Alone

As I write this, it is the Thursday before Good Friday — which, in the Holy Calendar, is the day of the Last Supper and the Great Betrayal.

Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.”

As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, “Rabbi, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him.

And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”

Then they all forsook Him and fled.

Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.

— Mark 14:44-52

Judas Iscariot wasn’t the only one who betrayed Jesus that night. The other eleven apostles cut and ran, too, and Jesus was left.

Alone.

The Scriptures must be fulfilled,” Jesus said, including this one: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) For our sins, misdeeds and missteps to be redeemed and wiped off the Book of Life, there could be only one Person as the Sacrifice. Even though it seems horrible that Jesus was betrayed and left alone and defenseless on that night, He could not have had help in His purpose in any way, shape or form.

It’s ironic that the “help” Jesus did get on His way to Calvary was when Simon the Cyrenian was forced to carry the cross. Simon represents all of us: one thing we humans are supremely capable of doing is helping Jesus get nailed to the cross.

But there was no one else to take the beating and scourging; no co-defendant to answer the charges; no lawyer to call out the false witnesses who couldn’t get their story straight at first; no one to lie down on a cross beside Him and be nailed there. It was just Jesus.

Alone.

Because if He did have “help”, how could He say He was the Way, the Truth and the Life? There is no equivocation there; no hedging of the bet by saying, “there are many ways to the top of the mountain,” or some other such codswallop. God, as He always does, simplifies the process so there can be no confusion either about right and wrong, or about how to turn things around when we stray.

He faced His accusers alone, so that we will never have to.

“Train up a child …”

I know next to nothing about Mark Zuckerberg. I watched “The Social Network”, and have to give him credit for not trying to sue the pants off everyone to keep it from being released (if you haven’t seen it, it doesn’t make him look good). But I’ve been thinking about him and the others involved in the “Cambridge Analytica” affair.

Putting aside the many worldly questions I have about character or who knew how much, I can’t help thinking that here’s a super-smart person who’s been caught doing something wrong, and seems to be blind-sided either by the fact that he got caught, or by the idea that there was something wrong with he did.

History is full of people whose moral compass has pointed to self: people who achieved power but didn’t really consider the impact their actions would have on others. Advanced information technology, though, appears to have allowed a greater concentration of such people to have greater influence over a wider range of society. They take action without giving full consideration to all the implications, believing that if it looks good to them, then it must be OK.

I keep coming back to this:

Train up a child in the way he should go,

And when he is old, he will not depart from it.

— Proverbs 22:6

How are children being trained? Parents are often advised not to tell a child “you can’t”: that a child should have freedom to explore and dream and work to achieve. But a problem comes when parents don’t tell their children, “you shouldn’t.

Teaching a child discernment — and particularly, discernment in their own thoughts and actions — is a very good thing. Discernment comes by drawing closer to the Lord through His word, and knowing to pray and ask Him whether an idea is right or wrong. He does answer: we’re not left to figure things out for ourselves “based on the available information”, because He knows the entire picture, from beginning to end.

Sometimes, through the Holy Spirit, He will simply say, “no”, or “not a good idea”, or “sleep on it”. There may be consequences that we can’t possibly imagine and we just have to trust Him. Or He will say “go for it”, and provide resources we never knew could be available.

There is a way that seems right to a man,

But its end is the way of death.

— Proverbs 16:25

That requires “training up”, teaching a child submission to God. You can still encourage him or her to dream and pursue, but always to keep in mind that however brilliant and talented they are, their intelligence is not as good as it gets. It seems that we’re reaping the results now of the trend, over the past few generations, towards worshipping human intellect and reason, and glorifying the “rule-breakers”.

Mind you, it’s not just children who need to learn submission to God (I’m writing this to myself here, apparently), but teaching that lesson early in life will ingrain it a lot more deeply than trying to catch on when you’re in your forties.

Submitting to God doesn’t mean remaining stagnant and not progressing. God is all about progress — if He weren’t, the earth would still be without form and void and we wouldn’t exist. But by being circumspect, asking not “can I?” but “should I?” and coming before the Lord with our thoughts and actions, we make progress that is glorious and far greater than anything we could think of on our own.

“Collaborative Caring”

Over this past weekend, The Lord’s Rain and Gospel Mission have been on my mind. I missed the re-opening of The Lord’s Rain, which is the showers facility attached to the Mission, but CBC did cover it, and draw attention to the uncertainty surrounding the building’s immediate future in the process.

MISSION - MARCH 2018

Gospel Mission as of March 24, 2018 (nicked from CBC website)

But while one might think that the solution lies in finding a whole lot of money in a short time, the reality is, that was not the answer — not for The Lord’s Rain, anyway.

See, when Barry and I started fleshing out the plan for the project, our first thought was, How do we get funding? We had none. We had an “obvious” solution — we thought. It would take $14,000 to build it and get it running, and we figured a certain very wealthy Christian businessman would jump at the chance to bankroll it.

I wrote a smasher of a letter and sent it snail-mail, just to show how earnest we were. I envisioned a personal reply with an invitation to lunch at the club to hear more about the ministry; the humble street pastor and the wealthy ruler, united in their dedication to God and Jesus Christ. Sometime between the main course and the tiramisu and demitasse, almost as an after-thought, the wealthy ruler would reach into the inside pocket of his understatedly elegant jacket and pull out an envelope and hand it to me …

That was the idea I had when the fellow’s personal assistant called me a couple of days later.

“No,” she said, in substance.

The rest of the conversation was a bit of a blur, but I remember her saying that the Board had given the request prayerful consideration and had decided against it. She mentioned that the Board had given away millions of dollars in the past year (I suppressed the urge to say, “And you can’t stress to a lousy fourteen-grand?”) and wished us well.

Barry and I were dumbfounded, but there was nothing we could do on that front. But what we did do, was start putting the word out. The pastor at my home church forwarded an email to the congregation; I sent another email to some of the churches that supported the Mission, and I also contacted my various friends and acquaintances in the news media. Little by little, the word got out.

People started coming forward with donations, large and small. People offered their services, doing anything from carpentry to plumbing to electrical work to painting to supplying towels and toiletries and making lunch for the work crews. A local coffee company agreed to supply a certain amount of coffee each month. Amelia’s hairdresser donated a bottle of concentrated Barbicide so we could keep the combs and brushes sterile. When I approached a bath supply company to see if they would give us a discount on shower enclosures and fixtures, they replied, “We’ll give them to you — what do you need?” A bakery stepped up to donate bread and buns so people would have something to eat in the morning.

If you look at this video of the people who were coming into The Lord’s Rain as of 2013, at the 3:45 mark, you’ll hear from Bruce, who talks about a “spirit” around the place that always makes him feel welcomed. I call that spirit “collaborative caring”, and it’s the result, I believe, of the way resources came into The Lord’s Rain.

It’s easy to see that there’s a need on the Downtown East Side, but it’s also easy to look at the Big Picture and decide that it’s Just Too Big for one to handle, and so leave it to someone else to take care of. But The Lord’s Rain offered a way for people to know that their money, resources, time, prayer, efforts, whatever, was actually doing some good. All those people, contributing something of themselves, imbues The Lord’s Rain with this spirit that a whole lot of people care a whole lot about the area.

It’s apparent that the wealthy Christian businessman and his Board had prayed over their decision and were exactly following the will of God. I doubt that the spirit of “Collaborative Caring” would have manifested if they had agreed to fund it. It would have been Just Another Service For The Poor: write a cheque and move on. Yes, we did receive some very large donations at key points, and I don’t want to diminish the importance of those, but they were also part of the overall pattern of people giving whatever they could.

So as The Lord’s Rain moves into this next period of uncertainty (and quite frankly, from a worldly perspective, I can’t think of a time when things were not uncertain around The Lord’s Rain), it might be tempting to wish for some deus ex machina to come to the rescue with a new space and unlimited resources. But we’ve already seen that that’s not necessarily God’s plan. His Plan involves Collaborative Caring, and that welcoming spirit for the people who come in.

Let’s stay in prayer for that Plan to stay on track and for us all not to panic. After all:

For the LORD of hosts has purposed,
And who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
And who will turn it back?

— Isaiah 14:27

Tell the Story! (continued)

A couple of days ago, I wrote about “telling the story” and the need for Jesus Followers to tell their story when introducing the Gospel to people who haven’t had any kind of church background.

For example, people in the coming generation were raised by parents who had started straying away from God and looking into other “belief systems”; they defined “right and wrong” in terms of “what looks good to me”, and some have bought into the idea that “man is the measure of all things” or the Hawkingian notion that “science has made God unnecessary”.

Reaching them involves testifying, because that’s your story, and no one can gainsay it. Of course, “testify” has a religious overtone, which might turn some people off. But “story-telling” is a present-day concept for engaging people, so when we’re out in the world, we need to tell our story just like anyone else — but with a twist.

In the natural world, “story-telling” tends to be intensely personal. The stories deal with personal struggles, personal pain, personal victories. They could describe how someone “pulled himself up by his boot-straps” or decided that “living is the best revenge”. But where are the take-aways from those stories? Some people might relate, having gone through a similar experience; others might feel even more disheartened, thinking they don’t have the personal mental toughness to “pull themselves up by the boot-straps” and push forward.

But for a Jesus Follower, The Story has one HUGE take-away: the role of Jesus Christ.

woman at wellLet’s look at three examples.

(1) In John 4:1-39, Jesus is passing through Samaria en route to Galilee, and He stops to rest beside Jacob’s Well. A woman comes out to get water, and He asks her for a drink. This touches off a conversation, during which, Jesus notes that she’s been married five times and currently is living with a man who is not her husband. She senses that she’s in the presence of a Man of God and tries to change the subject (as many people tend to do when that happens).

But Jesus won’t let her off the hook and declares to her that He is the Messiah. She drops her water-pot, runs back into the village and tells everyone that she has met a Man who “read her mail” and she is convinced this is the Messiah. We’re told that many Samaritans believed her right there and then.

It’s important to note that this woman probably had a bad reputation in public. She was married five times and was currently shacked-up with another man. People would generally get their water first thing in the morning, but she went to draw her water around midday, when no one else would see her. Yet her story was so convincing and unshakable, that people believed her on the spot.

And her story — rather than be an account of some amazing mind-reader she’d met — pointed people towards the Messiah — Jesus.

(2) In John 5:2-16, a disabled man has been lying beside the pool at Bethesda, where, according to legend, an angel would stir up the water and when that happened, the first person to stir up the water would be healed of their infirmity. This fellow has been disabled for 38 years, and complains to Jesus that he has no one to put him in the pool and any time the water is stirred up, someone else beats him to it. Jesus simply tells him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” Which is what he does.

But since it’s the Sabbath, the religious leaders see him and chastise him for carrying his bed — it’s not lawful, they say. He tells them, “The Man who made me well told me to rise, pick up my bed, and walk.”

At first, he can’t pick Jesus out of the crowd, but later, Jesus catches up to him and tells him, “Sin no more, lest something worse happen to you.

And the man goes to the religious leaders and tells them it was Jesus who’d told him to pick up his bed. That has the unintended consequence of getting the religious leaders to plot to kill Jesus, but the fact remains: this man told his story, and pointed people towards Jesus — and the religious leaders believed that it was Jesus who had made the man well.

(3) In John 4:46-53, a nobleman from Capernaum finds Jesus and begs — then commands — Him to heal his dying son. Jesus tells him, “Go your way – your son lives“. He believes Jesus right there. On his way home the next day, the nobleman meets his servants, who tell him, “your son lives!”

And look what happens next.

Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”

So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household.

— John 4:52-53

The nobleman could have believed, and kept it to himself, or he might not have “connected the dots”, at all, but figured he and his son had dodged a Roman spear. But instead, he “tells the story”, and not only does he believe, but everyone in his household — his family and his servants — believe, as well.

So do you see the difference between “ordinary” story-telling and story-telling by a Jesus Follower? Rather than an introspective tale of trial, tribulation or triumph, pointing to one’s own pain or power, the Jesus Follower’s story points people to Jesus.

No one can take away your story — and when your story points people to Jesus, they have to take notice.

The Miracle Continues …

Coming up on March 24, The Lord’s Rain — the showers ministry run by the Gospel Mission Society in Vancouver — will re-open. It had been closed for several months (well over a year, I believe) for renovations and because of concerns about the future of the building. It’s worth re-visiting an earlier post about the steps of faith it took to get The Lord’s Rain up and running in the first place, because it’s a testimony to the fact that God obviously wants something more than “subsistence ministry” for the poor, and when He puts a vision in people’s heads, NOTHING will stop it.


This is a story I never get tired of telling.

I was going to tell about how I got my car and used my Bible as a loan guarantor, but that’s a bit long and it sounds somewhat like “name-it-and-claim-it” (even though it isn’t). This is about a plan that got launched with everything a good plan needs: expertise, drive, determination, personnel — but was missing a key ingredient:

Money.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it — lest, after he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?”

— Luke 14:28-30

Jesus was talking about the “hidden requirements” of following Him — the necessity to “take up one’s cross” every day; but what He said applies to all aspects of life.

24 - NYC AXEHEADS - BOWERY EXT - Copy

Bowery Mission, NYC

Just over ten years ago, I went to New York City. Among my travels, I visited the Bowery Mission, which has served the poor and homeless since 1879. One of the services they provide is showers, and when I came back to Vancouver, that idea was floating around in my mind.

One night, Amelia and I were sitting in a prayer meeting at Gospel Mission, where I was assistant pastor, and I mentioned to her that people on the Downtown East Side could really use a place to get a shower. Obviously, whatever facilities there were, weren’t sufficient.

But while it was a great idea, there was no place to build the showers in the ancient two-story walk-up that houses the Mission. So we figured it would be someone else’s job to build it — someplace else.

That very night, we learned that one of the two ground-floor spaces in the Mission’s building had come vacant.

IMG_20140613_082401

The blue oval beside the door indicates the 1889 building is one of the “125 Places That Matter”, according to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

The lead pastor and I agreed it was a good idea; so, apparently, did the landlord, who let us have two weeks to come up with the resources we needed to make it happen. That was a tall order, considering that we figured it would cost $14,000 to build and we had nothing to start with.

It’s a long story (I’m writing a book about it, or you can watch this video), but we took a step of faith, announcing that we would build it, approaching people, publicizing it in the media (I have quite a few friends in the media) and standing on faith. Miraculously, God responded to those steps of faith by providing what we needed, whom we needed, exactly when we needed it.

Resources appeared that had been around for years, apparently set aside for this very occasion; they had been in places seemingly unconnected with one another, but all came together for this project. Acts of integrity from years previous were rewarded — it wasn’t until some time later that we considered that there might have been a connection.

God protected our senior pastor and a plumber as they worked on the project one night, when a murder took place outside — a reminder of how rough the neighbourhood is.

God even made things right when an act of stupid carelessness (mine) led to the theft of hundreds of dollars’ worth of tools from the job site.

There was a lot of “count the cost” involved: we had put on the line our faith in God to provide. What if we couldn’t meet the rent, once we had installed the showers? Who would rent that space? Could the landlord sue us?

But while that faith was tested, God never let us down, and we learned some things that can be your take-aways from this:

  1. When God puts a project on your heart, He doesn’t ask if you can afford it.
  2. God had been laying the groundwork for this project for decades before it came to fruition.
  3. God comes through, as our senior pastor, Barry, said, “in the eleventh hour, fifty-ninth minute”; mind you, that’s in our reckoning. God comes through in His timing.

Worth remembering:

The Lord of hosts has sworn, saying, “Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass. And as I have purposed, so it shall stand.”

— Isaiah 14:24

Every day is a step of faith. It doesn’t have to be a spectacular project and it doesn’t have to be a spectacular step: but a move where you have to rely on God to carry you along is such a step. Remember that He is for you, not against you; He wants us all to move forward, ultimately for His glory and His name’s sake.’

Take that step — and watch what happens!

#YourLifeMatters

I was looking for something else in the past blog posts and came across this one from almost a year ago. Given the current theme about spreading the Gospel to the “post-Christian generation”, it’s worth revisiting.


A young woman I know has just gone through two tragedies in the past month: one friend of hers died of a drug overdose; another committed suicide.

The friend who OD’d was trying to recover from addiction, but took Ecstasy that had been laced with Fentanyl — it’s becoming apparent that any amount of Fentanyl is an overdose — because he wanted to get high.

I don’t know how the other friend committed suicide or whether she left a note saying why, but both deaths were self-inflicted and directly attributable to hopelessness. Want a break from the world? Here: have a hit (the first one’s free). Tired of all the s**t going down? Feel that no one cares about you? Here’s some pills … here’s a rope … here’s a pistol …

Our world doesn’t offer much in the way of hope. No one seems to be able to stop terrorism, climate change, bullying or rising housing prices; jobs get out-sourced and the media gush over the ability of robots to do what humans can do. Drug addicts are offered “harm reduction”, which is a subliminal way of telling them that they’re not worthy of being cured.

The world does not care.

And that, sadly, is where the conversation usually stops. The sentence that should follow is, “But God does.” The proof? That He sent His Son to take all the blame for every wrong thing people have done from the beginning of time until the end of this age; to lift that burden off our shoulders and take the punishment that we deserve.

If God used social media, maybe He’d use this:

#YourLifeMatters

Maybe the world doesn’t give a fig for you, but your life matters to God. Do those words seem hollow? If they do, the world has made it that way to try to take your attention away from that reality. The world would have you believe that God’s wonderful creation — all that we see around us — is all just a series of accidents; that there is nothing beyond the situation you see right now, and any kind of progress, including survival, is the sole preserve of some super-elite class of humans who Don’t Need God.

That’s enough to kill hope in anyone. But consider David’s eternal question:

When I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers,

The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,

What is man, that You are mindful of him?

And the son of man, that You visit him?

— Psalm 8:3-4

And the eternal answer:

… for Thou has created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.

— Revelation 4:11 (KJV)

We exist and were created because that pleases God! That is the over-arching message of Jesus Christ and is the hope of the world. It’s the kind of message that can get someone to put down the needle, close the bottle, lift up their face.

People need to know that. We who are followers of Christ — like the young woman who’s seen this muckrain fall around her in the past few weeks — can bring that message. Don’t worry if it sounds lame: as Paul writes, “The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Tell someone today. Tell someone tomorrow. Tell people you love. Tell people you dislike. Tell people you hardly know. And keep telling them:

#YourLifeMatters

Words are necessary!

Quite a few years ago — about 11, in fact — I heard an aphorism that has stuck with me through the years:

Take each and every opportunity to preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.

It was attributed to St Francis of Assisi, and it resonated, largely because I was well into ministry on the Downtown East Side at the time and it encouraged me. There might be people who didn’t want to be preached at about Jesus, but if I could live as Jesus calls me to live, extending love and grace to everyone, helping people find hope, especially in an area devoid of hope, they would gradually see Jesus and accept Him.

I did see people start to turn their lives around, and some picked up a “ministry baton” of their own and ran with it. I’m not going to claim credit for “leading them to the Lord”, because who knows how many others, over the years, contributed to their new outlook on life.

But that was then – and this is now.

As we were saying yesterday, we are truly living in a “post-Christian” age. I hadn’t really grasped the meaning of that term until Pastor Randy pointed out that the current young generation, by and large, do not have even a hint of a “church background”. They were raised by parents who were already turning away from Christianity and looking at other gods — including their own minds or the minds of other mortals — as The Answer. That means that, for us trying to reach them with the message of the Gospel, we have to start several squares before Square One.

Who is God, they ask? Isn’t Jesus some really good guy who said some nice things about love and peace and all that and had this martyr complex? I’m being good and I try to be nice to people: that’s what it’s about, isn’t it?

It doesn’t help that many people who identify as Christians are also associated with judgmentalism, hatred, racism and self-righteousness; no different from anyone else, just as Jesus warned us.

On top of that, many counterfeits have come along that make people think we don’t need God. As we’ve said in the past couple of days, Science claims to have the answers — or is capable of finding them — thereby providing a God-free route to a good life.

“Tolerance” has supplanted love as the way to peace.

“Philanthropy” and “doing good” have become selling points for a business or businessperson, often measured in dollars and cents, rather than in motivation.

In other words, the outward appearance, the “presentation”, is what counts in this world now. Something has to pass the “duck test” — walks like, quacks like, therefore is.

In other words, as Jesus Followers, we have to walk and quack like one. It appears that the days are numbered, where we could expect our actions to speak louder than words, or that people would see “something different” in us and say, “I’ll have what they’re having!” We have to take that next step and make sure that our actions and our stories come with a “sponsor credit”, letting people know that the driving force behind you is not your own goodness, but Jesus Himself.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

— Matthew 5:16

That light needs to be in neon or LED, and say:

magnify the lord

The time to be subtle has passed. Like Peter at Pentecost, we have to stand boldly in front of our worst opponents and tell the whole truth. We have to overcome our human fear of being rejected or ridiculed for giving God the glory and just letting the Holy Spirit give us the words.

Because words are necessary.

Tell the story!

Our Pastor, Randy Rohrick, made an interesting observation the other day. He noted that we are living in a time when the new generation, by and large, does not have the same “church” background that previous generations did.

That is to say, when one talks with someone over the age of, say, 30, it’s highly probable that they have had some exposure to church or Christianity. They may have rejected it, they may question it, they may have had a bad experience — like a friend of mine who told me flat-out that when she was a little girl, a pastor looked her square in the eye and told her she was going to hell — but they have had an experience, nonetheless.

But the coming generation hasn’t had that upbringing. Their parents are of the generation that increasingly rejected absolutes like “right and wrong”, or that Jesus is the only Way to come to God. Indeed, coming to see “freedom” as the ability to do whatever one wants, whenever and however one wants to, without following the “rules” in a “3,500-year-old book”, they defined “right and wrong” as “whatever looks good to me”. Some might have added “so long as no one gets hurt”, but even that’s a subjective concept, colored by one’s own perception of whether someone is “hurt”.

What does it mean for us, trying to spread the Gospel? It means we have to start from several spaces before Square One, in order to find some commonality with our audience.

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
— 1 Titus 1:12-15

Paul “tells the story” — where he came from and how he got to where he is now. Peter also uses “the story” to address the sticky question of leading Gentiles to Jesus.

“Then the Spirit told me [Peter] to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’

 

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

 

“If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
— Acts 11:12-17
Peter tells the story. He’s facing people “of the circumcision” who are upset that he ministered to and baptized Gentiles. He doesn’t attempt to put forward some kind of logical/religious argument: he tells of his experience. And that leads to a major turning point, as the people he’s speaking to see that God had sent Salvation to everyone — not just Jews.

There’s an important element in Paul’s story that we need to be aware of. Paul intertwines his story of what he was with what Jesus Christ made him. Not only can no one deny Paul’s experience of going from being a blasphemer and persecutor (etc.) to being “counted faithful”, because that’s what he says; but no one can deny the linkage, that is Jesus Christ.

“Storytelling” has become a cliché in discussions on engaging people and encouraging them to “join the conversation” (another cliché). That’s because everyone has a story to tell and anyone can tell it. But we need to remember to make sure Jesus Christ is front and centre in our story. We need to stress that the changes in our lives, the good things that have happened and the way setbacks have been turned into good, did not come about because of anything we did, beyond putting faith in God through Jesus Christ, to show us the way. And we need also to stress that “He did it for me – He can do it for you.”

People may question the Bible and question whether God is good or even if He is, but they can’t question your story, your experience.

Leading people to Christ also means that “living Christ” is not enough. Tune in tomorrow for our next action-packed post!

Are we “woke”?

That’s a word that’s come into fairly common usage in the past year or so — since the election of Donald Trump — although I’m sure the word has been around longer than that. From its context and checking the Urban Dictionary, “woke” means to be aware of the social/political situation around us. The warning, “Get woke!” would be the equivalent of the Sixties’

Stop! Hey! What’s that sound? Everybody look what’s goin’ down!

— Buffalo Springfield “For What It’s Worth” (1966)

Or the Seventies, with that famous Worship band, the Bee Gees:

Get on up! Look around! Can’t you see the winds of change?

Get on up! Test the air! Can’t you feel the winds of change?

— “Winds of Change” (1975)

And for Jesus, the equivalent of “Get woke!” was about 2000 years ago:

“Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and so it is. 

“Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?”

— Luke 12:54-56

And Jesus spells out the signs of the times:

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you.
“For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.
 

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places.

 

“All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.

 

“And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”

— Matthew 24:3-12

The overall “get woke!” message from that is that we’re seeing the things Jesus foretold and that the next thing we can expect and need to prepare for is His return and the eternal Judgment that will follow. But while it’s fairly easy to point out the famines (effects of climate change), incurable diseases (pestilence), earthquakes, wars and terrorism (rumors of war) that we’re seeing now, a couple of other points are worth noting.

“Take heed that no one deceives you.” Beware of people who create a “straw man” argument — something they’ve constructed themselves so they can break it down and prove a point. In this case, beware of people who attribute things falsely to God or the Bible, either through ignorance or design. In checking into Stephen Hawking’s statements about God and religion, I read a paper he gave on “The Beginning of Time”, in which he said, “There is no dynamical reason why the motion of bodies in the solar system can not be extrapolated back in time, far beyond four thousand and four BC, the date for the creation of the universe, according to the book of Genesis.”

Um, no, Professor … the book of Genesis does not state that the universe was created in 4004 BC. Genesis doesn’t give any date at all for its creation; the 4004 BC theory is one of many put forward by scholars, calculated according to (among other factors) the ages of the people recorded in the book.

Personally, I don’t buy the 4004 BC theory, and I would say it’s either ignorant or disingenuous to say that it says so in the Bible and then use that to put down Bible believers.

Of course, anyone in Prof. Hawking’s audience who was keen to not believe in God would have lapped that up without question.

And then there’s this one: lawlessness will abound. “Lawlessness” doesn’t solely mean rampant, unbridled sin or Dodge City-style “six chambers of justice*”. It can simply mean living apart from the will and counsel of God, with right and wrong being subjective, based on “what works for me”. That “lawlessness” leads to a general testiness about people who are different from and/or are critical of someone’s choices. That leads to the accusation that “you hate me” and then the declaration that this is a “right” — and “the love of many [grows] cold”.

Are we seeing all this today, or what? And what are we supposed to do about it?

Get ready.

Power forward.

Don’t worry about those signs: just take note, and proclaim the Gospel to as many people as you can. You can’t bully them into believing, but you can give them three important bits of information:

  1. These things were predicted nearly 2,000 years ago
  2. They have not “always been the case”, as some might say: they have accelerated in recent years.
  3. The Book where these predictions are found has also been a key part of your life

And then tell the story.

More about that, tomorrow.


*”Six Chambers of Justice” – sounds like a great title for a Western novel. I call dibs.

Hawking and the Great Confession

The passing of Stephen Hawking this week means that, in the past month, the world has lost two of the most stringent proponents of two diametrically opposed worldviews: Billy Graham, the man who spent his life convincing people God is necessary, and Hawking, who spent his life convincing people that He isn’t.

Mankind, Prof. Hawking contended, could find the answers to life, the universe and everything, and his explanations cut God out of the picture entirely. Anything that couldn’t be explained (like the Big Bang) was put down to chance.

One might say that now, Prof. Hawking really does know all the answers.

This past Sunday, before Prof. Hawking died, we were talking about how to answer people who doubt God: someone said, “There are no atheists in trenches” and another muttered, “Or in hell”.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Do not fear therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Therefore, whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

— Matthew 10:28-33

That’s a scary thought. I’m not anyone’s judge, and I desperately, wholeheartedly, want to believe that one has up to one’s dying breath to say, “Thank you, Jesus”, and be welcomed into His loving arms as we cross the bar. That gives me comfort when I think of friends of mine who have passed on and not only didn’t confess Jesus but refused to “endorse a Creator”. Maybe they took that last-gasp opportunity; but Scripture seems pretty clear: it takes more than that.

One recurring theme I heard from people discussing Hawking’s life — even while he was alive — was the astonishment that he lived for half a century longer than doctors predicted when he was diagnosed with a form of ALS. The one thing I didn’t hear was any acknowledgement of Who kept him alive, defying the very science that people worshipped. It’s like he had nearly fifty years to give God the glory for keeping him alive and giving him the gift of insight into the universe. And yet he repeatedly said, “There is no God.”

If you want to see a movie, by the way, that has a great balance of the scientific and the faith-filled way of life, watch “Hidden Figures”. These three brilliant women are gifted engineers and mathematicians in the US space program, and when one of them gets a promotion she has been eager to get, can’t stop exclaiming, “Thank you, Jesus!” Not “I am so brilliant!”, but “Thank you, Jesus!”

Which is more broad-minded? To believe in God — a Creator of everything who also loves each and every one of us — or to believe that Mankind — the great minds that brought us war, racism, hatred and oppression of others — is as good as it gets?

Me, I’d rather spend my life believing in God and find out at the end that I was wrong, than spend my life denying Him — and find out at the end that I was wrong.