When you are down to nothing …

Dear Craig and Andrea,

We met the other day on Sparks Street Mall in Ottawa (is there any part of Ottawa that is not under construction?). I picked up coffee for Craig and me (the first time I’ve ever walked into Tim Horton’s and asked for a “double-double”, and you were there!) and tea for Andrea and some timbits, and you told me your stories.

I’ve heard situations like yours before. You’re two good-looking people, smart, capable: you get hooked on drugs, and everything falls apart. Even as recovering addicts, it feels like you’re coming to the plate with two strikes against you when you try to rent a place or get a job: “I’m not judging them,” someone in charge might say, “but I gotta manage my risks!”

Andi, you told me you can’t get a job because you don’t have a place to live. That surprised me, but thinking back to the Downtown East Side, I knew people who had jobs but still couldn’t afford to leave the neighborhood: but at least they had a flophouse or a shelter to go to. And maybe it’s different in BC.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I might have seized the opportunity to push the Gospel and tell you, “God has a plan for your life!” Not that that isn’t true, but I can’t help thinking it rings hollow when you’re couch-surfing, shelter-hopping, sleeping apart because you can’t find “two-together” and have to sit in the blazing sun on a concrete sidewalk as people walk past, either consigning you to the SEP Force Field* or consoling themselves by muttering, “They don’t want food – they want drugs!” 

But I know this:

DOWN TO NOTHING

Because I’ve been there: it wasn’t drugs that did me in, but I was older than you when things came to pieces and all I had left was to turn to God — through Jesus Christ — and let Him turn me around. You’ll find things do get better. You come out the other side and the lousy stuff you’re going through now will seem like a dream. Only it wasn’t: it was very real, and the dung of that existence becomes the fertilizer of a brighter future.

I did give you this bit of Scripture:

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.

— Jeremiah 29:11

That word from the Lord comes at a time when His people were still captive in Babylon and things looked pretty dark for them. We are God’s people, and when we remember the thoughts He thinks toward us — or even that He has thoughts toward us, and doesn’t leave us alone in a dory in the middle of the ocean — we can be confident that He’s going to lead us out of our captivity, even when it’s self-imposed.

So keep looking up, my friends! There’s a reason why I decided to walk down Sparks Street Mall and not head for Byward Market where all the cool people go on a Saturday, or up to Parliament Hill with the tourists. The Lord is trying to give you a message, and it’s a message of hope.

Love you guys,

Drew


*The SEP Force Field was described in Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as surrounding something so hard to comprehend that it’s assumed to be Somebody Else’s Problem and therefore, is invisible. 

Doing God’s work: beware of the millstone!

So yesterday, we were talking about the importance of staying focused on the Message of the Gospel, and not getting distracted by issues the enemy puts in our way to get us to attack one another rather than promote Jesus.

Remember:

attacking a sinner personally rarely brings that person into the Kingdom.

And therein lies another warning, straight from Jesus:

For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. 

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.”

— Mark 9:40-42

The “outrage” I described yesterday refers to certain things being taught in public schools, and those have the potential to cause people to stumble: indeed, many things being taught and preached today have the potential to cause anyone to stumble. But while those teaching and preaching have to beware of the millstone Jesus warns about, we also have to ask ourselves, how are we presenting the Gospel?

Are we spreading the Gospel with the Word, or a mallet?

Are we showing people “a more excellent Way” (1 Corinthians 12:31), attracting them to the joy and beauty of redemption through Jesus and new life in Christ? Or are we condemning sinners and attacking others personally, so that the very people we’re trying to reach are being pushed away?

In other words, by our words, actions and attitude, are we fitting ourselves for that granite necklace?

millstone-around-neck-300x198

Jesus brought a completely different mindset to the world: not to live our lives avoiding sin (and failing miserably, as we had been for 4,000 years), but to focus on God and His love, knowing that when we do that, sin doesn’t have a chance.

All have sinned, Paul reminds us, and fall short of the glory of God. But it’s only a short fall, and Jesus is there to cover it. The world may look good, but Jesus is better – and that’s the message we have to carry.

We want people to think of Jesus when they see us — not the other way around.

Christian soldiers: FACE FRONT!

Outrage is inevitable in our world. Pretty much any day, anywhere you look, you will find something that will tick you off — especially if you’re a Christian.

Lately, I’ve been watching an online thread in which some Christians are outraged over an issue in the public school system: how awful it is, and how to fight it.

It’s a natural reaction, and that’s the problem: it’s natural. God calls His people to do unnatural things, like not respond the way people of the world respond. He calls us to follow Jesus’ example, and Heaven knows, there was plenty to condemn in the world that Jesus found on earth, as there is today.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

== John 3:17

Think about that for a moment.

Let’s remember that Jesus tells us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We have to be as cunning as Satan — cunning enough to recognize his ploys, and one of those is the great “misdirect”: getting us to focus our attention on what’s wrong with the world, and in so doing, losing sight of what God has called us to do.

It’s important to remember that people who promote what many consider to be outrages, truly believe that these benefit others. These people are not the enemy. If we treat them as such, however, we will fail to be ambassadors of Christ. Worse, we’ll help the real enemy — Satan — who doesn’t give a flying fish for those supposed “beneficiaries”, but only cares about keeping us at one another’s throats and preventing non-believers from seeing Jesus.

Rather than point out what’s wrong with people or with their belief system(s), we have to show them “a more excellent way”.

But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

— 1 Corinthians 12:31 – 1 Corinthians 13:8

Remember: not even Jesus condemns the world; so we can’t condemn it, either. That’s God’s job — and He’s told us ours.

So face front! And remember that the whole armour of God covers us as we move forward and our rear is not covered, because as we move forward, our rear is protected.

Yes, it will require patience and we can’t expect to see results right out of the gate, but by living in and showing that “more excellent way”, we will have greater success than anything we could devise in our minds.

Prayer and its many sides

I have friends on Maui, which up until a couple of days ago had been under the threat of Hurricane Lane, reputedly one of the strongest storms ever to hit the Central Pacific. At one point, Lane ramped up to a Category 5 hurricane then, late last week, took a sudden sharp turn to the left, so that Maui, which had been predicted to be right in the cone of the storm (along with the other main islands), was only brushed.

(To be clear: “only brushed” means high waves, heavy rain and wind and flooded roads. But it could have been a lot worse.)

In the aftermath, two people I’ve heard from have unabashedly said, “God has protected us”. Truly, there has been prayer, of the order of, “Master! Don’t you care that we’re perishing?“, and the expectation that Jesus will calm the storm. The worldly, human reaction is to say, “we were lucky” or “we dodged a bullet”, even though (a) luck had nothing to do with it and (b) nobody moved the islands out of the way of the storm, so “we” didn’t “dodge” anything.

To praise God for protecting people and answering prayer by steering the storm away is the right thing: so why does it feel odd sometimes?

Well, for one thing, others might feel uncomfortable, if they weren’t praying through a similar situation or if, for some reason, they don’t want to admit that Someone has the power to step in and help, when asked.

Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.

— Matthew 18:19-20

It also begs questions about other disasters. Why didn’t God spare people and property on the Big Island, with Kilauea erupting there? What about Puerto Rico? Was no one praying about the hurricane there? Why didn’t God answer those prayers?

Maybe He did. Maybe people both in and out of Puerto Rico needed to see the state of the infrastructure and the potential for human misery — after all, if we don’t see the human misery, how can we respond to it, as God’s hands and feet? Maybe we all needed to see the astonishing lack of compassion by certain people in power and at the same time, to see the sacrificial response by aid groups and private businesses that stepped in to help.

As for the Big Island, various news organizations reported in May that people were setting out ti leaves as an offering to the goddess Pele — “She Who Devours the Earth” — to try to appease her and stop the eruptions.

TI LEAVES

Is God showing us that, in the face of disasters, there is only One we can turn to, whether it’s to prevent the disaster, stop it or bring in help in its wake?

My point here is, that in praising God for protecting His people, it’s important to avoid being smug. To give Him glory and praise; to thank Him for keeping us safe, is entirely right and proper. To the cynic’s question, “Why should He help you?“, the answer is, “He helps anyone who asks.”

It’s important that in our hearts, we remember and remind one another that He protects people not just for their sakes and for His glory, but so that they can take care of others. Your home may have been spared in a disaster, so you can open it up for people left homeless. You may have made it to a liferaft, so you can reach back and help someone else to get in. Your crop may have been spared in the hailstorm, so you can share it with one whose crop was destroyed.

Again, we see proof that God is all we have — and He’s all we need.

Peace, man!

In younger days, I was a bit of a peacenik. I still am, but in a different way. As a reporter, I produced a radio feature on the annual Peace Walk in Vancouver (or it might have been called the Walk for Disarmament or Walk for World Peace), where I met one fellow who had fought in the Pacific Theatre in the Second World War and who told me, “War is glorious until you get someone else’s lead in your gut”; and another chap who claimed to have served in the army from beginning to end of both World Wars. He was a clerk, but his eyes started to tear-up as he talked about not wanting to see another generation of young people sent off to be cannon fodder.

But what has been accomplished by the chanting and marching and sit-ins and teach-ins? The world is still at war on more fronts than one can count, and as it is with so many great ideas, people want to give peace a chance, until it means making peace with the last person who popped you one.

What is peace, anyway?

“If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them … I will give you peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid;

“I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land. You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you.

“Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight. Your enemies shall fall by the sword before you.”

— Leviticus 26:3, 6-8

Our enemies shall “fall by the sword”? That sounds like a different kind of “peace” than anything we peaceniks were marching for in the ’70s and ’80s. It means freedom from fear, and that, while we don’t go looking for trouble, if anyone comes against us, they’re doomed.

When the Assyrian comes into our land,
And when he treads in our palaces,
Then we will raise against him
Seven shepherds and eight princely men.

— Micah 5:5

“Seven shepherds and eight princely men”? That’s something for further contemplation.

KNOW JESUS

The fact is, the key to peace is not through treaties, accords or ententes. It’s not promoted through protest marches or “COEXIST” bumper stickers or even pax ballistica. It’s found by following the Word of God, by walking in His ways. In the New Testament context, it means overcoming evil with good, not responding “in kind” to any kind of assault, verbal or physical, and recognizing that the real enemy is Satan — not the person who’s hitting us.

It doesn’t mean we don’t defend ourselves, but when we do, it’s not to retaliate or avenge. At the end of the day, when we are walking in God’s ways, we know we will be protected and those who attack us will pay a price for it.

If we don’t walk in God’s ways, well, we’re on our own when attacked — in fact, read the rest of Leviticus 26 to find out what happens if we refuse to obey Him: it gives the concept of “God resists the proud” a whole new meaning.

The beauty of it is, this kind of peace is something we all can bring about. We learn from Jesus, what “love thy neighbour” is really about, and spread that knowledge on to others. Then we learn that peace is not absence of war, so much as God’s Will being done.

Peace out!

God does NOT like anyone else “best”!

If you’re old enough to remember the Smothers Brothers and their folk music/comedy antics, you probable remember Dick’s oft-repeated complaint:

smothers brothers

“Mom always liked you best!”

It was a funny line, but sadly, that’s the attitude a lot of us have when it comes to God. We figure He likes/loves other people more than He loves us, or that He couldn’t possibly concern Himself with our troubles.

And that, loves, is a lie from the pit.

For a simple reason. God is not a man. His ways are not our ways and that’s especially true when it comes to the amount of love He showers on us. He doesn’t operate the way the “world” does, doling out love and blessing as a reward for being nice to Him. The crazy thing is, He does expect us to ask for it.

Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”

— Matthew 6:8

Why would we have to ask? Because doing so acknowledges two things: first, that He is the source of all our blessings and fulfillment of our needs; and second, that we do not really know what we need. We know what we want, and sometimes that squares with what God knows that we need, but more often than not, what we need seems to be at cross-purposes with our desires. God has a much better view of our situation than we do.

But here’s the problem: when we think we have it all or that we are incredibly blessed to begin with — even if we give God the glory for that blessing — we often decide that we can “take it from here”, because there are others that need God more than we do. Other people have bigger problems, worse habits, greater need, so we should let God help them and not burden Him with our issues.

That points to one thing: PRIDE. It may seem like humility, but there is always a tipping point with humility, where it turns into pride; and pride always precedes a crash.

God has time for us. No matter how prosperous we may appear on the outside (and by “prosperous”, I don’t mean financially: I mean that general sense that all is right in our world), we always need Him and He is always there to fulfill that need. Our need is no greater nor worse than that of anybody else, not in God’s eyes, anyway.

How do we know that? Consider this:

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

— Luke 15:4-7

So God doesn’t love that one lost person any less than the ninety-nine. What’s more, what we need is still a need: it is something that prevents us from being whole and perfect, the way God wants us to be. It’s also something we cannot provide on our own. Sure, we can say, “I’m OK, God”, or “being ‘perfect’ is highly overrated”, but why would we want to, when there is so much joy and abundant life to be had?

“You do not have because you do not ask,” James writes (James 4:2).

No one is more important to God than you, so … ask!

The level of your faith ….

So Saturday, I was going on about the natural catastrophes and the fact that they are a wakeup call for Jesus Followers: bear down and reach out to people in love, walking as Jesus did; and pray.

This begs the question: what do we pray for?

In the eternal scheme of things, for God to reveal Himself to people who don’t believe yet, and “come quickly, Lord Jesus”.

In the more immediate, for protection from the effects of those disasters.

And here’s why that’s important. It’s not about protecting yourself, your home, property and immediate family.

The level of your faith affects those around you — even if they don’t believe.

Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.

— Mark 4:36-37

It’s then that the disciples rouse Jesus, who sleeping comfortably in the stern; He gets up, rebukes the storm, and everything calms down.

And notice this: “other little boats were also with Him”.

Those little boats were just as threatened by the storm as the disciples’ boat was, and when Jesus rebuked the storm, they were saved, too. But they didn’t have Jesus in the boat with them, and it probably never crossed their minds to call out to Him — after all, what could He do, in a different boat?

The disciples themselves had no idea what Jesus could or would do, but they turned to Him. And everybody around them was saved.

So when we are praying, we’re not the only ones to benefit. The faith that we have in turning to Jesus results in blessing, grace and protection for people around us. They may not know we’re praying; they may not believe in Jesus. But they are all children of God and it’s our responsibility to call out to Jesus as loudly, fervently and faith-fully as we can: “Teacher, don’t You care that we are perishing?”

And as we and others are protected from or carried through those disasters, we have to keep letting people know that this is all God’s glory, Jesus’ love and our faith, working together.

And just maybe, such disasters will lead more people to the Lord. Because that, really, is what it’s all about.

The fires – and the reminder

Yesterday in Prince George, BC, this is what it looked like an hour after sunrise.

PRINCE GEORGE IN SMOKE 1

Nicked from reporter Richard Zussman (Global TV)’s Twitter feed.

A little later, it looked like this.

PRINCE GEORGE IN SMOKE 2

Ibid.

It was the smoke from wildfires in the region; just some of the wildfires that are raging around Canada and the USA right now. The fires have killed many people, and police and military resources are being sent in to help the firefighters.

More hot, dry weather is in the forecast for the next week in British Columbia (while Toronto and parts of Texas have been experiencing torrential rain). Then there are the disastrous fires in Europe, and hurricane season is upon us in the tropics. People are dying in the heat in India.

There is no question that, on the worldly level, this is the effect of climate change. But all the worldly scientists and activists are offering now is, “We told you so.”

And they’re right. We were warned, decades ago, that we would see this. I remember my father, who devoured science magazines like Scientific American and New Scientist, talking to me in the late 1960s about the “greenhouse effect”.

But what we’re not hearing from the experts is “Here’s what to do about it.”

Sure, people talk about “reducing our addiction to oil”, a “post-carbon world”, and a bunch of technological solutions that are too expensive, too unworkable over large scales, take too long to implement and/or are too self-focused to be of any use to a planet of 7.5-billion (2016) people.

And a significant number of people in positions of power are denying it’s even happening.

But I’m wrong about something a couple of paragraphs back. We were not warned a few decades ago that this would happen.

We were warned a few millennia ago.

Then He said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.”

— Luke 21:10-11

We’re seeing all of that today, are we not? (What could be a more fearful sight than pitch darkness at 9am in mid-summer?) Jesus also foretells “wars and rumors of wars” and “the love of many [growing] cold”, all as signs and events preceding His return.

But the point here is not to look at the possibility that we’ll see Jesus again soon — because He also says we’re seeing “the beginning of sorrows” and that only the Father knows what time He’ll be sent back — but to remind us that we need to Get Busy. God tells us

“When I shut up heaven that 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

I know I’ve cited that passage countless times in the past and this won’t be the last time, I’m sure. The answer is simple:

All that we see happening is beyond our control.

As humans, we were unable to prevent it.

In fact, God claims responsibility for causing it, which means we need to stop beating ourselves up.

AND, He tells us what to do about it (unlike the worldly experts).

  • Turn back to Him.
  • Pray.
  • Reach out to others in love and forgiveness.
  • Look outward and up, not inward and down.

Trust that, when we do that, He will do as He promises.

And muster up the courage to get others to do the same. Sow the seeds, because this is one crop that will flourish in this weather.

Righteousness under duress?

After several years of controversy, Trinity Western University has decided to stop requiring students to sign a “Community Covenant” on enrolling. As a Christian university, TWU wanted to ensure that its students maintained Christian standards, so the Covenant required them to walk in love and respect towards others and to abstain from sex outside the traditional marriage bond.

The Covenant went unchallenged for years, until a man applied to TWU’s law school and, when he was denied entry for refusing to sign the Covenant, filed a human rights complaint.

Some courts sided with the university, others didn’t; various provincial Law Societies declared they would not recognize degrees from TWU. Long story short, after five years, TWU blinked.

Now, on the one hand, a couple of questions remain unanswered, in my mind:

  • For the law societies: How does requiring someone to sign that Covenant affect their proficiency as a lawyer?
  • In general: Why didn’t that student go to another law school? There’s UVic, UBC, Osgoode Hall, McGill, and many other universities in Canada that have law schools. Why pick Trinity Western?

But the biggest one is for the university: why require someone to sign a document stating that they’re righteous?

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’

“But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

“Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.

“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

— Matthew 5:33-37

A person’s word that he or she is living a righteous life, as Jesus has taught us, should be all that anyone needs. Requiring them to sign a document that they will do that, especially a document that defines “righteous behaviour”, puts the university in the place of God, as their judge.

There’s a really good reason for not signing such a document, and it’s not that the student has no intention of following it: it’s that they believe that their word should be good enough. In fact, I think someone whose righteousness speaks for itself would be exactly the kind of person a university would want.

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

— Matthew 5:16

Isn’t signing such a covenant — and, for that matter, having the covenant in the first place — tantamount to blowing your horn in the marketplace, to show off how righteous you are?

When I was in eleventh grade, I took Law 11 as an elective. Our teacher, Mr Tye, taught us that a contract signed under duress is invalid. So if a student signs a covenant (which is really a contract with an overtone of religiosity) with the threat that he or she will be expelled if he or she breaks it, isn’t that “duress”?

I get that many people — especially in this “post-Christian era” — feel more comfortable learning in a safe environment, surrounded by like-minded people. But isn’t the proof of a Jesus Follower found in the heart — not on a piece of paper?

The vision and the Love

I’ve only had two “visions” from the Lord. One was during one of the lowest points in my life, when I saw a silhouette of Jesus on the Cross, with the two thieves on either side, and heard Him say, “Was I wasting My time?”

(Translation: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself: get on with it!”)

The other lasted less than an eye-blink. I was sitting down in my favorite chair with my Bible and closed my eyes for maybe a second, and across my mind’s eye, there flashed an image of the cosmos. The only way to describe it was that it looked like one of those special-effects backdrops for a Carl Sagan special …

cosmos

Like this?

… yeah, like that, only more magnificent.

And the message I got was: IT’S ALL TRUE.

It begins with this …

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

It’s something you just know. Don’t ask me to explain, because I’d be left floundering about, trying to connect to something humans invented called “reason” and “logic”. But as the song says, “It’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll”: it’s something you feel. Sometimes, you know it because you’ve been taught it and it’s ingrained in your beingSometimes, it comes to you as a revelation, a sense that everything around you falls into place because you’ve finally allowed that Truth to take root.

And when it does, what wonder … what joy … opens up for you! Consider this:

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

 — 1 John 4:16

“God is love”, which means that:

  • In the beginning, Love created the heavens and the earth
  • Love created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves (and get this!)
  • Love created man in His own image.

You … I … everyone you see was created by Love … in the image of Love.

Love is the great creative Force, which means Hatred does nothing but destroy. Even when people express hate for the things God hates, they’re doing nothing constructive: they’re tearing down others, and are doing something that God has reserved for Himself.

The thief does not come except to stealand to killand to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

— John 10:10

Can you think of anyone who was brought to the Lord because someone said they hated them or spoke hateful words? People come to the Lord because they recognize loving kindness, a break for the sins they’ve committed, a chance to move forward rather than wallow in the past.

That’s how people came to Jesus when He was on this earth: they didn’t need someone else telling them their sins: they needed someone to love them and tell them how God loves them.

Sometimes, you have to get creative in order to love, because people around you will do things you don’t particularly like, and you have to make a conscious effort to love them in spite of it. But God “got creative”, too. He sent His Son to be our stand-in. That’s Love.

If you think of nothing else for a while; if you run out of things to pray about or thank God for, spend time considering that Love created the universe, Love created you and that very Creator loves you.