out of Heaven. The fact that we humans have been surrendering to him the authority over the earth that God gave us back in the Garden means he is free to walk about “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But when you look at it, all Satan does is point us towards things that are pleasing to our senses. We’re the ones who give in and disobey God. But as we can see in the interactions we read about between Satan and God, he’s still an angel, subject to God’s authority. He doesn’t disobey God; but he does disrupt.

Now, part of me wants to point out we humans are in the nasty position of being more disobedient to God than the devil is. Would you want that on your record?  But there’s something quite encouraging for us to consider about Satan and his obedient nature.

When we are in Christ — walking in the power of the Holy Spirit — Satan is also under our authority.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

— 1 John 4:2-4

The whole idea of Jesus’ coming to earth, being sacrificed on the Cross and rising again from the dead was to claim back the authority over the earth that we had surrendered to Satan back in the Garden. Therefore, we have just as much authority to tell Satan to get lost as God and Jesus have. When we tell him, “Get thee behind me!”, he has no choice but to go.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

— — 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (emphasis mine)

This Christmastime is a time to rejoice at Jesus’ birth; it’s also a time to contemplate the things He did by His coming. With Him in our lives, we can truly rise above anything and anyone that tries to separate us from God.

‘Tis the season … to be imperfect!

I don’t often go into Superstore — no particular reason, it’s just not often on my way someplace. (I feel a bit unfaithful in saying that: The W. Garfield Weston Foundation — established by the family that owns Superstore — came to the rescue of one of my personal ministry projects, The Lord’s Rain in Vancouver, back in 2009.) Anyway, what I saw there the other day may have been something recent, a recent development, or it may have been there for a while.


Royal Gala apples — my favourite — $6 for a 3.63 kg (8 lb) bag. They’re not the shiny, uniform-colour apples you select, diligently and discriminatingly, from the produce aisle. These guys are nicked, bruised a little, small, large, somewhere-in-between, and a few might have what looks suspiciously like a worm-hole*.

But what’s inside is a royal gala apple, with all its delicious flavour and texture. And isn’t that what’s really important?

And isn’t that one of the reasons for celebrating Christmas? We are all naturally imperfect apples, and God, knowing that, sent us Jesus to be the great Equalizer: the One who is the “author and perfecter” of our faith. Just as it is with the apples, things we try to do to “look perfect” are artificial, cosmetic and often dangerous. I’m not up on the latest in cultivating fruit trees, but I was raised on horror stories from my parents about what was done to apples to make them well-shaped, shiny and bug-free. When Jesus takes control of our lives, He turns what’s imperfect and makes us the way we were intended to be.

Where the analogy breaks down, of course, is in the fact that when Jesus makes us perfect, the perfection first manifests on the inside and gradually works its way to the outside. Even then, it usually doesn’t show up in a way “the world” would expect it to. Chances are, we’ll still have our deformities, our quirks and sometimes odd behaviour that make us who we are; but our attitude changes and our consideration for others becomes more about them and less about us, as we are driven by that eternal desire to follow His way — and not ours.

Look at it this way: the price we pay for Him to accept us is to say, “Yes, Lord” — the equivalent of $6 for an 8-lb. bag; but the price He paid to get us is higher than we could ever think.

*Q: What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple? A: Finding half a worm. (Childhood joke – probably nicked from “Uncle Ben’s Sun-Ray Club” in the Vancouver Sun in the 60s.)

‘Tis the season … for non-religion

Yesterday, I was talking about my resolution not to get offended by the “Jesus-free Christmas” that our world has gotten into. Taking offense is a double-edged sword, and neither edge looks good on a Christian. One edge is that it makes you artificially superior to the offender; the other is that it’s kind of a buzz-kill at a time of year when we should be rejoicing.

It also doesn’t further the Kingdom, since other people’s reaction tends to be, “There goes that &^)%! Christian again! Too righteous for the rest of us!”

The idea is to draw people into the Kingdom – not make them feel excluded.

But if the trend towards a Jesus-free Christmas is to avoid offending other religions, this presents a perfect opportunity to focus on a key point that is often forgotten:

Christmas is not a religious holiday

It’s the celebration of the birth of the Son of God, and that knows no religious affiliation.

Believing in God is not a matter of religion.

Believing God (there’s a difference) is not a matter of religion.

Believing He sent His Son to earth is not a matter of religion.

The things Jesus taught us are not a matter of religion.

Being a Christian is a way of living — placing other people’s interests ahead of your own all the time, not just when it’s convenient for you or makes you look good. Being a Christian means accepting that there is Eternity — something more than the world we can see and touch — and that striving for that is worth more than anything in this world.

Being a Christian means realizing that God, the Creator of the entire universe, loves each of us individually and has gone to the greatest extreme to welcome us to Him.

Being a Christian means you’re set free from the guilt and shame of your past and your personal failings, and have Someone to turn to — even if you can’t see Him physically — for support when you get depressed or feel overwhelmed by events.

Being a Christian is, in fact, the antithesis of religion.

Religion, after all, enslaves people with guilt and shame and rules. Being a Christian means you can repent for the things you’ve done wrong and turn to God. There are really only two rules:

  1. Love God above all and with all you have
  2. Love others the way God loves you

Anyone can do that. What’s more, anyone can turn to Jesus, since the Word of God states baldly that’s the only way to connect with Him; so really, Christmas is not a religious holiday, at all. It’s a celebration of God’s Love for us.

Which is probably why the devil wants to suppress the “Christ” part of it.

But anyone can overcome that because, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

So let’s celebrate! Rejoice! Have fun! And tell others! This is not about religion: it’s about life!

‘Tis the season … to rage against the machine(s)!

Welcome to another Black Friday.

It’s called that because it’s the start of the season that merchants count on to push their balance sheets into the black — the period between US Thanksgiving and Christmas (or, in fact, “Boxing Week”). But because of the world we’re living in, it’s taken on an importance of Biblical proportions — without the Bible.

Hype springs eternal.

Now, I can be a cross between Ned Ludd and the Grinch …

ned ludd





… because Black Friday essentially relies on consumerism — doing whatever it takes to separate one from one’s money. And for what? In a recent TV documentary, The Men Who Made Us Spend, a former Apple executive stated baldly that one of the more recent iterations of the iPhone — which was launched with the usual overnight lineups of people determined to grab it as soon as it went on sale — was really no different from the previous version — just with a slightly different case.

In his 1981 video, “Elephant Parts”, Mike Nesmith included a commercial for a car, which was essentially the same model as the year before, only with the seats turned-around and the addition of a “cheap plastic ornament”. “We’re not hoping you’re dumb, America,” the pitch-man says, “we’re banking on it!”

Is life imitating art?

But there is one thing to be said for getting out and shopping on Black Friday — although it’s the same thing to be said for getting out and shopping at any time, and that word is contact. The more people you can come in contact with, the more opportunity you have to share the Gospel; the more opportunity you have to demonstrate what it means to be a Christian, by reaching out to others, loving them, listening to them, talking with them. How else will “repentance and remission of sins [be] preached in [Jesus’] name to all nations …” (Luke 24:47)?

And this brings me to the “machines” part. I used to be fascinated with the idea of the self-service checkout in a grocery store — scanning my own groceries, pushing buttons myself, even putting in the money and getting back change. Then I looked at the cashiers and realized that they’re close to my age, helping their families make ends meet in a tight job market, and that that job market is getting tighter all the time because of things like self-service checkouts.

I look at Sears Canada, Macy’s, other retailers going under, throwing thousands upon thousands of workers out on the street, because people are choosing online shopping. And no, I don’t think the majority of those workers are making the transition from the store to the call centre or warehouse. In fact, some online merchants are turning to drones, rather than people, to deliver the goods.

But it’s more than people being out of work. Theoretically, online shopping, drone delivery and electronic payment mean that people can go pretty much the whole day without leaving their homes. It’s just them and their computer and the stuff they’ve ordered. Another way to keep people from connecting with one another.

This runs totally counter to the very things Jesus calls us to do. Sure, computers can help with some things in life, but they’re no substitute for people. The Internet can help spread the Gospel to places you can’t reach, but you don’t really know if anyone’s reading (ahem), what they think of it, what their questions and concerns are. Face-to-face contact gives you that best starting point: establishing that you’re actually in a conversation.

A sermon I heard just before Christmas last year reminded us that “devices” are supposed to help us, and that we need to “love people and use things” — and not the other way around, which is the way many of us are going.

So let’s challenge ourselves to pass up the onliners and hit the malls again. Stand in the checkout line. Look for ways to engage people, no matter where you happen to be. And when you do, keep asking the Lord for the opportunity and the means to turn the conversation to Him.

You never know who’ll be ready to receive it.

‘Tis the Season … for offense?

I must confess that in past years, I’ve become more than somewhat depressed around Christmas. It’s not the can’t-put-my-finger-on-it depression Charlie Brown famously went through in A Charlie Brown Christmas; nor is it the depression that leads one to say, “Well, Christmas is for children, isn’t it?” It’s the feeling that comes from the Christ-less Christmas that has taken over our society.

I walk through the malls, looking for something that mentions Jesus. If I see a Nativity scene for sale in a department store, I want to snap it up — or at least, write to the CEO, congratulating her on remembering what the season is about. Last Christmas, I searched throughout a jam-packed Toronto bookstore, looking for a book or toy that had something to do with the birth of Jesus; nada. Lots about Santa Claus and winter adventures, but “the reason for the season”? Snake-eyes.

At home last year, my local grocery store played Christmas carols — “Joy to the World”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”, etc. — on its sound system. I hunted down one of the stock guys and thanked the store — through him — for the music. I don’t mind the odd bit of “seasonal pop” (Harry Connick, jr.,’s Christmas album is a perfect mix), but when it becomes a steady diet of roasting chestnuts, mommy making out with Santa and some furshlugginer reindeer that nobody likes until they find out he can be useful, I look for my “The Grinch Had A Point” button.

It all comes from the mind-set that Christmas is offensive to people from other faiths. To me, “Merry Christmas!” means, essentially, “I wish you peace on earth and goodwill to all”. Why that would be offensive is beyond me; but we need to remember that Jesus is an offence:

Therefore it is also contained in Scripture,

“Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious,

And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”

Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,

“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,”


“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”

— 1 Peter 2:6-8

The “offense” really has nothing to do with some ecumenical, multi-faith sensitivity; it’s all about the people who have chosen to reject Jesus. For them, Jesus is that stumbling-block — the rock that Jesus says either breaks you or crushes you to powder (Luke 20:18).

And Jesus warned us that people would take offense — and do worse to us. The world hit that stone of stumbling long ago, and it’s particularly evident when we’re officially wished a happy (unspecified) holiday. But rather than kvetch about the situation, let’s remember the words of one friend of mine, “If you’re not taking flak, you’re not over the target.” We don’t go out of our way to give offense, but if someone takes offense, it means we’re doing something right …

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses … by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love … as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

— 2 Corinthians 6:3-4, 6, 10

This is a joyous season, and if a bunch of Christians go around grousing about how awful things are, it’s kinda hard to convince others to be joyful. Hey: I get tired of hearing it, and I generally agree with the sentiment!

So this year, I’m resolved not to let the world strip away my joy at celebrating the birth of my Saviour or allow any fear of offending to stop me from wishing that joy on others. Besides, the odds are very good that sooner and more often than you might think, you’ll run into someone at random who also rejoices in hearing the words of The Holiday That Dares Not Speak Its Name.

And isn’t that a better antidote than complaining?

Now, to help us get in the mood … a flashback from the late Stan Freberg …

Intellectualizing the Gospel

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philip, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?

So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

— Matthew 16:13-17

In the “Divine dental appointment” I mentioned the other day, the hygienist talked about some of the doubts she’d been harboring about Christianity. This, even though she quite evidently had had Holy Ghost experiences like healing miracles and had a very clear picture of who God is. But her doubts were about Jesus, and had started to surface when she started looking into church history and some of the debates about Scripture that took place centuries ago.

If I understood her correctly, she was questioning why certain books were deemed to be part of the Bible and others not, and even suggesting that the Old Testament prophecies pointed towards more than one Messiah — not just Jesus.

In other words, she intellectualized her faith: while God Himself revealed to Peter that Jesus is the Christ (note singular), Son of the Living God, flesh-and-blood told this woman that He was not — or, to be accurate, told her that maybe He really wasn’t.

“Yea, hath God said …?”, as the serpent said to Eve.

Faith, by definition, defies reason and therefore defies intellectualism. Some put it this way: “I know that I know that I know”. When we try to intellectualize our faith, we wind up straying into the devil’s territory, where people burble on about Emperor Constantine, the Council of Nicea, shadowy conspiracies and attempts to manipulate and control people using religion. The emphasis on “historical context”, “rational thinking” (flesh-and-blood), “four-walls mentality” and the firm belief that man’s intellect is as good as it gets obscure the fact that faith is real: people have been saved, set free, healed and helped by the power of the Holy Spirit for nearly 2,000 years and YOU’RE a case in point.


For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe … God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty: and then base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen …

— 1 Corinthians 1:21, 27-28

(That’s what made CS Lewis so special: a British intellectual who was able to convey and convince people of the reality of God and Jesus Christ using his intellectual gifts. But very few of us are anointed, Bible-believing, Christ-declaring Oxford dons.)

It was by faith that Peter declared who Jesus is.

So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.

— Romans 10:17

We don’t have Jesus — the Word made flesh — nearby the way Peter did; but we do have the Word on paper, so reading/hearing that Word develops and builds our faith. Intellect has nothing to do with it.

The most dangerous part of a book

Take a look at this movie poster.

lilies of the field

Sidney, looking strong and aloof. Woman standing behind him, eyes cast downward: is she ashamed of something? Has something happened between them? Wait: you’ve heard that the movie involves nuns. Is she really a nun, and something has happened between her and Sidney?

I realize that’s not the official movie poster, but it’s the image on the cover of my DVD of the movie, for which Poitier won the Oscar for Best Actor. As it is, the woman in the headscarf does not appear, nor does Sidney’s character — a drifter who turns up at a remote convent and builds a chapel for the nuns — have an affair with any of the nuns. In fact, there’s no romantic interest at all, although “Lilies of the Field” is a love story in a much different way.

I don’t know whom they’re trying to sell the movie to, but the image has nothing to do with the story. It does, however, remind us what is often the most dangerous part of a book.

The cover.

The other day, some new people showed up for The Gathering, our Thursday night “lite” service at Westshore Alliance Church. They were led, more or less, by a woman I’d known since my Vancouver days, a street minister whom the four men with her called “mom” or “ma”. One could easily have written these visitors off as “street people” and made a mental note of the amount of silverware.

And one would have been wrong.

My sermon asked how much people listen to Jesus when they pray, and when we got to the discussion period*, Pastor Randy mentioned that sometimes it’s hard to get your head around the notion of God as first a Heavenly Father and second as a Friend.

Then one of the new group stepped in with this:

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

“If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and revel, you shall be devoured by the sword”

— Isaiah 1:18-20

I was moved nearly to tears — not because of the presence of the Holy Spirit (even though He most definitely was there), but because this man, who, as I say, could have been dismissed by others on the basis of his appearance, obviously knew the Word of God. Partly, I was ashamed of my initial reaction, but I was also marveling at the way God’s word is accessible to anyone who wants it.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

— Acts 4:13

“They”, of course, were the religious leaders, the learned ones who supposedly knew their Scripture inside-out, and who were now being lectured on the prophecies of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus (perhaps they were more than a little ashamed that, in their pridefulness, they missed it); and how this lecture was coming from this pair of ruffians.

Peter and John were hardly alone in this, don’t forget.

They were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as one of the scribes.

— Mark 1:22

When He had come into His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary?” …

So they were offended at Him.

— Matthew 13:54-55, 57

Jesus didn’t fit the picture many people had of the Messiah — especially those who “knew Him when” — and even “mighty works” weren’t enough to convince them, just as it was with Peter and John.

But something very apparent with our brother who quoted from Isaiah was summed up in the last sentence of Acts 4:13: “And they realized they had been with Jesus”. It was obvious he spent a lot of time with Jesus, and it shone through.

In his epistle, James warns about playing favourites and assessing someone on the basis of outward appearance. We saw that in its full glory that Thursday night at The Gathering.

*”The Gathering” on Thursday night involves a time of Worship music, a brief sermon, and about 20-25 minutes of free discussion, based on the sermon. 

The grace to be wrong

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.

— 1 Corinthians 10:23

Many years ago, when I was still fumbling my way along as a Christian, I wrote a book. It was called, Command ye Me, and was an interpretation of a passage from Isaiah that “spread the topping to the edge”, as they say in the pizza business.

For the record, the passage was, “Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons, and concerning the work of My hands, command ye Me.” (Isaiah 45:11 KJV) I took the instruction to “command” God to mean that, when we resolve to do something, we can call on God to make it happen. I found all sorts of Scripture to back it up.

It never got published (I don’t think the manuscript is around anymore), and over the years, I’ve often thought to myself, “I wrote that???“, and I shudder.

And then I temper those thoughts by considering that there were in fact some valid points — it’s part of “exercising your spiritual authority” — and I feel a bit better.

A couple of years later, I came up with a message based on this:

But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock is carried away captive.

— Jeremiah 13:17 (KJV)

The message was that we are so precious to God, that if we don’t listen to Him, He will weep in secret places. Nice message, and since it was directed to people on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (skid row), I thought it was something to remind them that no matter what situation they were in, God wanted them close to Him and would take delight in their drawing near.

Just one problem, which struck me several weeks later: was Jeremiah speaking of God, weeping in secret places, or himself (he was, after all, known as “the Weeping Prophet”)?


The fact that the New King James, which capitalizes the personal pronouns when they refer to God, did not capitalize “My” in that passage was a clue. I added a postscript to my next sermon at Rainbow Mission, to wit: “I think I gave you guys a bum steer a few weeks ago”.

Now, one could argue that Jeremiah was weeping because God was weeping, and that’s a discussion for another time. But here’s something to keep in mind:

my ministry, such as it is, did not implode because I misinterpreted Scripture

In both cases, the Lord showed me where I had missed the mark and corrected me without chiding me at the same time. Indeed, I came out of the experience stronger than before.

In other words, He gave me the grace to be wrong — and then to learn from it.

Among the lessons: how to research Scripture for support; how to meditate on a passage and ask God — the Author of the book — what He means; how to sit on a thought you might get from Scripture and not go riding off madly in all directions, trying to promote this “revelation”.

Which leads us to that passage at the beginning, from 1 Corinthians — something that has puzzled me for years. What the heck does “all things are lawful but all things are not expedient” mean? The New King James Version puts it as “not all things are helpful … not all things edify.” One of my pastors, Randy Rohrick, raised it as the difference between what is “acceptable” to God and what is His perfect will. Aside from out-and-out sin, God gives us the freedom to do what we believe is right, but it may not be exactly what He wants.

When we truly pursue God’s will, He’ll allow us to do what we think is right; but there comes a time when either He will call us out on where we’re missing His perfect will, or only bless us to a point and leave us to wonder why. I learned a lot from the experience of writing Command ye Me, and Sex, Lies and the Jezebel Spirit before it. It helped me draw closer to Him and find ways of encouraging others in their walk; and that would have blessed a whole lot more people than if those books had been published.

Which brings us back to Peter and his Big Idea to build tabernacles to commemorate Jesus’ transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9): God did it for him; He did it for me; He can do it for you.

And God said, “It’s OK to be wrong; so long as you let Me help make it right.”

My Divine dental appointment

“Reading the Bible is a lost art in my generation, I’m sorry to say.”

dental assistantThe dental hygienist had asked me how I occupied my time, and I mentioned preaching on alternate Thursday nights at The Gathering*. One of the features of those services is a discussion period after the message, and people have been taking advantage of it, asking questions and talking about their own experiences.

It turned out that this lady and I knew quite a few of the same people through churches both on Vancouver Island and the Mainland. But after talking about God and His supremacy and things CS Lewis had written, the conversation took a turn; she started talking about things she had been studying to do with history, and wondering why we were told not to study astrology when God had made the stars and questioning whether Jesus was the only Messiah the Bible talked about and why certain books of the Bible were admitted to the canon and others were not.

Thankfully, she didn’t say that “all” that was necessary was to “be a good person” — the standard I-don’t-need-Jesus response from so many people — but she was essentially questioning why people “need Jesus” to connect with God.

I had some responses to what she was saying, but I have a personal policy about not disagreeing too violently with someone who has a sharp metal object less than a millimetre away from my gums.

Besides, this was an opportunity to listen, and I actually felt honored that she felt comfortable in opening up like that. She told me that when she raised these issues with her parents and others who’d been responsible for her spiritual upbringing, they called her a heretic and ordered her not to say such things.

Not exactly the ideal way of addressing someone with doubts. It’s clear this lady is on an interesting journey, and I would be surprised if it didn’t ultimately lead her back to Jesus. That’s the wonderful thing about God: He can withstand criticism, questions, doubts and even full-frontal attacks, and gives us the grace to let us learn things for ourselves. People who respond to doubt with personal attacks sometimes are harboring doubts, themselves, and don’t have the strength of their own faith to let someone have their journey; certainly not the way to draw someone into the “family”!

I pray that, by my not attacking her for having doubts or questions, she found in me a professing Christian who’s willing to let her have that journey and that she’ll find a renewed faith in Jesus.

My journey was decidedly different from hers, and both of ours are decidedly different from yours. The more I engaged in that “lost art”, as she put it, the more it rang true with me, and the more questions I raised, the more answers I got. And at the bottom of it all, well, I think of an exchange Jerry Savelle related, between Kenneth Copeland and another religious leader. The other religious leader criticized Copeland for not preaching “the full counsel of God”. According to Savelle, Copeland paused for a moment and said, “I don’t know the ‘full counsel of God’ … but what I do know, works!”

To me, believing that the Bible is the Word of God; that the Gospel, straight-no-chaser, provides the answers we need; and that Jesus is the only way to connect with Him, works. Others may have a hard time with those concepts, but the more one seeks, the more one finds — and all in God’s time.

*Thursday nights, 7pm, Westshore Alliance Church, next to Western Speedway off Millstream Road in Langford. One action-packed hour of Worship, a message and a time of discussion.