Another face of Redemption


Today, I need to share with you a very personal thing. It just happened yesterday, and it wasn’t until this morning that I realized the fullness of what God had done. And it’s something I need to tell you, because it glorifies the Lord and should encourage you, in whatever you’re facing.

By way of backstory, I’ve spent much of my life in some sort of communications position. Twenty-five years in radio and TV (not counting the broadcasting “clubs” in university and three years of trying to make it as a writer and actor), followed by seven years as a media relations person at TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation authority; then the past six years and counting as a freelance consultant.

Lately, I’ve been bugged by thoughts that I wasn’t that good at any of that. Despite the fact that I was part of the top-rated morning show in Victoria for thirteen years, that superiors at TransLink credited me with helping push the organization’s customer-approval rating to its highest level in years and wrote glowing references for me, whenever I’ve thought of those careers, I’ve thought of the times I’d come a cropper, said the wrong thing and more or less failed to perform.

I tried to get back into radio after I left TransLink, but the business had changed so much in the seven years I was out of it, it was a relief when they handed me my hat before the three-month probation was up. (It was also telling when I was asked, during an interview for a move to a full-time slot, if being a Christian would affect my news judgment. With others, a question like that might have meant a quick ticket to the Human Rights Tribunal; with me, it was confirmation of suspicions.)

We didn’t “leave radio”. Radio left us.

— Red Robinson, Hall of Fame Radio Personality

What does this have to do with God?

I’m getting to that.

One thing I have had — and still have — is my work as a sports announcer. You know, the disembodied voice in the stadium or arena. Lots of fun, and an opportunity to put a bit of performance into my work, but I was starting to wonder if that was all I had.

It never occurred to me, that this was the devil, trying to drag me down.

Then, a week ago, I got an email out of the blue from a fellow I’d done some work with in media training, that is, training people who would have to face reporters or interviewers. Would I be available for a one-day training session in Vancouver?

Of course I would.

Long story short (too late!), I did the training. One-on-one, preparing a woman to face a news conference. I daresay, she came out of the training confident, looking earnest and authoritative, and sticking to her “key messages” — the main points she needed to keep emphasizing through the interviews. She was very pleased with the work we — alright, I — had done.

Do you see how this came, right at a time when I was at a very low point in my estimation of my abilities? It hit me this morning, that God had set that whole thing up, partly so that the message of the news conference (which involved a public policy innovation intended to help a lot of people) would come out clearly and concisely, and also to pull me out of the doldrums.

It’s the worldly form of redemption. Redemption in Christ is one thing, and is greater than anything one can imagine; but there are material blessings that come with it. And lest you think that’s too worldly to attribute something worldly to God, remember this:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,

and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

— James 2:14-17

If Jesus half-brother calls us to do that in the world, wouldn’t His Father set the example? Our heavenly redemption does translate into something we can see and feel, and when it manifests, we can use to glorify God.

Notice, by the way, that I hadn’t been praying for this kind of redemption: it wasn’t a name-it-and-claim-it situation, where I specifically prayed, “Father, help me to redeem myself as a communications consultant.” My prayer usually boils down to, “Father, You know what my needs are, even the ones I don’t know about: I leave it to You to take care of them.”

And when He does, my testimony boils down to: He did it for me — He can do it for you.

Keep drawing close to Him and putting your trust in Him, and He will provide you with the things you need, exactly when you need them, even if you didn’t think you needed them.

And when He does, tell the world!

And now … one REALLY GOOD idea for all time!

It “just happened”: the past few days have been a look at the times humans have leaned on their own understanding and figured they were too smart to listen to God. Sort of a “man plans/God laughs” scenario. Recycling, for example, seemed like a slam-dunk solution to overtaxed resources and brimming landfills, but it apparently reached a saturation point some time ago, and we’re still seeing deleterious effects of the use of plastic.

In short, we do things that “seem right in our eyes”, and they wind up poking our eyes out, due to unforeseen results.

On the other hand, a lot of things that seemed like bad news turn out to be God, working out His plan. I’ve written before about Jesus’ own earthly lineage, how many of the births along the way should not have happened, since their circumstances violated God’s law. Yet they all had to happen, because they led to Jesus.

Is it any wonder Paul counsels us

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

— 1 Corinthians 4:5

Now, here’s an idea that may seem odd to us earthlings, but …

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,

and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled

in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight —

— Colossians 1:19-22

Think about it. God’s plan to reconcile us — His creations — to Him involves the blood sacrifice of His Son.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything that would lead me to sacrifice my children. And since Jesus Christ is, in fact, God in the flesh, God essentially sacrificed Himself when Jesus went to the cross. And He did so willingly.

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 toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

— Romans 5:7-10

To us humans, there is a lot wrong with that idea. For one thing, why would someone allow themself to be brutalized and murdered in the most horrific way, for the sake of “reconciling” us to them? For another, why would they do it for that schmuck down the street, who dissed me in the bar the other day, made a pass at my wife and owes me ten bucks?

Why would God do it for the tiniest creature or the most hopeless person in the Third World, just as He would for the richest person on earth, or for a mass murderer or a war criminal or for the gentlest, most unassuming person ever?

Because “it pleased the Father … to reconcile all things to Himself.”

There’s that “favorite word” again — all.

But to the people watching Jesus being crucified, the idea that this was the Father’s will would have been the furthest thing from their minds.

It’s also a cautionary note to all of us, the next time we think ill of or otherwise judge someone else, because it pleased the Father for them to be reconciled, too.

And it really drives home Paul’s point, that we judge nothing before “the time” — and that “time” is Jesus’ Return. Which means we really can’t judge anything that God is up to, because only He knows how it turns out.

What we can say, is that God has to be in there somewhere, and whatever He does, is very good.

It seemed like a good idea at the time …

It is better to trust in the Lord / Than to put your confidence in man.

It is better to trust in the Lord / Than to put your confidence in princes.

— Psalm 118:8-9

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding.

— Proverbs 3:5

So many times these days, it’s tempting to look at a situation and the way people handle it and say, “How well’s that working for you?” That’s especially true when we’re talking about things that people did because it “seemed right in their eyes”.

The Book of Judges is full of examples of a society of people that did what worked for them, then couldn’t figure out why it kept blowing up in their faces: why they were constantly oppressed by other countries, why there were diseases and famines, and why God didn’t answer when they cried out to Him.

(As we saw yesterday, God did answer them, but it wasn’t pleasant.)

Worshiping foreign gods and false idols and things of the world is one thing, but what about those times when you are dead-cert.-sure that you’re doing the right thing and years down the line, it stumbles, badly.

Take recycling. In the 60s, we were concerned about the amount of consumer waste going to landfills and recognizing that a lot of that stuff would never, as in “not at any time in the future”, break down into the environment. The solution? Recycle the stuff.

At first, it seemed costly, but worth it, to protect the environment. When it came to plastic, we kept on buying it and tossing it into the recycling bin, confident that it was going to be reconstituted into other things made of plastic. Same with paper, glass and metal.

It was, no question, a Good Idea.

But now, we’re learning some inconvenient truths. China, which was the top customer for plastic from the USA, reached a saturation point and stopped taking it. Apparently, plastic we thought was going for recycling has been sent to landfills.

Or worse.

Glass, too, which has also been on the list of recyclables, has its own issues. According to Multi-Material BC, less than 10% of the non-deposit glass (i.e. not the beer or soda bottles that you can take back and get a nickel for each) supplied into the residential marketplace is currently being recycled.

What does this have to do with God and Jesus?

Well, to begin with, let me start by declaring that I’ve been fully on-board with recycling from Day One, one of those brats who pestered their parents to get into recycling back when it was a novel concept. Not that my folks needed convincing. After all, we were protecting the environment, preserving it for future generations. All down the line, it’s been assumed this was the right thing to do.

But …

Unless the Lord builds the house,

They labor in vain who build it.

— Psalm 127:1

Did people pray and seek the Lord about launching a recycling program, or was it just so obvious a solution that they didn’t need to? Or did they, follow His guidance to a point, and then said, “We’ll take it from here.”?

Whatever the case, here we are, 50 years down the road, recycling merrily away, and our landfills are still choking; we’re hearing about “the seventh continent” — vortices of plastic in the ocean; tiny sea creatures at the bottom of the Mariana Trench — the deepest part of the ocean — have been found with micro-beads of plastic in their gut.

Who saw that coming?

We’ve had warnings about climate change, effects of pollution on land and in the atmosphere, but I can’t think of anyone who raised concerns about plastic until after it started showing up in unexpected places — like the stomach of a whale, or wrapped around a sea turtle’s beak.

Maybe, if we’d brought the problem to the Lord, He would have provided a solution, rather than an answer.

Three thousand years ago, God promised King Solomon that all His people had to do, was turn to Him, repent and seek Him, and He would heal the land. The land needs healing now, more than ever before, and while that job is impossibly far beyond our human reach, with Him, nothing is impossible.

It’s time to take Him at His word. For our own sakes, and for that of the innocents around us on land and sea and in the air.

This idea will be part of the latest version of my book, A Very Convenient Truth — or, Jesus Warned Us There’s Be Days Like These, so Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program! I’m working towards having it online (it’s an e-publication) by Earth Day, April 22.

A key question for your NBF

Witnessing Jesus to a Non-Believing Friend is primarily about showing God in His glory and the love Jesus has for everyone, without exception. It’s not about putting down someone else’s belief system, per se, but showing that following Jesus is infinitely better than anything the world has to offer.

But sometimes, you just have to issue a challenge.

So the Lord said to the children of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites and from the people of Ammon and from the Philistines?

“Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you and you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hand.

“Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more.

“Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress.”

— Judges 10:11-14

Even today, people tend to sing “I’m doing it My Way”, doing what looks right, and the result is either not as good as it could have been, or a total cock-up. The unwritten Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in, or what looked like a victory is suddenly undone, and we’re back to Square One, if not further behind.

The other day, I got an email from a friend of mine: her husband had just fallen off the wagon and he was back in rehab. Notice the word “back”: it was not the first time he had tried to get a handle on a substance-abuse problem, and I know that whatever treatment he has taken in the past has left out anything to do with Christ.

Sure – there may be some talk of a “higher power”, but the only true Higher Power has already told us that the only way to connect with Him is through His Son — and we know the lengths He went to, to make that happen.

In general, when we see man-made “answers” to problems that turn out not to “solve” anything and sometimes create more problems, it’s valid to ask, “How’s that working for you?” It’s both a smart-aleck question and a legitimate one. Did the gods that people choose over God and Jesus Christ come through for them? Did money? Did science and technology? Crystals? Wooden figurines? Stonehenge?

And that should lead to your own testimony on how your faith in Jesus Christ and “giving it to God” has produced results. Maybe you haven’t seen the results yet, but you know they’re coming, so long as you stand on faith; moreover, it’s a sure bet that when you have seen a resolution, it’s been totally different from anything you might have expected.

That faith leads to hope, which is sadly lacking in our world. If the things that we have trusted in — including our own intellect — fail to come through for us, then what more do we have? People cudgel their brains about why so many people turn to drugs or commit suicide in their despair: maybe if more people heard about hope in Christ and joy in the Lord ….

Then you tell your NBF you’re no better than they are, and that what God did for you, He can and will do for them, many times over.

No need to push the message at them, lest you push them right away from you: just plant the seed and let it germinate, as they mull over that question: how well has it been working for me?

“Jesus wept.”

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.

It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.

Therefore, the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”

When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.”

— John 11:1-4

And the Jesus, it appears, is in no hurry to be glorified. Rather than head straight to Judea to lay hands on His friend and heal him, as Mary and Martha expected He would do, He waits a few days before going. In fact, He tells the disciples that Lazarus is already dead. “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.”

As He approaches, Martha gets to Him and tells Him that Lazarus is, indeed, dead, and is now buried, and says, “If only You had come sooner, he would be alive.” Indeed, she later tells Him that Lazarus has been dead for so long, “he stinketh” (John 11:39 KJV).

He tells her that God is going to be glorified in this, if only she will believe. She replies, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

So Jesus goes to the tomb and sees that they have rolled a stone in front of the entrance.

Jesus wept.

— John 11:35

Some who were there thought that He wept because His friend was dead and He was too late to save him. I believe He wept for the same reason people break down, crying, when they are touched by — “slain in” — the Holy Spirit, because at that point, the Holy Spirit would have been welling up inside Jesus, turned up “all the way to 11”, as He was about to manifest His glory at last.

He tells people to roll away the stone, and bellows, “Lazarus, come forth!”

And out walks Lazarus.

You could almost run a checklist of the signs we’re seeing today: events that Jesus says will come just before He returns. He foretold everything from terrorism (rumors of war) to tribalism and identity-conflict (nation rising against nation) to incurable, deadly diseases to famines to unusually severe storms to earthquakes in diverse places. You could say that our world is sick, the way Lazarus was sick.

But wait! Jesus says “the sickness is not unto death”.

Jesus also says, of the signs, “the end is not yet” and “these are the beginnings of sorrows”.

Does that mean our world is going to be laid in the tomb, with a stone rolled over the entrance, and Jesus is waiting until we stink to high heaven (literally)?

Could be.

Where is Jesus?

I believe He is standing outside the tomb now, weeping, waiting for the Father to send Him the “go-code” to order us to roll away the stone, at which point the trumpet will sound and He will cry out, “World! Come forth!”

And in the meantime?

In the meantime, we have to declare, as Martha did, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is to return to the world. We have to declare it so as many people as possible will hear it and turn to Him. And we have to keep believing, so that we will be the ones He orders to roll away the stone: that we will not be stuck in the tomb ourselves, but witness the glory of God manifest.

We are blessed to be living in this time. Jesus spoke of how the prophets and patriarchs had longed to see what the disciples were seeing in their time; so it is in our time, as we get to see events that Jesus foretold, and we know what comes next.

Notable Miracles

Recently, a friend of mine — another pastor — was told he would have to have a foot amputated due to diabetes. He went into the hospital and quite matter-of-factly posted on Facebook that he would have some recovery time and in a couple of months, would be able to be fitted with a prosthesis.

He seemed resigned to that “reality”, but a number of people started praying — the kind of earnest, fervent, heal-this-man-in-Jesus’-Name prayers that one expects to get results.

Last week, my friend posted an update: the doctors had decided that he didn’t need the amputation, after all.

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

And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.

But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves,

saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.”

— Acts 4:13-16

Something we need to remind ourselves constantly, is that miracles of healing through the Holy Spirit happen. The world wants to make us doubt, but God’s Word is unequivocal.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

— James 5:14-16

“The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

Not “might save” the sick or “it’s pretty likely that the Lord could raise him up”: it will happen. It does happen.

It was a healing miracle that sealed my commitment to Jesus. I received healing for a 26-year run of back trouble: I had been going to a chiropractor every couple of months for several years, to manage the problem. I went to a healing service and went forward when the Evangelist, Victor Emenike, invited people up. Two days later, I was sitting in the chiropractor’s office, when I heard the Holy Spirit say, “You’ve been healed: why are you here?”

I took that one treatment (didn’t want to be impolite) and never went back. Never needed to.

A few years later, a friend of mine asked me to pray for him because he was about to go for surgery for kidney stones. He called me a couple of days later. The doctors were amazed: they ran another scan and couldn’t find any kidney stones.

A woman I knew named Geri was a Presbyterian — about the furthest you could get from a Charismatic church — and had been praying for her brother in Idaho, who had a wonky heart. George needed a pacemaker, but wouldn’t be able to afford one without MedicAid help. So she was praying that he would qualify.

Then she went to a special service at her church, where the speaker was talking about “limiting God”. Suddenly, the light went on for Geri. She went home and changed her prayer: “Create in my brother a new heart”.

A couple of days later, George called. He had been to see the doctor about MedicAid funding and the doctor had told him, “I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is, your income is too high; you don’t qualify for MedicAid. The good news is, you don’t need the pacemaker. I took another look at your chart and — I can’t believe this — it’s like you’ve got a new heart!”

My father was not a fervent believer, but when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he let me pray over him. He continued with the treatment (he said old age would probably get him before the cancer would), but a couple of months later, he told me: “I just got the latest test results. My PSA level (the test for the presence of cancer) has dropped so low they’re stopping the treatment!”

Imagine that.

A few years after that, dad suffered a heart attack. My kids, Amelia and I went to visit him in hospital, and he told us he also had an incredibly painful something right at the tip of one finger. He said it was, apparently, connected to the issue that caused his heart attack. Hannah, who astonished her Sunday school teacher by asking for the gift of tongues when she was 9, took dad’s hand and held his finger, gently.

Once dad had recovered enough to go home, the doctors decided the tip of his finger would have to be amputated. I took him to the hospital and he lay down on the gurney to have the operation. The surgeon walked in with an intern. He explained the procedure to the intern, but when he took the hard plastic cover off dad’s finger and unwrapped the bandage, he did a double-take.

“There’s nothing wrong with that finger!” he said. He cancelled the operation and told dad he could go. I had brought my Bible with me, and as he left the room, the surgeon glanced at the Bible. “I guess it works,” he said.

Yes, it does. Sometimes, the healing doesn’t take the form we think it should — a lost leg doesn’t grow back, or a person doesn’t rise from the dead — but that’s not our call. Our job is to step in there and pray for healing, expecting that God will hear our prayer, because it’s fervent, effectual and from one who believes God with all our heart and soul.

Miracles happen, and when they do, they’re notable because we’ll need to remember that note for the times when things look bleak.

Believe. Pray. Expect. Praise!

Remembering the Great Unifier

Around the world, people are still trying to fathom the incredible tragedy at two mosques in New Zealand. Fifty people, dead within minutes, and all those families and loved ones, mourning and grieving and trying to deal with the shock — which, of course, may never wear off.

And I’m reading how Christians are standing with their Muslim neighbours and loving on them: just being there for them in their grief, comforting, praying for them and with them.

Such an action is nothing more nor less than what Jesus tells us to do. Our love, comfort, prayers and encouragement in the face of disaster is not to be reserved for people like ourselves, but for anyone who is in need. This is our time to demonstrate what following Jesus is about. Because no matter what the religion someone espouses, we are all children of God, made in His image, and Jesus’ mission to us, among other things, is to remind us of that.

Despite what some people say, Jesus is not about religion. He is about the way to live and be close to God. Jesus is the Great Unifier — the One who breaks down the fences between religions and transcends background, belief systems, and “identity” to give us a single focal point.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

— Galatians 3:28

And Paul goes on:

… the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,

where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

— Colossians 3:10-11

We have to lift ourselves above religion, if we are to do Jesus’ work — especially at tragic times like this. People need to know Jesus, and how will they see Him, if not through us?

It’s not a competition. It’s not a case of “my God is bigger than your god”. It’s certainly not about opportunism. It’s about doing what Jesus told us to do, and letting that Light shine so that people will see us, and glorify God.

God’s best? Or just “more”?

I came across an interesting article recently, about people who seem to “have it all”, but want “more”. In particular, an acquaintance of the author announces he’s hiring a life coach so that he can “be more”. The author wonders, “Why?” Isn’t there a point, he says, when we need to say, “enough”?

It’s a pride thing, really: you have a lot, but you still want people to think you’re capable of — or worthy of — better. It’s like the main character in Ring Lardner’s short story, “Alibi Ike”, who would do something very well, but would still have an excuse for not doing it better. (As an example, Ike, a baseball player, makes a great catch in the outfield, and when his teammates congratulate him, he says, “I coulda got there faster if I hadn’t slipped.”)

You may know someone like that: a sort-of reverse-humility. Yes, it’s irritating.

But the article describes a very sad situation: that satisfaction in life is defined by worldly things — money, possessions, status — and that the idea of seeking the Kingdom of God is a non-starter.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

— Philippians 4:11-13

In other words, no matter what state Paul is in, his trust in the Lord and the strength of the Holy Spirit (Christ) means that he has enough, and that more, if it comes, comes at the pleasure of the Father.

Of course, we desire God’s best for us, but if we define “best”, we’ll wind up getting frustrated if what God gives us doesn’t match up. I’m reminded of Dave, whom I wrote about some time ago, who had a wonky hip and used two canes to get around. I asked if he wanted prayer for healing and he said no. When I asked if he didn’t want what God wanted for him, he replied, “This is what God wants for me,” and went on to explain that his disability, coupled with his obvious faith in the Lord, had been a door-opener for many conversations about Jesus with total strangers.

“If I had two good legs,” he went on, “I’d be just another guy and wouldn’t have those conversations.”

There is a prayer we sometimes pray, asking for “more of God”, but that’s a different matter: wanting to press closer to Him and get to know Him better; focusing on His kingdom rather than the things of the world; continually filling up our spiritual “tank” with the Holy Spirit.

But we need to be prepared to be content with whatever God has for us. That doesn’t mean that we stagnate: after all, God is all about change, and has been ever since He said, “Let there be light!” As we draw keep focused on Him and thank Him for what He does for us and has given us, the rate and scope of the changes in our lives will be head-spinning — and exactly what He wants for us.

There is something of which I want “more”: believe it or not, I want more challenges in my life that I can turn over to God. I look back at times when I’ve had to stand on faith, whether it was to overcome a bad situation or wanted to achieve something that I believed was “of God”. I haven’t been doing that lately, and I’m afraid of my faith getting flabby, for want of a better word.

But that’s a desire of mine (and it may be one of those “careful what you pray for” desires) and I leave it to God to provide — or not.

The God of process and the Grace to be wrong

As we draw closer to God, we often hear an expression along the lines of:

God said it

I believe it

That settles it

That’s the expression of unshakable faith in God and His Word, but how does that fit in with the idea of doubting, asking, debating and exploring His Word that we talked about yesterday?

That’s a great paradox: we ask and question and doubt, but the overall context is that since God said it, it must be true, and it’s up to us to seek Him and find out what He’s talking about.

But how do we come to that point? By reading the Bible with an open mind and being prepared to have our thinking turned changed.

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

— Romans 10:17

But what if we hear wrong? Believe it or not, that’s possible. I’ve learned that from experience, but I’ve also learned that God gives us grace to see that we’ve gone wrong, how we’ve gone wrong, and how we can get on the right track.

Some years ago, I latched onto a verse in the Bible:

This saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel and his Maker: ask Me of things to come concerning My sons, and concerning the work of My hands, command ye Me.

— Isaiah 45:11 (KJV)

I started developing a thesis that God was inviting us to call on Him to do what we wanted: that we could “command” Him to do these things and He would do it. It was close to “Prosperity Gospel” stuff, although there were a bunch of caveats attached that I attached to my interpretation; still, the upshot was, I wrote an entire book on that theme. I dug through Scripture to find support, even using the Lord’s Prayer to make my case.

Long story short: I couldn’t even get a “vanity” publisher to take the book. (One of them nearly touched off a Holy War with me by saying that that version of the verse came from a “minority version”.) And this was a good thing, on a number of counts.

As I considered the matter further, I saw that I was somewhat off-base in my interpretation. I dug deeper into the word translated in KJV as “command” and learned that it also means “commit”, and that the Lord is really saying, we can ask Him about what He’s up to, but at the end of the day, we have to leave it all to Him.

I also learned more about the difference between telling God what we need and calling on Him to provide it, and turning to Him to provide what we need, regardless of whether it’s what we want. It’s a difference between “Prosperity Gospel” and “Gospel Prosperity”, and we’ll go into that soon.

Along the way, I learned how to research, discover, discuss and pray over things I’d found in the Bible. I learned about the process, and that was good, because there would be more “assignments” from God to come.

But most importantly, I saw how God gives us the grace to be wrong, then waits patiently for us to come to Him and find out how we can be right — all the while, protecting us from making total asses in our pride and zeal.

The God of process

(I was trying to find a word to go with “Jehovah” to form a “name of God” like “Jehovah Jireh” or “Jehovah Nissi”, but I don’t trust Google Translate and I’m not about to insult my Jewish friends by faking it, so we’ll leave it at that.)

I recently came across a TED talk by mathematician Dan Finkel, “5 Ways to Share Math With Kids“. The more I listened, the more I realized, he could be talking about the Bible. And were we to apply his approach to the Bible, we could have more kids — more adults, for that matter — becoming more Bible-literate and less likely to fall away from Christ.

Now, I rather wish my parents and most of my maths teachers could have heard Mr Finkel. Maths was not my strongest subject in school. I found it interesting, but I kept getting answers wrong. Mind you, it saved my bacon in the provincial scholarship exams: in those days (1973, if you must know), you wrote exams in two subjects of your choice and had an option to write a third. Math was the optional third I picked, which was a good thing, because I came a cropper on one of the two “better” subjects I had chosen.

(In my first year at UBC, I got B in trigonometry and was one of the few in my MATH 100 class who broke 60% in a mid-term; maybe I should have stuck with it.)

But one of the reasons why I didn’t stick with maths was this basic fear of getting the wrong answer. Finkel’s thesis is that if we look at the process rather than the product, and allow room for discussion, doubt, questioning, argument and discovery, finding the right answer follows as the night the day. You’ll eventually find the answer to “how many bananas does each baboon have?”, but what’s more important is seeing how the approach for getting the answer can be applied to other math problems.

(To be fair, I had one high school teacher, Bill Goddard, who did cultivate the “conversation” of maths. Under him, I did stop spinning my wheels in 12th grade, as did some students who had been “problems” for other math teachers.)

I didn’t hear Finkel say this part, but obsessing on getting the right answer also leads to cheating, bogus SAT scores and a false sense of ability.

In our walk with Christ, obsessing on being right — as in, not sinning — leads to legalism and a surface appearance of righteousness. We think we know what God wants, but we’re lazy, so we cut corners and think we’re pleasing Him.

But that’s not the case, as Jesus told the Pharisees.

“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'”

— Matthew 9:13a

Sacrifice is that surface righteousness; mercy comes from seeking God.

Talk about process: consider chapters 40 through 43 of the Book of Jeremiah. These are detailed instructions for the building of the temple, but God doesn’t give a picture of the finished product. Why? Because if we got that image in our heads, we would work towards that, and may leave out some of the stairs and little rooms and carved palm trees and pomegranates that God calls for.

For Finkel, it’s all about ensuring math literacy in children, and people in general, and that won’t happen if people get scared off by the fear of getting it wrong. Finkel notes that if you’re math-literate, you’re less likely to be sucked in by credit card companies, payday lenders, the lottery, and anyone who tries to dazzle you with statistics.

In the same way, people who are Bible-literate know when someone is using wonky theology to convince them that something is God’s will. It could be teaching against interracial marriages, or promoting immigration bans or discrimination against people of other faiths. Bible literacy arms one to respond when someone makes an ignorant remark like, “Well, all religions are violent” or “the Bible is just an old book, written by men to control people”.

Just as a process-oriented approach to learning maths teaches a person to apply the process in other situations, a process-oriented approach to the Bible — asking, questioning, debating, exploring — teaches someone to take what they read in the Bible and see how it applies in everyday life.

Dan Finkel told a story about one woman who told him after a workshop on this topic, that the experience made her feel “like a god”.

Isn’t that the same sensation we get when reading the Bible? When we meditate and pray over and seek the Lord about some tricky passage and suddenly the light comes on, don’t we, too, feel like we’ve unwrapped a section of the mind of God?

When we encourage someone to read the Bible, be it our children or an NBF* (remember that a non-believer is just a saint who hasn’t met Jesus yet), we need to invite debate, discussion, doubt and questioning, and not set ourselves up as the Biblical “answer key”. Rather, we should rejoice in taking this journey with them, because we’re in a walk with God, and the journey is just as important as the destination.

*Non-Believing Friend.