The broadmindedness of faith

Yesterday, someone posted on a church’s Facebook page a message about prominent atheists who challenge the idea of God. (Unfortunately for the person who posted it, it was the Gospel Mission Society page, so I doubt anyone has had time to read it, what with doing God’s work and all, ministering to the poor and destitute.)

The list was long, familiar and predictable: names of people revered in our society for their intellect and their accomplishments.

But it’s sad: because for all their great thinking, they’ve closed their minds to one simple notion:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Sociologists tend to discuss faith as “story” that man has concocted to explain the unexplainable — the implication being that mankind is MUCH smarter than that now — which requires more broadmindedness:

  • accepting the notion that there is a Being, Who created all things on this earth and elsewhere in the universe; or
  • mankind’s intellect is as good as it gets.

question-mark-512

Maybe that’s a saw-off: a prehistoric legend versus what the late George Carlin referred to as the “monumental ego” of mankind.

But consider that this is a sentient Being, capable of love, desire for company, executing vengeance when appropriate — but in a way that even the person on the receiving end is able to “see the light” (consider Balaam, realizing he can’t curse God’s people) — and that His creation involves billions of individual human beings, millions (billions?) of distinct species of plants, animals and rocks on land and in the water: that requires an incredibly open mind.

This Being has also provided, in writing or whatever medium is appropriate, a glimpse into His overall Plan, so that (a) we can take comfort in the notion of what He’s up to and (b) recognize that, when certain predictions, like diseases, climate change and natural disasters, come true, we can say, “Wow — He was right! What else did He say?”.

Oh, yes … this Being’s desire for company is such that He created one particular species “in His own image” and went to extreme lengths to make sure these creatures will be with Him for Eternity.

And His capacity for love is such that He gave these creatures free will, so that if they are with Him for Eternity, it’s because they have chosen it.

For all this, we are still left to wonder:

LORD, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him?

— Psalm 144:3

And the answer:

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

— Revelation 4:11 (KJV)

Doesn’t that take a LOT of broadmindedness to accept that?

I pray for those on that list and for the fellow who posted it — not the kind of passive-aggressive, holier-than-thou prayer, but a prayer that someone really does see the Truth, AND is able to blend the amazing mind that God has given them with the notion of God Himself. What’s more, I believe God wants their company, too, for Eternity. Can you imagine the conversations?

So don’t let anyone question your intelligence or suggest you’re narrow-minded because you have faith. Accepting, sight unseen, that there is something — Someone — greater than we could ever hope to be … that requires a broad mind.

Beware of pride (this isn’t about what you think)

You hear a lot about pride these days, and it’s usually associated with people asserting their identity and breaking free from what they believe are constraints of established society. But pride is not solely the preserve of “liberal” or “progressive” elements.

Many years ago, I realized that pride involves choosing one’s own way over God’s. “I don’t care what You say, God, (some might add, “if You exist”), I like my way better.”

But doesn’t that apply to pretty much any of us? For whatever reason — often quite understandable or honorable — we step away from faith or believing that what God says is true, and “take the wheel” ourselves.

That’s pride.

Consider Adam and Eve. As I’ve mentioned before, Eve was so keen to demonstrate her commitment to obeying God, that she embellished on His instruction about the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: “we may not eat of it, nor even touch it, lest we die.” And when they weren’t stricken dead for touching the fruit, they decided their wisdom was better than God’s and went ahead and ate. And they paid the price.

That’s pride.

Pride was the Israelites creating and worshipping the golden calf, when God had specifically told them not to worship idols or other gods.

Pride was the Pharisees, wilfully overlooking the signs pointing to Jesus as Messiah.

Pride is churches, using out-of-context Scripture passages to justify anything from Jim Crow to packing heat (because Jesus brought sword, remember) to discriminating against women.

As we’ve said before, we know that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). You can read “resists” as meaning “actively opposes”, and do you really want to have God “actively opposing” the things you do?

This is where it’s so vital to know your Scripture — to read it for yourself and be able to discern what’s God’s will and what’s the desire of man — what one wishes the Bible said, versus what it really does say.

Jesus warned us about false teachers coming in the latter days: they would be those who wanted to use His Name — or claim to be “from God” — in order to create a following for themselves.

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.

— 3 John 10-11

Jude’s epistle also warns,

For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.

But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.

— Jude:4-5, 10, 17-18

Sometimes, too, departure from God’s will can be very well-meaning; but it’s still choosing your way over God’s, and can land you in a heap of trouble.

Think of it: we’re supposed to imitate Christ … and what if Jesus had walked in pride?

Identity: Former Sinner

“Drew confessions” time: I was a cultural appropriator.

For much of my life, I have muttered “Oy vey!” and “Oy gevald!” in times of stress. I referred to my grandfather in a post last week as a meshuggah and one of my favorite adjectives these days is “furshlugginer”, which translates loosely to the British “blasted”.

All of those expressions are Yiddish, and no, I’m not Jewish. BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

I’ve also affected countless British-isms, including saying “ta” for “thank you” and using Cockney rhyming slang, such as calling my feet “plates” (short for “plates of meat” which rhymes with “feet” or picking up my dog’s “Richards” (short for “Richard the Third”, which rhymes with …. you get the idea).

Don’t get me started on my Australian fetish.

I often say “you-all” when speaking to more than two people.

And when I’m preaching, I often unconsciously look for a rhyming couplet as the theme, such as “Your Salvation does not depend on their estimation”. It’s a conceit borrowed from the Southern black preachers I’ve listened to over the years.

(Does shouting “Banzai!” when I leap into the water at the beach count?)

In other words, I’ve “borrowed” terms and idioms from different cultures all my life (when I was five and feeling teased and harassed at school, I hid behind what I thought was an Irish accent), and recently, it hit me: was appropriating other people’s cultures, because I had no identifiable culture of my own). 

You hear a lot of talk about “identity” these days, and if you listen closely, those identities are based on appearances: the physical, outward presentation. Sometimes, it’s the physical presentation one comes by naturally; other times, it’s a cultural assertion that is brought to the surface consciously. But these are surface manifestations, and don’t change your DNA or the way God created you.

But here is an “identity” that cuts across racial, gender, and cultural lines:

CHILD OF GOD.

Anyone can be that.

He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

— John 1:11-13

Unlike one’s race, gender or family background, this is an identity you can choose — simply by believing in Jesus’ Name. It’s God’s will to make you His child — although He leaves it up to you to accept it.

Let that sink in for a moment.

More than that, this identity involves becoming a new creature from the inside out, because that “right” John refers to comes as we receive the Holy Spirit. The change is gradual, but once that Spirit takes root, it continues to grow. You’re still the same person on the outside, but what matters is the change within you.

Now, that’s “identity”!

Sure – I still borrow expressions from different cultures: it’s the way I am and until someone slaps me upside the head (there’s another) and tells me I’m offending them irreparably for doing so, I’ll probably keep doing it because it sounds cool. But my identity is in Christ, and I’d love to see more people “appropriate” that.

Today’s assertions of identity tend to separate people from one another, divide societies into silos and sometimes pit one against the other, as if “my identity is better than your identity”. For a child of God, one becomes humble enough to recognize that anyone else can be lifted to that glory the same way you were — by believing; yet not so humble that you lose sight of the power and authority that comes with that new identity.

One more thing:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.

But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

— Romans 5:6-8

Do you catch the tense in that last sentence? “While we were still sinners …”? That tells me, that when we accept Jesus’ Sacrifice on our behalf, WE’RE NOT SINNERS ANYMORE! Our identity becomes FORMER sinner.

The suffix “-er” (or “-or”) means “one who” — so “sinner” would mean “one who sins”, as if committing sin is an identifying characteristic. That’s so — until we are in Christ. 

Sure, we might slip up from time to time, but Jesus gives us grace to keep going and not let it happen again. “Sin no more,” He tells us, and little by little, as wrong thoughts try to invade our minds, we remind ourselves that we are new creatures and that kind of behavior is NOT US.

You want identity? Look to God. Look to other people to love, encourage and lift up to that higher level of being a child of God.

When you do that, finding your identity becomes both unimportant and unavoidable.

A skid row friend and the “stigma” thing

In the current hand-wringing over drug abuse (the “opioid crisis” or “fentanyl crisis”), you often hear talk of the “stigma” of addiction. People say that the stigma (some might call it shame) of being an addict is preventing some addicts from going for treatment.
Now, I’ve often written and said that shame and guilt are poor motivators, but what else makes one get it in gear and make changes?
In my own case, I had to be ashamed of the sin I’d fallen into, before I started looking for solutions.
Now … I have to stop and think here: in the years I spent, ministering on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, have I ever heard someone say, “I want to get clean, but there’s such a stigma about being an addict! I just can’t do it!”?
Um … no.
Indeed, the people who I’ve seen get clean are the ones who’ve gotten sick of the situation they were in and, yes, were ashamed of it. Frank, whom I walked with to InSite one day when he decided he’d had enough, was trying to get back on track with his family, which had basically ostracized him because of the “stigma”.*
There’s Terry Hill, who stumbled — literally — into The Lord’s Rain one Saturday morning after hitting pretty much the lowest point of his life. He later gave a moving testimony to others on the Downtown East Side (and has since been given parental custody of his two granddaughters).
And then there’s the case of Ken Franklin, for whom a dressing-down from a judge got his life on-track.
“Mr Franklin, you are not a career bank robber. You are a drug addict.”
— Judge Harry Boyle
Ken was up before the beak for pulling 14 bank jobs in a short period, and the sole motivation was to get more money to buy more drugs. He had fallen in with the dealers and pimps while in a halfway house (yes, the facility intended to get convicts ready to return to society) and, seeing the “cornflakes boxes full of cash” they brought in, and needing to finance his habit, started his spree. Being of slight stature, he also wanted to show that You Don’t Mess Around With Ken.
Ken thought he was addicted to the thrill of the chase, but when the law finally caught up with him, the words of Judge Harry Boyle made the reality all too clear.
KEN - CLIPPING

Ken always had a photocopy of this clipping in a shirt pocket — next to his heart.

Interestingly, some people might look at that headline and say, “Poor sod! He was an addict and needed to get his fix! He needs sympathy – not jail time!” And if that had been Judge Boyle’s attitude, one wonders if Ken’s life would have turned around?
But that was the kick in the rear that Ken needed. You can read more about his story below, but he became a hard-working, dedicated member of the community and a valuable volunteer at The Lord’s Rain, setting an example for others in the area.
It makes you wonder why people are so keen to talk about the “stigma”, as if it’s rationale for not pushing people harder to recognize the mess they’re in — be it drug addiction or sin of any kind that’s holding them back from living the way God intends.
See, if you deny that there’s a problem, you’re denying that there’s a solution — and when that solution is Jesus, you’re not only preventing someone from knowing the indescribable freedom of living in Christ, you’re making Jesus’ sacrifice worthless. You’re judging that someone is not worthy of being healed.
When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?
She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.
— John 8:10-11
Jesus didn’t condemn the woman for her sin, but didn’t deny it, either. The important thing was, she knew she had sinned, but didn’t run and hide because of the “stigma” of adultery. Jesus showed her a way forward.
There’s something to be said for shame and stigma. It’s usually the first step towards getting healed.

More about Ken Franklin’s story.

By the time I got to know Ken Franklin, he had cleaned up and was part of a team on the Downtown East Side, put together by a local recycling company to clean up the streets. They’d be out before dawn, picking up trash, needles, you name it. Ken and others on the team and would come into The Lord’s Rain on his coffee break.
There was something different about Ken. He was north of 60 in age, soft-spoken, and unfailingly polite. One morning in 2011, I had to announce to the group that we had to limit the number of pastries we handed out to two per person. Believe it or not, I felt like I had to apologize for the new regulation, but Ken spoke up as if he was speaking for everyone and said, “That’s OK: we appreciate everything you do.”
That wasn’t the only gesture of support. When he heard on the radio in 2013, that I had been let go from my job at TransLink, he came into The Lord’s Rain and growled, “you deserve better”. Hello? Someone in a down-and-out area, telling me that deserved better?
In 2014, Ken asked if he could volunteer at The Lord’s Rain. “I got a lot of time on my hands,” he said, “and I’d like to help out.” He quickly showed he was a natural leader, taking charge without being pushy and showing by example how to treat “customers”.
As time went on, he told me how he had been led to Jesus while in prison for the robberies, thanks to the female prison guard he eventually married. They had bought and operated the coffee shop at the 108 Mile Guest Ranch in the Cariboo, and it was there that he developed this knack for dealing with people. It was something my long-time helper, Danilo, sorely needed, and he was starting to develop it, working with Ken. (You can watch his testimony here: it starts around 14:30, after another interesting testimony. The video was a pilot for a series, “In His image, too …”.)
He treated everyone with unfailing respect, and it was never better demonstrated than the time when a mentally ill man “went off” on him one morning. He stood almost nose-to-nose with Ken, threatening him. Ken stood his ground but did not “return evil for evil”. His mates on the cleanup crew started calling him Pastor Ken, but with respect rather than mockery, and there was a distinctly different, more up-beat, vibe around The Lord’s Rain when he was serving.
ken - SERVING COFFEE
In the fall of 2014, Ken started missing some mornings, then would come in and tell us he had been ill and couldn’t get out of bed. He started losing weight and had trouble eating. “I’m scared,” he confided. “I don’t know what’s wrong.” “Have you seen a doctor?” “Not yet.” I don’t know if he ever did.
No one on the street-cleaning crew saw him for a week, which was unusual. Finally, someone went through the door at his hotel and found his body. It appears he had been gone for about four days.
Of course, it’s tough to be sad because I have a really good idea where he is now. As The Newsboys put it in their song, “The day he bought those pine pajamas/His check was good with God”**.
Dying alone and unnoticed in a skid row hotel: certainly not an uncommon occurrence on the Downtown East Side, but Ken, “you deserve better”.

*Frank’s situation proved to be one more piece of evidence that InSite is really about keeping people on drugs, rather than getting them off it. He walked in that morning, hoping to get into OnSite, a recovery program. He was told, “There’s no room today. Come back tomorrow.” No welcoming arms; no list of other places he could have gone to get treatment: just “come back tomorrow.” He came back the next day and wound up going into a back room to shoot up again. The next time I saw him, he was still an addict, and even more ashamed.


** from “Breakfast”, by Steve Taylor and Peter Furler, (c) 1996 Warner/Chappell Music

What do we “deserve”?

The environmental scientist was clearly frustrated. Or in despair. Or both.

We were corresponding by e-mail: he was on a boat off Tobermorey, Scotland, studying whales. Previously, he had been doing research in the Arctic and had taken on multinationals over environmental issues. Now, he was despairing over what’s been going on in the environment.

“Do we deserve this earth that God gave us?” he wrote. “And I’m not a religious man.”

The funny thing is, God’s track record is not to give us what we “deserve”.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.

— Psalm 103:10

The beauty of walking with God is His never-ending grace towards us. He knows we’re fallen, and that we need second, third or fourth chances to “get it right”. So long as we’re truly repentant and sincere about walking with Him, He’ll give us those chances.

Remember: we’re made in His image. If He denies grace to us, He denies grace to an image of Himself — it must be heart-rending. And of course, He denies grace to some: He resists the proud — sets Himself in active opposition to those who determine they can “do it without Him” — because pride is the image of the devil.

But for those who humble themselves, who say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” or “Not my will, but Your will be done,” they get that grace.

What does this have to do with the environment? Because, by the same token, we do not deserve this earth. God gave us this earth — this perfect, unique habitat.

And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads.

The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.

And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.

The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush.

The name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.

Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.

— Genesis 2:9-15

Did we deserve to get it? No. Do we deserve to continue to have it? How well have we performed the job of being tender and keeper of His garden? By the world’s standards, this all should have been ripped away from us and handed over to another species, while our species was vaporized.

But that hasn’t happened, because God’s way is not the world’s way. Failing to do the job He gave us may be a sin, but thanks to Jesus Christ, we can repent, ask forgiveness and get on with the job. (We can also stop pointing fingers at one another and fixing blame: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”) And God even promises to do the “heavy lifting”.

“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
— 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
Healing our land — physically and spiritually — in return for simply turning back to Him and seeking Him? It seems too good to be true, but in this case, it’s very real.
And we don’t “deserve” that, either.

And this is why we need teachers (and the OT)!

So [Philip] arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

And Philip said, “Well, for one thing, you can stop reading that Old Testament stuff: Jesus makes it all irrelevant.”

— Acts 8:27-31

(not.)

Loyal readers of this space (both of you) will already know that if there’s one thing that has really stuck in my craw over the years, it’s been people who dismiss the Old Testament as “irrelevant, because Jesus changed everything”.

Another, less offensive, canard has been when I hear someone say, “Who needs to go to church and hear someone preach? I can read the Bible for myself!”

Absolutely – people do need to read the Bible for themselves and hear from the Lord — that’s why He gave us His word, rendered into every language known to man. But we still need teachers — we still need a Philip to come alongside and guide us.

That was really evident this past Sunday at Westshore Alliance Church, when François Blouin of The Sword Ministries was guest speaker. Since it was Pentecost Sunday, his message delved into the instructions God gives Moses in Leviticus 11 for the various feasts, and the way that those feasts relate to the Messiah. Remember that Jesus said, “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)

I won’t summarize François’ message: there’s a lot to unpack and I’d recommend you listen to the sermon with your mouse over “pause” so you can stop, rewind and let things sink in. But I must say, I’ve read Leviticus at least three times, and never saw what François pointed out. And that’s one of my points here.

Listening to teachers is important, because they bring us insights and help us to understand what God is up to. Had I not heard François, I would still have had an intrinsic knowledge — a skeletal knowledge — of how Jesus fulfilled the laws and prophecies, but the depth of understanding I’ve gained — and I believe you will, too — puts flesh on that skeleton.

And that’s my main point — back to the question of how relevant the Old Testament is. Consider Philip’s situation with the eunuch.

And [the eunuch] asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;

And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,

So He opened not His mouth.

In His humiliation His justice was taken away,

And who will declare His generation?

For His life is taken from the earth.

So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this: of himself or of some other man?”

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

— Acts 8:31-35

And if there had been some other passage, Philip would have used that to preach Jesus (although, knowing a little bit about the way God operates, there’s really no other passage that the eunuch could have been reading at that particular time and in that particular place, with that particular man nearby).

Jesus constantly refers to the prophecies, the Psalms and the accounts in the Old Testament. As I’ve mentioned before, He uses oblique, almost obscure, references at times, with the recurring theme of “he who has ears to hear, let him hear”. The Apostles refer to the Old Testament — Peter, in particular, relies on the ancient Scriptures, which isn’t bad for an “uneducated and untrained” man (Acts 4:13). We need to know what they are talking about.

I determined to read through the Bible, end to end, for three main reasons. One, was to do something I had rarely done in university, and that was finish a book I’d started. Another, was because I’d tasted, and seen that the Lord is good — and wanted more of it. But the third, was to understand what Jesus, the Apostles, and any preacher I’d heard in my early-Christian days — from Ivor Lewis to Gerry Wall to Dan McLean, Susan McLean and Victor Emenike —  were talking about.

The connection between the prophecies, laws and other Old Testament writings and Jesus is the very proof of Jesus’ position as the Messiah. Remove the prophecies and the laws from the equation, and Jesus is reduced to a nice guy who said some cool stuff about love and peace — no better than Martin Luther King, or Abraham Lincoln … or Cat Stevens, for that matter.

Peter, Pentecost and Progress

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, marking the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples after He’d been crucified. As we read in Acts 2, people in the area – many of whom had come to Jerusalem from other countries to celebrate the feast (Pentecost was originally a Jewish holiday), assumed the people who rolled about, shaking and declaring the works of God in strange languages*, were drunk.

That’s when Peter gathered himself together and stood up to the visitors. He told them they were witnessing the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy hundreds of years before:

“And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.

And also on My menservants and on My maidservants

I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth:

Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.

And it shall come to pass

That whoever calls on the name of the LORD
Shall be saved.”
— Joel 2:28-32

Peter then went on to berate the visitors for crucifying the Messiah but allowed that they really did not know what they were doing.

He spoke so forcefully and convincingly that three thousand people were touched to the core and became believers in Jesus on the spot.

But wait – who was this guy who dared to lecture Jewish leaders about prophecy and the Messiah, have the effrontery to point an accusing finger and then tell them they were forgiven?

This was the same guy who, fifty days earlier, denied Jesus three times on the night He was arrested. The same guy who realized that Jesus had predicted he would do that, and “went out and wept bitterly,” according to Luke. But do you realize that from that time until the end of the Bible, Peter’s denials are never mentioned again? When Peter refers to Jesus, he doesn’t beat himself up in public for denying Him, although he certainly could have.

What happened in those fifty days?

Three things happened. First, Jesus’ sacrifice wipes the wrongs “off the books” for anyone who believes. Second, He absolved Peter of the shame he felt by telling him, “If you love Me, feed My sheep”. He told him that three times – as many times as Peter had denied Him.

Third, Peter “got it”. He understood what it meant to be absolved. Only then could he get on with the task Jesus had assigned him.

The Christian idea of repentance and redemption is a two-way conversation, for us today as it was with Peter. We are expected to accept that we are forgiven, and are no longer the person who committed those wrongs.

It sounds simple, but it’s not easy. It means shutting out the Nattering Nabob of Negativism that never misses a chance to remind you what a jerk you’ve been, the dumb things you’ve done and how many people you’ve hurt. The Nabob – some call him the enemy, some call him Satan – usually natters at me when I’m alone with my thoughts or trying to get to sleep, trying to drag me backwards with thoughts of things that can never be re-done. My defence – my only defence – is to remind him – and myself – that Jesus has absolved me of all that – just as He did Peter.

The devil is welcome to my past, but a vital part of being a Christian involves handing our present and future over to Jesus Christ. That requires faith in things unseen — another vital part of being a Christian.

So when we think of Pentecost, beyond thoughts of Holy Rollers and speaking in tongues, let’s consider the example it gives, of a man who “got over it – and got on with it.”


*As we said on Friday, on the one hand, the language seemed to be strange, but on the other, visitors from foreign countries heard the mighty works of God declared in their own languages.

Happy Pentecost: We Are Risen!

Pentecost seems to have a lot more packed into it than I thought. There was Friday’s post about reuniting people with new language, Monday’s bit about Peter, and yesterday, thinking about François Blouin’s sermon on the way Pentecost fulfills not just Joel’s prophecy but the instructions for feasts, laid out in Leviticus.

Now, one more thought: that Pentecost represents a stage of evolution.

I haven’t written much, if anything, about my grandfather, largely because I don’t know much about him. I know Rev. Dr. Clem Davies was a preacher, orator, broadcaster, womanizer and overall meshuggah. The artist, Emily Carr, writes about going to his services at City Temple in Victoria in the 1930s. He co-founded the first radio station in British Columbia and broadcast his services and a regular program on it. He initiated an annual “Sermon on the Mount” on Easter Sundays on Mount Tolmie.

DAVIES - SERMON ON THE MOUNT-1

 

 

Grandfather was described in at least one book on Victoria history as one of a series of religious wingnuts who have called Victoria home, and I understand he was into end-times stuff and prophecies. Somehow, his ministry kept going even after he died in 1951, and in 1970, two of his staff members (or disciples – who knows?) published a book, Immortality: the Next Giant Step for Mankind. 

The book uses Scripture to claim that God’s great plan for humans is eternal life in our physical bodies. That, the writers contend, is true immortality — not this “spiritual eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven” stuff, but that, through the Holy Spirit, our bodies will never die.

As I read it, I was sure I heard the Still, Small Voice say, “LOO-NEE … LOO-NEE!”

HOWEVER …

Pentecost reminds us that we do have something new and greater from God. When the Comforter comes to us, we find a whole new dimension in our lives. We are given power and authority that you don’t see in those who haven’t asked for it. It’s authority over sickness, demons — our own and others’ — Satan himself! We come to realize — at the same time — that we are incapable, in our own strength, to deal with the world, and also that we are unstoppable because of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus says it’s ours for the asking.

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

— Matthew 7:11

We have a Friend who has our back when we have to deal with our own stuff, and Someone to give us the words we need, to lead others to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and connection with God. We become, as Paul puts it, “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

C.S. Lewis (in Mere Christianity) says that is evolution: God, sending the Holy Spirit, and transforming us into people who have this authority and a responsibility to exercise it. We can also, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, “fill in the blank” for those who have less faith than we do.

Living forever on this earth in this body? Who needs it? I love the earth and God’s creation and this wonderful world He’s provided for us, but all indications I see is that there is something a lot greater than this to look forward to, and my hope is based on looking forward to see what that is.

Jesus walked out of the tomb — He is risen.

We receive the Holy Spirit — we are risen, indeed!

Language, Diversity, Unity and Pentecost

When you hear the word “Pentecostal”, what do you think of?

“Holy rollers”? People flopping around in an “orgie [sic] of emotionalism”, as one early 20th-Century critic called it: shaking uncontrollably, babbling incoherently, laughing and crying and possibly all at the same time?

No argument there, but while a Pentecostal “manifestation” may seem self-indulgent or exclusionary, it’s anything but.

On Sunday, many churches celebrate Pentecost, and for some — particularly evangelical Christians — it’s the third most important event, after Easter and Christmas. It’s the time, during the first feast of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, that the Holy Spirit landed in a heap on His disciples in Jerusalem. Jews visiting Jerusalem from other countries for the feast heard the commotion and went to see what was going on. Some assumed the disciples were drunk; however, foreigners were astonished to hear the disciples declaring the mighty works of God in their own languages.

That event also closed the loop on something God had started a couple of thousand years before that. And as our society becomes more and more divided, it’s something worth considering today.

Tower_of_babelYou’re probably familiar with the story of the Tower of Babel: people decide to build a tower to get to Heaven, and God thwarts the plan by mixing up their language. Confused, unable to communicate with one another and probably fearful to the point of hatred of those they can’t understand, they get scattered all over the earth and the tower never gets built.

Why would God do that? Because the idea of the tower was to reach Heaven using a man-made device and not doing it “God’s way”, which is through relationship with Him. They were trying to imitate God, if you will.

God has shown, often, that He resents that approach. For one thing, He booted Adam and Eve out of Eden, so that they wouldn’t eat from the Tree of Life and live forever — eternal life is His domain and we get to share it on His terms.

Jesus tells His followers they must enter the Kingdom via the “strait gate” and anyone who tries to get in any other way is “a thief and a robber”. So when the people on the Plain of Shinar try to build their tower, their stairway to Heaven, God responds by creating disunity.

And so, the miracle in Jerusalem, thousands of years later, is that people who had been divided by language were being reunited by the strange new “tongues” the disciples were speaking. I don’t believe the disciples instantly became polyglots: their speech by-passed the hearer’s intellect and went straight to the spirit. It was a new common language, a focal point for all people to see how Jesus’ death and resurrection were for all people, for all time. It was carefully timed, so that people from all over the known world would be gathered in one spot to witness it. (The phenomenon happens even today: after one sermon, a Spanish-speaking woman turned to me and said, “I forgot he was speaking English!”)

It’s all part of Jesus’ goal — to be a unifying factor for mankind.

Let’s consider the situation today — the way mankind tries to imitate God. From artificial intelligence to space exploration (trying to learn about “the origins of the universe” and/or find a new planet to mess up) to assuming we can control when and whether we live or die, we try to usurp God’s authority.

At the same time, look at how our species has become increasingly divided, not by language, but by superficial “identity”. We hear talk of “silos”, “bubbles” and “echo chambers”, created by these identities, getting ever farther away from “unity in Christ”. Even Christians are sharply divided.

You might question whether there’s a causal link between the two, but the people at Babel didn’t “do the math”, either: they just split off into their language groups and huddled together, scattering over the earth.

Could we be seeing God at work now, “disunifying” us to thwart our attempts to replicate His works and achieve a “God-free” heaven? Is He preparing to unify us with another new language? Remember that, when the disciples at Pentecost declared the “mighty works of God”, EVERYBODY understood – the language barrier was broken, the same way the veil in the temple was torn during the Crucifixion.

And remember this: The Book of Revelation does talk about Jesus giving a new language to “those who overcome” and refers to the saints “singing a new song”.

Hmm.

In any event, if we are Jesus’ hands and feet, and He came to unify God’s people, we can do our part by focusing on declaring “the mighty works of God”: because when we do that – proclaim the Gospel, straight-no-chaser, EVERYBODY understands!

Thorns and sufficiency

One of the nagging questions for anyone who believes in God is, “Am I good enough for Him?”

The answer is pretty clear:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
 

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

— John 3:15-16

“Whoever” and “all” are my two favorite words in the Bible. And when you figure that all one has to do is believe in Jesus — that He is the Son of God and the one and only connection we have (or need) to the Father — and you are “good enough” for God.

But mankind has spent pretty much its entire existence acting as though we’re not good enough for God — witness the propensity for sacrifices and other rituals.

There’s something else to consider, which begs another question:

Is God good enough for us?

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

— 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

Every one of us has a thorn in the flesh — something that causes us to focus on the physical world we live in, rather than God and His glory. It could be past sins, worldly things like debt and other obligations, and we try to overcome those things through our own strength. Like Cain, toiling in the field rather than watching the sheep and contemplating God, we move further and further away from God. Yet there He is,  waiting for us to turn to Him and claim the grace that He gave Paul.

That’s one of the things the enemy exploits in us: the fact that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness and that the manifestation of that strength — the blessing He brings to us — often only comes through patience and when we steadfastly believe that He will come through for us.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”

— Jeremiah 29:11-13

What could possibly be wrong with that? And yet, we keep insisting on doing things our way, making choices that indicate we’re not satisfied with those thoughts of His. And when things go wrong, we blame Him.

It’s worth noting that in God’s economy, what’s “sufficient” to Him is “more than enough” for us.

All that’s required of us is to believe.