To a young friend, who’s grieving

“Blessed are those who mourn,

“For they shall be comforted.”

— Matthew 5:4

Dear young friend,

I don’t know if I can call you “friend”: we’ve only met face to face a couple of times, and — call me “old-fashioned”, but — being a friend is a bit more complicated than clicking a button on Facebook. Still, that’s where I read your lament about missing your grandmother, even several months after she’d passed on.

You think there’s something “wrong” about grieving for this long. You say people are telling you to lighten up and stop dragging down others. I know that it’s easy to coach from the press box, but let me offer something.

First off, I know people who are still grieving the loss of a loved one twenty years after their passing. You’re always going to miss your grandmother, and your grief won’t go away: it will just change, over time. Hey: I’m in my 60s and my dad died eight years ago next week; and I still get twinges of missing him.

Second, since your grandmother made such an impression on you, that means she did a lot of good in your life. Take some time to think about the good things she did for you and see how you can build on that. She left a legacy that is you, and the best legacies keep getting better.

Third, 86 the people who tell you that you’re bringing them down. The people you need are those who will just sit there and not try to say something that will “help”. You need people who will just let you know that they’re there — and really are.

Fourth, here’s a “what-would-Jesus-do” moment:

When Jesus heard [that His cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded], He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities.

And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.

— John 14:13-14

Jesus’ first reaction was to go off by Himself, because it’s human to want to be alone at a time like that. But when He saw others coming towards Him, rather than turn inwards to Himself, He reached out and healed them.

Even in His personal sorrow, when the natural tendency is to look inward, He looked outward, to see what He could do for someone else. You can do the same.

But above all, remember that you are blessed when you mourn: among other things, it proves you have a heart that can break; and when that happens, Jesus is right there to comfort us.

God never said this “life thing” would be easy: but He did say that He’ll be with us, every step of the way.

Another wakeup call …

Figures don’t lie when there’s only one set of books — yours.

— from the Pogo comic strip by Walt Kelly, 1961

The news this week that the US government is reconsidering the scientific evidence behind climate change should be another wakeup call about the environment. Essentially, officialdom is replacing the parameters for determining the long-term effects of carbon emissions and dismissing what the head of the Environmental Protection Agency calls “inaccurate modeling that focuses on worst-case emissions scenarios, that does not reflect real-world conditions”.

In other words, change the facts to fit the desired conclusion.

It’s pretty clear to me that the weird weather — the violent storms, or particularly dry summers in places that traditionally get a lot of rain — is connected to changes in climate (duh) and that humans have played a role in at least some of those changes (double duh), but something that has bothered me about the environmental community has been the resistance to addressing questions from skeptics. Rather than deal with the questions seriously, they attack the skeptics personally, questioning their credentials, mounting campaigns to discredit them, sometimes ruining them professionally and personally in the process.

In the same way, those pointing out the scientific data and other evidence of climate change and its consequences are attacked personally, with opponents looking for ways to suggest they’re hypocrites, talking one thing and living another.

As I’ve said before on numerous occasions, Truth does not need to suppress its opponents. It can stand on its own.

One may have thought that “the science is settled”, as Al Gore declared over a decade ago, but now that the head of the EPA bring the “settled science” into question does more than pave the way for an open season on environmental regulations. It sows seeds of doubt and confusion. Ordinary shleps like us wind up crying out, “What is truth?”

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

1 Corinthians 14:33

So if God is not the author of confusion, who is? And by extension, who is? And by extension, who or what is behind the newly confusing situation with the science?

Not that things weren’t confusing up to now. As I say, there have been some legitimate questions about the accepted science (remember that consensus is not the basis for truth) that have not been addressed, and some of the revelations of data-fudging are worrisome, as well.

But this is not confusing:

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 sins, and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14

God gives us His unequivocal promise that whatever may befall us in our environment, healing will result from our turning to Him. It doesn’t mean we roll over and wait for God to do something: it means we draw close to Him and do what He calls us to do, namely, to love one another, serve Him and not obsess on the environment, we will know what we have to do and we will see a miraculous healing of the earth.

No confusion. No arguing over “science” and whose figures are true. Just a solid promise.

Our earth needs healing — no question about that — and frankly, that is too big a job to leave to governments, organizations, and especially not to our own intellect. Only the One who created it can do it, and we have to let Him.

The Barnabas effect

In the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a book, which I’ll tell you about closer to the time. Yesterday, I got an unexpected boost in morale, when a fellow whom I respect greatly as a teacher wrote a lovely quasi-endorsement. I had only asked him to read the manuscript and offer any comments: he offered to write the endorsement.

It was one of those “just when I needed it” boosts, and while it remains to be seen whether you can draw an exact comparison, it reminded me of what we shall call The Barnabas Effect.

And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.

But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.

— Acts 9:26-28

We first meet Barnabas in Chapter 4, as an early, and very wealthy, disciple who had land on Cyprus. He sold the land and turned over the proceeds to the apostles. His given name was actually Joses, but the apostles called him Barnabas — “son of encouragement”.

So when Saul of Tarsus converts and believes in Jesus and the other disciples are terrified because of his reputation as a persecutor, Barnabas steps up and endorses him. He “brings” him to the apostles, and with that action, vouches for his character and the sincerity of his conversion.

That endorsement overcomes any doubts the disciples had, and Paul becomes One Of Them.

You would think that your righteousness should speak for itself, and you shouldn’t need an “endorsement” from another human being. And yet, that becomes the confirmation of something you know that you know that you know to be true. We always need confirmation from another person — the second person to agree, in Jesus’ Name.

Has there been a Barnabas in your life — someone who’s vouched for you when people have doubted your abilities?

Perhaps more importantly, is there anyone in your world, for whom you could be a Barnabas? Have you ever gone beyond speaking a word of encouragement to someone and said to those who doubt that person that you believe he or she has what it takes?

Consider how Barnabas put his own reputation on the line by hitching his wagon to Saul/Paul, He could well have given in to the disciples’ fears and either turned Paul away or remained silent. Think of what that would have done to the growth of Jesus’ following in those days. Think of the miracles that would not have testified to Jesus’ glory, the healings, the fervent debates, where intellectual skeptics were converted. Think of what might have happened if Paul, embittered at being rejected by what he thought were his newfound brothers, had reverted to his old self.

The Barnabas Effect is, in fact, based in blind obedience. How would Barnabas have known that Paul was the real deal if he hadn’t listened to the Holy Spirit? He didn’t question what he heard, or put it down to indigestion; nor did he have any way on earth of knowing what would happen, one way or another.

And neither do we. When we see someone who could use an “endorsement” — someone to say, “This person is worth listening to” — let’s listen to the Spirit, and be their Barnabas.

This same Jesus …

“This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

— Acts 1:11b

Sunday night, we spent a lovely time having dinner at a friend’s place, meeting her new Significant Other. (To put this in context, we’re all north of 50, in age.)

“Bring your song sheets,” our friend said, “and Bill will play his guitar. He plays mostly old country and Gospel.”

So we did. I sat at the keyboard and plunked out contemporary Christian music — Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, and others — and Bill played old country Gospel, the sort you’d hear from the Gaither family, for example, or BJ Roberts. He also filled in on guitar with the songs I was playing, and I improvised along with him on his songs.

It was, in fact, a very happy time.

Thinking back on that evening, one expression kept coming to mind.

This same Jesus.

It didn’t matter what kind of music we were playing, it was all for Jesus; and through the ages, it always has been.

Gregorian chant … blockbuster oratorios … simple, sacred hymns … repurposed drinking songs (think “Amazing Grace”) …

… Negro Spirituals … tight harmonies of Gospel quartets … throw-your-hands-in-the-air-and-dance rockers in “black” churches …

… the “evil” rock-and-roll of Larry Norman … folk music of Barry McGuire, John Fischer and Noel Paul Stookey … rap from Toby Mac … heavy rock with Friday’s Cry and P.O.D. … ska with The O.C. Supertones …

… as my friend, Peter Hegan once wrote, “all the visions, all the rivers, flow to One.”

This same Jesus.

This same Jesus — the one depicted in so many different ways — is the one we can call out to anytime, particularly in time of need, but also in praise for the wonderful things that happen to us. He is the one we call “friend” and, more importantly, calls us “friend”.

“You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

— John 15:15

For 2,000 years, this same Jesus has been the one people have sung to, drawn pictures of, and found indescribable comfort in His love and promise.

This same Jesus is the One who always leads us to triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14). The images change, the style of music changes, but this same Jesus is always there — and always will be.

The suitable helper

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

— Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

That verse is often taken as a cue that people should not remain single, but should get married. Hey: I’ve used it myself on at least one occasion, performing a wedding, but it’s not necessarily a mandate for a person to marry … or else.

After all, Jesus didn’t get married. Neither did Paul, in fact …

But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing.

So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.

— 1 Corinthians 7:37-38 (NIV)

… so were they stepping outside of God’s will?

Of course not – don’t be silly. After all, they were hardly alone, with their disciples, assistants and traveling companions around them. That made the final hours of Jesus’ passion all the more significant.

But I digress … Is marriage the sole antidote to a person’s being alone?

Personally, the fact that God created woman out of a part of man indicates that a man is incomplete without a woman and that a woman needs to connect with a man. Trying to move through life single leads to lop-sided decision-making. But is woman the “suitable helper” for man, and vice-versa, no matter how perfectly matched they may be?

To raise the stakes a little, is any creature — human or non-human — a suitable helper for some of the things we have to go through in life?

“If you love Me, keep My commandments.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—

“the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

— John 14:15-17

Jesus promises us that this Helper will teach us all things and cause us to remember the things Jesus has taught us. (John 14:26) What’s more, the Helper is so important to us, that He can’t come unless Jesus dies.

Is this the Helper that God determined He would make back when He saw Adam couldn’t go it alone in the Garden? Can we not separate the two statements — “It is not good for man to be alone.” and “I will make a helper suitable for him.” and consider that the creation of woman was not a direct result of that second statement?

So much of the Old Testament goes to demonstrate how things fall apart when we’re disconnected from God and try to move forward on the success of human will: wouldn’t it make sense that with Jesus, God would provide the Helper He’d promised 4,000 years ago?

Don’t get me wrong. Being married to someone — to your soul mate, one who complements your life, fills in the blanks and is, as Jay Leno put it, “your conscience” — is the greatest thing one could ask for. But is it, as I say, the only answer?

We are not alone in this life. God has provided a “suitable Helper” for us. And all we have to do is look up, look outward, and say, “Come and help …”

How about a mind-blowing start to the week?

It’s Monday.

We could all use a little encouragement on a Monday.

How about this, courtesy of Simon Peter?

Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,

as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,

by which have been given to us exceedingly great and previous promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

— 2 Peter 1:1-4

I don’t know about you, but I often gloss over the opening verses of the epistles as if they were little more than a flowery version of “Dear Sir or Madam as the case may be ….”

Not.

Take another look at what he wrote, and let that sink into your being.

“To those who have obtained like precious faith with us …” Peter is talking to pretty much anybody who has put their faith in God through Jesus Christ.

“… His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness ….” God has given us everything we need, not just to live, but to be god-like. By believing in Jesus, God has pushed us up to a higher level of humanity.

We often talk about our “fallen nature”, but Peter is pointing out that when we receive Christ, whether we understand it fully or not, we have a risen nature. We are not the people we were before we met Jesus! We are better than that!

Mind — I don’t say we’re better than the next person who might not have received Jesus (remember that a non-believer is just a saint who hasn’t met Jesus yet) — but we’re better than the person we used to be, the one who did all sorts of sinful things because of that “nature” that came to us through Adam.

And what are all these things that “pertain to life and godliness”? Believe it or not, they focus more on what we can do for others, than what we can do for ourselves. That means that these godly things, the “divine nature” Peter refers to, are so that we can effect positive change in our world and the people around us. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit — the same spirit that raised Him from the dead — and there are amazing things we can do in the spirit.

We can heal, we can encourage, we can intercede for others. When evil comes knocking on our door or on others’, we can take authority over it and banish it.

We’ve been given this authority, this “divine nature”, not because we’ve done anything to deserve it. What does Peter tell the people in Jerusalem, when they hear his sermon and ask, “What shall we do?”

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

— Acts 2:38-39

And why would God do that? Why would He want to impart this “divine nature” to us, to make us exceedingly better people than we were before, just because of the simple act of saying, “Sorry, Lord – with Your help, I won’t do that again!”?

Because He loves us. Because He wants us with Him for eternity. And because He wants to rescue us from the consequences, worldly and eternally, of following the ways of the world.

That’s what I call an “exceedingly great promise”. Isn’t that a whole lot easier to handle than, say, yoga, self-help books or boot-camps?

That’s how He loves us. That’s how He loves you.

#YourLifeMatters

Isn’t that a great thought to start the week?

It’s not our department!

Let’s come back to Wednesday’s theme, about the way evil desires can sit in our heart and that “follow your heart” can be a very self-centered way to live.

So we need to guard our heart, and at the same time, we need to understand that we can’t do it alone. Praise God, we’re not supposed to.

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell …

and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah … a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;

and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes …

and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked …

==

then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.

— 2 Peter 2:4-7, 9

God can — and does — deal with the unrighteous and saves those who are faithful. Noah didn’t save himself; neither did Lot. They couldn’t: they had to have help from God, and Peter is saying that if God can spare people from the big stuff — like a world-destroying flood or the destruction of two cities — then relatively little things, like protecting our heart from allowing evil desires to get in is something He could do with one hand tied behind His back.

I know. I’ve turned to Him to rebuke thoughts that come into my mind, before they can get to my heart, and the change — the banishment of those thoughts — has been head-swimmingly fast. Saying, “Lord, deliver me from these thoughts of ____________, in Jesus’ Name!”, is all it takes.

I could have told myself, “Ooh … gotta stop thinking about that … gotta stop thinking about that … ” and before long, that turns into reminding myself what I’m not supposed to be thinking about, which only perpetuates the thought.

Turning to Jesus, though, allows us to hand those thoughts over to Him, so that we no longer have the burden of either thinking them or trying to rebuke them.

Of course, that doesn’t make sense to the world, but then, we’re talking about faith — not sense.

Praise God, for lifting an unbearable burden from our shoulders and giving us the Help to keep it off!

Guard your heart – beware the mind!

We talked yesterday about following the heart and the necessity to be sure it’s in the right place when we consider what we should do and how we should behave. But we also have to remember that we can’t guard our heart on our own strength, because of another rather dangerous part of our body.

Our mind.

But what does [the righteousness of faith] say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach):

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

— Romans 10:8-9

What’s missing from that equation? Anything to do with our intellect. We speak our confession aloud, and our faith goes beyond anything we can intellectualize. Consider this: when we move in faith, it’s because we know that we know that we know. Faith defies logic, and where does logic reside?

Right. In our mind.

It’s our mind that says, “Really? You don’t seriously believe that you can accomplish that, do you?”

It’s our mind that says, “He hit you: you’re within your rights to pop him one back.”

It’s our mind that says, “Come on! How could anyone create the universe in six days?”

And it’s our mind that says, “Did Jesus really come back from the dead? In the flesh? And did whatever He did on the Cross really save you from your sin? How does that work, eh?”

The way to tell our mind to shut the heck up is to bypass it altogether. From the heart to the mouth to other people’s ears.

You know that you know that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour; you speak it aloud. No need to run it through the filter of your intellect.

And it’s a two-way street. Speaking it aloud, before you’ve had time to think about it, also has the effect of building the faith in your heart. It brings us back to the “Nike theology” — Just Do It, and eventually, it will become part of you.

(This is, by the way, another reason why praying in tongues is a good idea. It’s not the sine qua non of being a follower of Jesus, but it does help to bypass any intellectual blocks to our faith. We’re bypassing our worldly-logical minds to speak in our spirit to God. Sure – we don’t know what we’re saying, but God does and (more importantly) the devil doesn’t. Remember that Jesus tells us God knows what we need before we ask Him to provide it, and sometimes it’s best not to try to put a name to those needs, ourselves.)

But I digress. The old saying goes, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” True. But sometimes, a mind can be a terrible thing. Period.

The heart — do we follow it — or check it?

Thanks to my friend, Carl Dombek, for suggesting this theme.

I’ve never been a fan of the expression, “Follow your heart”.

The only time I’ve ever said it, personally, was to a girlfriend when I was in college, as she was considering whether to leave me for another guy.

She did — and stopped “considering”. It was one of the great (but not the only) me-and-my-big-mouth episodes of my life.

But heartache aside (it’s OK – I’m over it now), the problem I have with “follow your heart” is the idea that it’s alright for us to let our own desires take precedence over inconvenient things like logic, other people’s feelings, and certainly the Word of God.

Because the Bible is full of warnings about the heart.

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

— Genesis 6:5

Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth …”

— Genesis 8:21

“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?”

— Jeremiah 17:9

Jesus warns us,

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

“thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.

“All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

— Mark 7:21-23

So much for following your heart, right?

But not so fast. Jesus also says,

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

— Luke 6:45

The heart isn’t all bad. It’s about what we allow to go into our heart, that can cause either trouble or joy; bring evil or glory. And that’s where Jesus comes in.

He says “make the tree good”, so that it will bear good fruit (Matthew 12:33), and as fallen humans, we can’t do that on our own. We need Jesus to guard our heart and make sure that what its abundance is, is good. As with everything else, we have to call Him in to help us.

When David cried out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me” (Psalm 51), he had just been brought up on his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. That’s about as wicked as it gets, and David knew that the evil had been spawned in his heart, he had allowed it to happen, and that he was powerless either to rid himself of the wickedness or to prevent it from happening again. Only God could do it.

So before we make a decision based on “following our heart”, let’s be certain of what our heart is following first.

Philanthropy: Any Number Can Play-2

Just because you’re not rich …

1 quadrans = 2 mites

So we were talking about the rich folks who donate many millions of dollars to “causes” and Rutger Bregman’s take, that rather than rely on their philanthropy, the super-rich should pay more tax (or any tax, for that matter). It appears he was thinking of people who use philanthropy for tax avoidance, rather than Doing Good.

Indeed, it’s easy to get suspicious of the motives of some people, when they hold a news conference to announce their contribution, or insist on having their name attached to a project or institution — blowing their horn in the marketplace, as it were.

But we also need to remember that there are a lot of projects that help people, that would not survive were it not for philanthropy. My former Mission in Vancouver was one of them.

Now, here’s something else to consider. When you hear of a huge donation to an organization or fundraising campaign, you might be tempted to say, “Well, that’s covered: what could I ever contribute?” Not so fast.

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.

Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.

So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury;

“for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

— Mark 12:41-44

The widow might well have thought that the contributions from the rich people made her contribution unnecessary — that her poverty gave her a free pass. She could have felt intimidated, seeing others throwing in large sums, and all she had was a quadrans (a quarter of a Roman penny). But instead, she did her part.

Was she motivated by duty? I don’t think so. Jesus noticed what she was doing, and Jesus is impressed by acts of faith. Maybe she was there, when He said, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:4, 6, & 18). This was an act of faith, that God would provide for her, as she made her contribution to the treasury.

(It’s always intrigued me, that we never hear of that widow again. Was she rewarded? Did God continue to provide for her? We have to take it on faith that that’s what happened, and realize that the same applies to us.)

So don’t be put off by big, flashy announcements from Great Humanitarians about their big-ticket donations. Give what you can — and maybe even test yourself, by giving what you can’t, stretching your faith a little. And remember that, when Jesus promises that God will reward you openly, He’s not talking about the warm-fuzzies that come from doing a good deed.