Your relationship with God – the shiny-happy and the dark-rotten

So yesterday, I was going on about the fact that, while people might question the existence of God as an abstract idea, they can’t take away your own personal testimony. It’s important to show from your experience that the stuff people say about a relationship with God is real: we are not just ambassadors for Christ, but God’s PR department.

BUT.

We have to remember that a PR department’s job is to show its boss in the best light possible, and when we’re talking about a relationship with God, that doesn’t necessarily mean showing us in the best light.

“I was praying for some more money, and when I went to my closet this morning, I found a $10 bill in my pants pocket that I forgot was there! God answered my prayer!”

— Actual church testimony

“I had suffered with back trouble for 26 years, and a healing minister prayed over me and I don’t have back trouble anymore! Thank you, Jesus!”

— my own testimony (in part)

There is no reason to doubt either of those testimonies (and if anyone doubts mine, they can meet me in the parking lot afterwards), but they tend to focus on something Really Good happening because of faith in God. God isn’t all about doing nice things for people who believe in Him.

… you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,

Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him:

For whom the Lord loves He chastens,

And scourges every son whom He receives”

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?

But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.

— Hebrews 12:5-8

See, my testimony also includes chastening. And by “chastening”, I don’t mean “punishment”, per se, but a sense of correction and even the notion that things are not going as well as they could have if I had stayed closer to the Lord. There were times when I did things I knew I should not have been doing, and things I had hoped for did not come about. I believe there was a connection between disobedience and my “missing out”.

Who knows how many things I missed out on, because I was disobedient?

My own career in broadcasting looked successful to some, I suppose, but became a series of advances, “plateaux” and stagnation, if not slipping backwards entirely. Looking back, it was a case of God saying, “you’re not relying enough on Me, yet: you have to learn more about that, and then you can go forward.”

That’s a hard concept to get across for two reasons: first, you have to overcome the notion that the idea that God might “punish” you for something sounds silly (not to mention the fact that someone may shrug and say, “Oh — bad karma”); second, you have to tell someone else — and hear for yourself — that you committed a sin.

(The details of the sin are not necessary, because often, the nature of the chastening is not connected to the sin itself: the point is that you were disobedient and/or decided to “go it alone” and say that you didn’t need God. As a result, things did not go as you had hoped.)

In fact, it’s not right to say that God is punishing you for something. That suggests that all you can do is hang your head, beat yourself up and say you’re nothing but a worm (Psalm 22:6). That may satisfy your flesh, in believing that if you admit your guilt and spend time hitting yourself over the head with a Cross, you’ll be OK; but chastening means you learn, grow, and lean on God all the more.

“I am grateful to God that I don’t have a roof over my head. I am grateful to God that I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight or where my next meal is coming from. I am grateful to God because I know He will provide whatever I need, when I need it.”

— testimony from homeless man on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side

It’s one thing to give God the glory when things are going well; but probably a greater testimony is to give Him the glory when things don’t look so good: when you tell others that in good times and bad, through the bright days and the dark periods, you still trust Him to carry you through.

Moral of the story: He’s never let you down and He never will.

He can do it for anyone else who asks.

This stuff’s for real, kids!

“I don’t know the ‘whole counsel of God’! But what I do know sure works!”

— Kenneth Copeland (quoted by Jerry Savelle)

An article I recently read online includes some interesting statistics about what’s being called Generation Z (born since 1999 — what will they name the next generation, since they’re running out of alphabet?). The percentage of people who self-identify as atheists is more than double that of the entire adult population — 13% versus 6%.

Why would they say they’re atheists? Well, according to the breakdown of the reasons they give, nearly 70% put it down to unbelief. They call the Bible “fairy tales”, or science refutes the Bible, or they can’t believe a good God would allow suffering in the world.

What it means is, if we’re to win the coming generation to Christ, we can’t start by saying that Jesus is the Son of God, because the quick comeback would be, “There is no God.”

We have to start by establishing God’s existence, and while Creation itself should be enough to do that, with people using science to try to disprove “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and promoting theories as undisputed and indisputable facts, it’s never been a harder sell.

But a much easier sell is this: your own relationship.

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

— 2 Peter 1:16-17

We are in the same position as Peter was — and Paul and the other Apostles, for that matter. Our belief in God is not founded on stories or anyone preaching at us, but on a personal encounter that can only be described as a “God thing”. It’s not even founded on Scripture knowledge: Scripture helps us to know God, understand Him better and know the difference between His voice and a counterfeit; but we are first introduced to Him through a personal revelation.

Peter writes about being “eyewitnesses of His majesty”, and that’s an experience not confined to Peter or those around Jesus during His ministry on earth. We — those who believe — are all eyewitnesses to the majesty of God and Jesus Christ; in one way or another, we’ve heard that Voice, saying “This is My beloved Son”; we have all come to a realization that THIS STUFF IS REAL.

Most importantly, we can tell others about it.

We can tell others that God is real, because of the things we have seen in our lives: things that can’t be explained, changes in attitude towards others and understanding of events. We can tell others about the things that have happened to us that can only be explained by Someone Else “pulling the strings”, as it were — working out a grand plan that none of us can foresee. We can also tell others about the setbacks we have suffered, because of drifting away from God (more about that tomorrow), and the immense sense of freedom and joy that we have found when we turn back and feel His forgiveness and grace.

And since we’re speaking from a position of life experience, we can tell this Generation Z that they, too, will go through incredible “down times”, and that standing in faith that things will get better, and asking God what He has going on at this point in their life, brings joy, even when they are “unhappy”.

That’s our purpose on this earth: to tell people what God is all about. When we’re told in Genesis that God put man in His Garden to tend it and keep it (Gen. 2:15), that translates in today’s world to propagating His Word. We are to spread His love, joy and peace around the world and show by our example that there is Something … Someone … to believe in.

Identity, Diversity and Simplicity – 2 (The Great Mis-Direct)

So yesterday, I was talking about the “it can’t be that simple” matter of gender in God’s eyes. It boils down to this:

  1. Some of us are male
  2. The rest are female

That’s it. If we run into anything that seems different or not-quite-the-way-we-think-it-should-be, we can turn to God to ask how it fits into those parameters.

Any other way of looking at it suggests that God is not good enough for us.

But through all this, we need to recognize that this is another of the devil’s mis-directs.

zan_zig_performing_with_rabbit_and_roses_magician_poster_1899

“Keep your eyes on the roses, ladies and gentlemen! Concentrate solely on the roses!”

Controversies like “identity” and even debates over climate change and things that are “wrong” with our world keep us at one another’s throats and prevent us from seeing the big picture: the mounting checklist of events Jesus and the prophets foretold, thousands of years ago.

The thing is, in this day and age, when the Bible is ignored, dismissed or treated like the Manifesto of Self-Righteousness, people don’t even know what to look for*, and we miss it.

Worse, the mis-direct distracts us from the real assignment God has given us: to spread the Gospel.

We’re not actually supposed to argue with those who try to discount our position: trying to argue moves the discussion onto the enemy’s level, requiring us either to prove our position logically or, what’s worse, leading us to the temptation of attacking the opponents rather than promoting Jesus.

Nor do we need to “defend the faith”. Truth is its own defence.

We are the new alternative lifestyle: we love God above all; we love one another; we love others, regardless of whether they’re “believers” or not; we place their interests ahead of our own, comfortable in the knowledge that as we do that, God will take care of us.

We believe and embrace the fact that God is good enough for us.

But what we do not do is allow ourselves to be distracted by the various issues that have caused division in our society in recent decades. Every one of those issues has answers in the Word of God. We need to keep pressing that point, and showing how that “3,500-year-old Book” nails it repeatedly, has foretold the scenes we’re seeing now, tells us what comes next, and works in our individual lives when we give it a chance.

So let’s not fall for the mis-direct. Let’s set our face like flint, focus on the Cross and bring Joy to the World!


*As illustrated in this test from Transport for London. Absolutely unrelated to any of the above, but it’s fun, and Jim Stanton of Stanton Associates (with whom I co-train in media relations) likes to use it.

Identity, Diversity and Simplicity – 1 (It’s Complicated. Not.)

Q: How do you take a simple concept and make it complicated?

A: Let a human being think about it.

Q: How do you make it hopelessly complicated?

A: Throw in a research grant.

(Warning: the following contains a word that some may be surprised to find in a Christian blog.)

Recently, I heard an interview on the radio with a scientist whose research involves gender. Her points were (1) “gender” and “sex” are two different things; (2) there are more than two genders; (3) “gender” is a state of mind, and not related to, well, genitalia.

She also used the expression “gender assigned at birth”. That tends to trigger the Loony Detector in my head.

Now, at no point did the interviewer, a noted science journalist, call “bullshit”* on her; indeed, he was intrigued with the fact that research had been done over the past 60 years. Apparently, millions of years of human existence, functioning just fine with the two-gender concept, were to be tossed aside: a scientist was making bold, against-the-grain statements to refute the stick-in-the-mud, probably religiously fanatical, proponents of the Old Order (who probably believe God created everything, too), so he wasn’t about to question her.

In other words, the scientist was succeeding in complicating a very simple concept:

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

— Genesis 1:27

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.

My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

— Psalm 139:13-15

How about a “selah” there — a moment to pause and reflect? The Big Sir Himself formed each and every one of us and has known us from before we were conceived. What’s more, no one “assigned” us our gender “at birth”: it was done by God, long before we were a twinkle in our daddy’s eye.

Male and female – that’s it. Simple, right? Now, we can go have a taco and get on with our real duty on earth: loving one another and taking care of God’s creation.

Sure, there are variations in personality within the parameters of “male” and “female”. And what wonderful variations! God IS diversity — can you imagine how boring it would be in the Kingdom if everyone were the same, or fit some predetermined behavioural mold?

But if the notion is planted that one is of some gender other than the two God decreed, the idea that we should seek Him to ask, “How do I fit into this?” seems like the ravings of a lunatic. Pray and listen for — and wait for — an answer? Seriously? Much “simpler” to decide we fall under “other”.

Which, of course, is complicated, because the way the learned scientist describes it, there’s a whole lot of “other”.

And many humans like complicating things, because if they can be seen to be un-complicating the situation, they can be heroes, or at least, get interviewed on a national radio show. But “complicated” means “confusing”.

For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

— 1 Corinthians 14:33

And if God is not the author of confusion, we know who is, right?

Mind you, what we’ve really been seeing over the past 60 years has been the promotion of the concept that God isn’t good enough for us.

So what do we do about it, as Jesus Followers?

Well, you don’t want to get into a spitting match with a scientist, trying to prove them wrong. Our course of action has to be — as it has been for the past 2,000 years — to keep telling the world that (a) we are happy with the way God made us, and if there’s anything we wonder about, we can approach the Big Sir to ask what He wants from us; (b) that relationship with God is not only desirable, it’s possible. 

Yes — and pray for the scientist and the interviewer. They’re children of God, too, and just as prone to “getting it wrong” as we are.


*There’s the word, in case you were wondering.

The fried-egg sandwich

My grandmother died when I was six months old. I didn’t know her, as such, but I’m told she was delighted to know me. (What else would my mother say, really?) She died of cancer — a long and painful battle for anyone in the 1950s — and mom was with her right to the end.

During that time, my dad was working at his job, and my godparents, Alec and Ada, had taken care of me. When the end came, they picked her up at St Paul’s Hospital (ironically, the hospital where I was born) and brought her back to their place. There, they had a bed made for her and the blinds drawn. They put her to bed and just let her sleep.

When she woke up, within minutes, Alec appeared at her bedside with a simple fried-egg sandwich.

I couldn’t begin to express how close mom was to her mother. My grandfather had bolted on the family about 20 years before, choosing the glamour of the big-time, Hollywood-based radio ministry, over his family. Through a disastrous teenage marriage, an aborted venture into Hollywood, divorce, being arrested for directing a “lewd and filthy” theatre production and finally remarriage and pregnancy, the two had each other.

And now Gran was gone.

When someone goes through profound grief like that, we’re usually at a loss as to what to do or say.

  • I’m praying for you
  • They’re in a better place
  • A life well-lived
  • He/she will be missed
  • I’m sorry for your loss
  • Can I do anything for you?

Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but do they ever really seem to be “enough” or “the right thing”?

We saw a lot of death on the Downtown East Side. Many of the deaths were unexpected — or maybe it’s more accurate to say they were “sudden but not unexpected”, given the way of life in that part of Vancouver.

Tina, for example, was one who hit me particularly hard, because she was a wonderfully sweet person and always kind to me, and then one day she sat down on a bench in Pigeon Park, closed her eyes, and was gone.

There was the morning that Richard walked into The Lord’s Rain and said to us, “M’ol’ lady died.” She’d been taken to hospital a couple of days before, appeared to rally, and then — was gone.

Harold - Copy

Harold

Or Victoria, who came in and told us that she woke up that morning to find her husband, Harold, dead beside her.

What can you do? What can you say?

Sometimes, just being there, sitting beside them while they grieve, is all you need to do. Listening to them while they talk — or ramble — without trying to help, is what’s required.

Also,

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.

— Psalm 34:17-18

As Jesus Followers, we are the representatives of the Lord, so we can listen carefully for the Holy Spirit to give us the right words. They may come – and they may not. It’s up to us to listen.

That may be where my godparents got the idea of the freshly-made bed, the darkened room, and the simple fried-egg sandwich.


*Perhaps, on the list of things not to say, was what someone decided was appropriate to say to my mother. The irony of Gran dying in the hospital where I was born was compounded by the fact that it was decided to combine her funeral with my christening ceremony. Someone said to mom, “Well, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” She couldn’t hear that phrase after that.

Doing? or Being?

To be is to do.

— Sartre

To do is to be.

— Descartes

Do be do be do.

— Sinatra

Whew. That’s finally out of my system.

One of the big differences between the way The World operates and God’s way of doing things is that actions do not figure as importantly as the state of our heart. Why do people want to help others? Why do people want to improve their world? Is it because they have this inner desire to do the right thing? Or do they want to be seen as heroes — or at the very least, a Good Person?

Over the past decade or so, you hear a lot of talk about “philanthropy”, as part of a business model. Rich people are expected to “give back” to the community. But take a look at these philanthropic acts: do they glorify God, or is the name of the philanthropist plastered all over them? Are they anonymous donations, or announced with great fanfare at a news conference with press releases and backgrounders?

When The Lord’s Rain — the showers project Gospel Mission set up on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side — had a serious setback during the building phase, a local businessman stepped up to put it back on track. “I don’t want my name or my business mentioned,” he said as he handed me a wad of big-money bills, “that’s not why I’m doing this.” He became known around the ministry as “Mr Eight-Thousand.” The impact of his action has gone far beyond what any of us could have expected.

Let’s remember what Jesus says.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

— John 15:4-8

Jesus doesn’t leave much room for doubt. If God is not glorified in your actions, you won’t see much fruit — and it may not be the right fruit, either. But more importantly, unless Jesus abides in us — unless His love, mercy and grace become part of our DNA and our actions are governed by His words, rather than our thoughts — what we do will have little or no effect. Indeed, it may backfire.

In other words, we have to BE before we can DO.

Our actions don’t make us godly or even good people: as we draw closer to God, our actions reflect it.

But wait: is this not at odds with what I call the Nike Theology — Just Do It?

That “theology” is based on an observation by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, that we are called to love our neighbours, and if we don’t love them, act as if we do. Sooner or later, he contends, we grow to love them.

That’s a bit different. Acting as if we love someone in spite of whatever we happen to feel at the time requires a determination in our heart to love them. So our heart has already made that needed change and our actions are falling into line; with our feelings following — eventually.

So philanthropy may look good to the public relations department and in this era of the “triple bottom line” — where Corporate Social Responsibility is a key factor — but if we glorify God in the process and make that the key motivation, the impact will be far beyond anything we could ever imagine.

One more thing: I’ve been wondering why the idea of “giving back” has bothered me, and I think I know, now. First off, it suggests that someone has taken something in the first place, and that there’s a ledger that marks “benefiting” in one column and “giving back” in the other; anyone who doesn’t even that score is not doing their bit. That leads to judgment of one person on another and a guilt trip — neither of which is of God.


Remember: our world is in the greatest “Come to Jesus moment” ever — certainly in our lifetimes. The checklist of signs Jesus says will precede His return is growing, and it’s up to us to bring His message of love, grace and mercy to as many people as possible. Just sow the seed and let God do the rest.

Hey, bro: lemme help you with that speck!

As followers of Jesus Christ, we’re expected to lift one another up and correct our brothers and sisters in a spirit of love; and that

… he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

— James 5:20

But how does that square with Jesus’ admonition?

And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 

Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

— Matthew 7:3-5

How are we supposed to turn someone from the error of their way without showing them that they were in error in the first place?

OR … does this mean that once we have seen the Light, once we have repented and received Jesus’ Blood to take away our own sins, we are then free to point out everyone else’s sins?

Well … no.

When we repent, that plank is gone from our eye; then, we see clearly, alright. We see the grace, mercy and love that is embraced in Jesus’ sacrifice. We see how unworthy we are to have received it, and recognize that other sinners are just as unworthy — and therefore, just as worthy, as we are.

With that clarity of vision, we then know exactly what to say and how to say it. We consider how we were saved, how others turned us from the error of our ways; what worked for us and what delayed our salvation by pushing us away.

Now, let’s take another look at what Jesus’ half-brother wrote. When he talks of turning a sinner from the error of his way, is he talking about the error of the sin itself, or the error of not following Jesus’ way? Basically, isn’t anything but Jesus’ way “in error”?

Which brings us back to yesterday’s assertion that we are the new alternative lifestyle: Jesus’ way is the ultimate alternative. It’s like nothing the world has to offer, because it’s not based in the world’s way of thinking, and all one has to do is look around, to see how well that way of thinking is working.

The alternative lifestyle

Remember: our world is in the greatest “Come to Jesus moment” ever — certainly in our lifetimes. The checklist of signs Jesus says will precede His return is growing, and it’s up to us to bring His message of love, grace and mercy to as many people as possible. Just sow the seed and let God do the rest.

Ever since the 1960s, there have been movements promoting “alternative lifestyles”. That could have referred to sexuality, drugs, food choices, “living off the grid” — you name it. Gradually, the alternatives have become mainstream — or, as The Doobie Brothers named one of their albums, “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits”.

Now, consider this: I once heard a woman comedian talk about a situation in a bar, where a man was coming onto her and she kept pushing him away. “Finally” (she said), “he says to me, ‘What are ya: a Lesbian?’ And I say, ‘What are you? The alternative?'”

As our world goes through what I think is the definitive “Come to Jesus Moment” and we are expected to show others the way to Jesus Christ, we need to ask ourselves that same question.

Are we the alternative?

What are we offering, in the Name of Jesus, that is different from anything else?

Are we promoting love for everyone, or only for those we personally care about?

For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

— Matthew 5:46-47

Are we looking at people who do things we know go against God’s word and declaring that we, ipso facto, are superior to them?

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

— Matthew 7:1-2

Do we greet newcomers to our country or our neighbourhoods with open arms and love, or do we shun them and make up reasons to mistrust them?

“You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

— Exodus 22:21

“Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

— Exodus 23:9

“And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

— Leviticus 19:33-34

(And if you read through Leviticus, you’ll see that God’s laws — both the requirements and the benefits — are to apply to strangers, as well as those “native to the land”.)

Do we acknowledge with joy that we are all children of God, and that that is the only “identity” that matters?

Is our attitude framed by our love of God and fellow humans, or do we look at financial and other worldly considerations first, and fit God in, somehow, after that?

Do we place our trust in God through Jesus Christ, and then, when He comes through for us, tell anyone we come across, so that they will have that testimony, too?

Hey, kids! I guess that makes us the Ultimate Alternative Lifestyle!

I wonder if the Village Voice, Georgia Straight and LA Free Press will start writing about Jesus now?

Making it really simple – how God loves us

Remember: our world is in the greatest “Come to Jesus moment” ever — certainly in our lifetimes. The checklist of signs Jesus says will precede His return is growing, and it’s up to us to bring His message of love, grace and mercy to as many people as possible. Just sow the seed and let God do the rest.

Then they (the people who had followed Jesus) said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

— John 6:28-29

That’s it. Believe. No heavy lifting, no weird chanting, no acts like self-denial or heroism above and beyond: just believe.

If you ever wanted proof of how much God loves us and wants us close to Him, look at how He simplifies the way to reach Him. One path — Jesus. One way — Jesus. One key to “working His works” — believe.

Of course, as fallen humans, we’re always susceptible to pride. That makes us want to be heroes, to be seen to be superior to others in one way or another.

We want to be the one who cures deadly diseases, while God sends the Holy Spirit to not just cure the disease but heal us inside and out.

We want to discover the secrets of the universe, while God tells us right off the top: “In the beginning, [I] created the heavens the the earth.”

We want to get close to God, while Jesus says definitively, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Can you think of any other “belief system” that states that?

There you go, He says — there’s your answer. Now get on with life.

We want to be better people, while God sends His Lamb to take away the sins of the world that prevent us from reaching that goal.

Politicians make a political football out of homelessness and poverty, while God’s Son says the fact that the poor have the Gospel preached to them is the sign that He is the Messiah.

Love them? Share the Good News of Jesus? No – too easy … too simplistic.

God created us to be intelligent, curious and compassionate, and, as with anything He creates, those qualities are for His glory. Sure — gaze into the universe and ask deep questions like “Why?” and “How?”, but understand that the fundamental answer to it all is that God is at the root of it. Sure — use your scientific knowledge to look for cures to diseases, but don’t forget that God is the one who leads you to the conclusions.* Sure — with your compassion to minister to the poor, but understand that there are so many “moving parts” to the situation, only God can bring together the people with their gifts to make it happen.

How He must shake His head at us sometimes, when we try to use that intellect He gave us to try to deny His existence, come up with a “better answer” or, in the words of the late Stephen Hawking, “make God irrelevant”!

What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?

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

— James 1:27

What does God ask of us?

  • Love God
  • Love others unconditionally — as God loves us
  • Reach out to the poor
  • Tend His garden (Genesis 2:15)

Pretty simple, right? And how well have we done it?


* Some years ago, I had to have surgery, and was sent to a hospital run by Providence Health Care. As I sat in the waiting room, I saw a picture on the wall: a print of a painting showing a surgical team doing an operation, and standing behind the surgeon was Jesus, guiding the surgeon’s hands. You have no idea how much peace that gave me.

 

#100 (cont’d) – the sheep knows

Remember: our world is in the greatest “Come to Jesus moment” ever — certainly in our lifetimes. The checklist of signs Jesus says will precede His return is growing, and it’s up to us to bring His message of love, grace and mercy to as many people as possible. Just sow the seed and let God do the rest.

As I wrote on Friday, when a sheep’s master finds that one out of a hundred that has gotten lost, the master carries the sheep home, rejoicing. But just as important, if not moreso, is the fact that the sheep is rejoicing, too. For the sake of curiosity, or maybe a tasty-looking patch of daisies (I don’t know if daisies are any tastier than grass to a sheep, not being a sheep, myself, but it seemed like a nice image), the sheep has come out of its safe space and then has realized that it’s incapable of fending for itself in the wide world.

But the catch is that the sheep knows that it’s lost. Have you ever tried to tell a person that they’re “lost”? Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a statement?

“You’re such a lost soul, Drew,” a lovely young woman said to me. We had been doing that verbal pas de deux that happens when boy first meets girl. She was determined to lead me to the Lord, but decided to move on after two weeks. I haven’t seen or heard of her since — over 37 years, now.

At the time, of course, I bristled at being told I was “lost”. I wasn’t even close to being a Christian (or even a ChrINO*) at that time, so the thought that someone was trying to convince me that I was wrong in my life and (worse) was trying to convert me to that Oppressive, Man-Made Lifestyle got my back up.

And that’s the problem we face today, trying to lead others to the Lord. 

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

— 2 Corinthians 4:3-4

The wayward sheep may have had a patch of daisies: we humans have an entire world to look at. It’s a world filled with distractions and “fun”; money and the hope of Doing Something or Being Somebody. As Paul says, they’ve been blinded by the god of this age. 

Now, for some people, the first step towards coming to Christ is asking the question, “How well is that working?” When I realized that my own abilities had put me into the two-steps-forward-three-steps-back situation, that was when I turned to Jesus.

But for those who have the wealth and influence and other worldly treasures and have convinced themselves that it all came to them through their own hard work or because they’re naturally special (“born on third base and thinking they hit a triple”), telling them that Jesus has something better is a very tough sell.

Telling someone that they’re lost is not the way to go. The sheep doesn’t need to be told; people can’t be told. Either way, it doesn’t work.

Besides, we’ve seen what happens in society when people are told they’re wrong. Rather than fall to their knees and say, “My God! You’re right! I repent!”, they get defensive about their position — and ultimately, about themselves. Eventually, they protest. They riot. They burn things. And worse. See the other person’s point of view? Turn to Jesus? Not so much.

All we can do is plant a seed. Tell our story. Tell how Jesus has filled us with joy, rather than happiness; strength rather than influence; blessing, rather than wealth. And then shut up and be a friend, lifting him or her up to the Lord in your own prayer closet and trusting that the seed you’ve planted will take root and grow.

It took a good twenty years for the seed Barbara in Prince George (paragraph 3) to grow into something. Along the way, others also planted seeds and watered them. Spreading the Gospel has always required Faith and Patience — the “power twins” in the walk with Christ — and that’s never been more apparent than today.


*Christian in Name Only