“God keep our land …”

Coat_of_arms_of_Canada.svg‘Tis July 1, which means today is Canada Day — or, as it was called when I was growing up, “Dominion Day” or “Confederation Day”: the anniversary of the birth of this country.

There are those who would quibble that this really isn’t Canada’s “birthday”, since not all ten provinces joined Confederation at once — BC was in 1871, Manitoba in 1870, Saskatchewan in 1905, Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t join until 1949 (the bad joke is that that’s why it’s always half an hour later in Newfoundland).

To the quibblers, I say “you need to get out more often”. (Besides, the Fourth of July is only the USA’s “birthday” for 13 of the 50 states, yet the whooping-it-up goes from Calais ME, to San Ysidro CA and from Key West FL, to Unalaska, AK.)

One of the things I’m grateful for in this country is the fact that, despite the best efforts of some politicians, activists and assorted social engineers to secularize the country, God is still very much a part of our national institutions.

References to God are embedded in Canada’s official symbols. You’ll find them in the national anthem: the English version says “God keep our land glorious and free”, and the original French version refers to our country’s ability to carry the Cross as well as the sword.

The preamble to the Canadian Constitution refers to the supremacy of God. The original name of Canada was “Dominion of Canada” — a reference to Psalm 72, in which verse 8 says, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea”. Some people misinterpret “dominion” as meaning “domination” (and there are those that just plain don’t like the idea of God having dominion over anything), but the Coat of Arms, above, bears the motto, “A mari usque ad mare” — “from sea even unto sea”.

And look at that Coat of Arms: what’s over everything? The Crown, yes, but what’s on top of the Crown, above all else? The Cross.

I believe it’s because God is still a part of these important national institutions that our country is one of the most peaceable in the world — in fact, I can’t think of one more blessed with peace, freedom and prosperity. Canada has not lost a war or suffered a major terrorist attack, and still produces enough food for all.

Do we want to mess with that blessing, either by ignoring or removing God from the institutions, or by using that blessing in a way that goes against His Word?

Yes, Canada has some social issues: some of which are “manufactured” — the result of living in a comfortable state of blessing, where some people lose sight of the Source of that blessing; but there are real issues, like the ongoing legacy of the treatment of First Nations. But reconciliation efforts have come a long way and tangible progress is being made. We also have an innate leaning towards making peace in the world and welcoming strangers — because we and/or our ancestors were also strangers in a strange land at one time. (Exodus 22:21, 23:9)

(With a federal election coming up, take a good, hard look at the politicians and the people who have hitched their wagons to them: beware of those who try to divide by taking a populist, but unholy stand.)

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some have unwittingly entertained angels.

— Hebrews 13:2

This July 1, let’s remember that every time we sing, “God keep our land glorious and free”, He hears us … and He does.

What makes Him real to you?

Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing for the glory of the risen King

— from “Mighty to Save”, by Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan

Those lyrics crossed my mind yesterday, and my brain stalled on the words, “the risen King.” I tried to imagine Jesus, fully alive, cleaned-up, relatively unscathed, walking out of the tomb. I know that it happened, because we have the word of God and those who were there to testify that it’s true — that knowledge has made that “18-inch trip” from my head to my heart.

So, true — yes. But what makes it real?

What makes Jesus real to you?

That’s an actual question for you: I’d love to read some points of view (in “comments”).

Jesus is real to me … how? Seeing the Holy Spirit miracles in people’s lives — especially the healings that I’ve witnessed and have heard from in others (read Randall’s comment in one of last week’s posts) — reminds me of this gift that He sent us, which could only have come because Jesus ascended to the Father.

Here’s another: “nudges” and thoughts* that I could never have come up with, myself — which I know are true, because (a) they’re usually diametrically opposed to my way of thinking at the time, and (b) they’re supported in Scripture.

How about this? My total non-fear of death. No, I’m in no hurry to leave this world, but am no longer afraid of what comes next. I still have fears, and need to call on Jesus to help me get past them (which He does), but fear does not rule my life anymore.

Here’s a biggie: Jesus is real to me, because through my meeting Him, I am a whole lot more compassionate towards others. I find myself, if I’m on the brink of calling someone a name, putting a “rein on my tongue” and remembering that they’re a child of God, too.

“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.

— Genesis 9:6 (emphasis added)

” … whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. “

— Matthew 5:22

And in a perverse sort of way, Jesus is real to me because so many people, through the ages, want to discredit Him, deny Him and suppress His message of hope, peace and goodwill to all. (Not to mention the fact that, as we learned a couple of weeks ago, Christians are the most persecuted group in the world.)

As my friend, John Sharp, is fond of saying, “If you’re not taking flak, you’re not over the target.”

I don’t know about you, but this exercise has helped reinforce my faith and my knowledge — not belief, but knowledge — that Jesus is real. Now, how about you? (Shades of my talk-show-host days, when I would promote an “open phones” session, and the phone lines would go colder than yesterday’s pancakes.)

What makes Jesus real to you?

*The Newsboys described the Holy Spirit as “like a circuit judge in the brain” (from “Spirit Thing” by Peter Furler and Steve Taylor)

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.

So easy …

Lately, I’ve been spending my time getting my new e-book ready for publication. (I’m going the e-book route, because I can’t afford a “vanity” publisher, I’m not well-enough known for Christian publishers to handle, and even though you would think that secular publishers would jump at the chance to handle a book about Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES), I’ve had enough thanks-but-your-book-idea-does-not-fit-our-needs-at-this-time letters to know that’s not an option, either.)

Where was I?

Oh, yes … the book is about the building of The Lord’s Rain and also about the people and events I encountered in the ten years I was pastoring there.

It’s called, God At Work — hope in a hope-challenged area, and I’ll let you know when it’s in online bookstores. In the course of preparing it, I’ve been going through old notes, emails and blog postings, and the whole exercise has reminded me of a couple of truisms.

Pigeon Park on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side

One is that any one of us is one mis-step away from starting a cascade of events that lead to that level of abject poverty and despair.

The other — which is a function of the first — is that it’s so easy to judge people who are living in abject poverty and despair. “They brought it on themselves,” one could say, or “They made a choice — that’s why they’re on drugs and won’t get off,” or “When they want to beat their addiction — they will.”

I suspect those are ways of rationalizing indifference.

One story I came across really hammers home the message that we don’t know what some people go through.

Mike is a man (I assume he’s still alive — it’s been a few years since I saw him) who had been going to Gospel Mission since before I started in 2007. Nice-looking, pleasant, polite, 40-something, he would sit at or near the back and sing lustily during Worship. He loved singing, and had been in his school’s choir in Prince Rupert, which won awards in festivals.

But as the years went by, you could see him change. He’d be prone to outbursts of anger — not directed at us, but he would come in and bend our ears about the way some of the advocacy groups he was involved with, like VANDU (the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users) would treat him. He was angry that they would ask him to leave meetings for being disruptive. How he was disruptive was never clear.

Certainly, Mike could be candid and maybe less than judicious in the things he said. When supporters of InSite — the supervised injection facility in Vancouver — turned out en masse for a court ruling regarding federal health-care funding, Mike was a no-show. “I missed out on thirty-five bucks,” he said, explaining that that had been promised to those who came for the demonstration. He then told me that he and others were given box lunches and a trip to Victoria for a demonstration at the Legislature.

Aside from exacerbating Mike’s anger issues, the drug use has savaged his physical state. Ghastly open sores appear on his face from time to time. Personally, I found it very easy to judge him, saying to myself, “so how are those ‘drug users’ rights’ working out for you?”

That was until the day in 2015 that he shared a piece of information with me.

“My mother died 35 years ago this month,” he said. “She, my auntie, my grandma, my sister and brother — all killed in a car accident. It was just outside Edmonton on Highway 16 and they hit a tanker truck.”

That was a jolt. I remembered that crash well. It was one of a number of fatal crashes in 1980 along what the papers were calling “Death Highway”. Shortly after that, I had to drive that highway en route to my first radio job, in Lloydminster.

And now, here was someone directly affected by that string of disasters.

He went on. “My grandpa said, ‘I got a bad feeling about Mikey going with you.’ He didn’t want me to go. ‘I got a bad feeling,’ he said.”

“Wow,” I said. “So you stayed home.”

“Oh, no,” Mike replied. “I went. I was the only survivor.”

Suddenly, a lot of things fell into place.

It was suddenly understandable that Mike would turn to drugs as the solution to his pain and his lingering grief (“survivor’s remorse”, perhaps?).

Give strong drink to him who is perishing, / And wine to those who are bitter of heart. / Let him drink and forget his poverty, / And remember his misery no more.

— Proverbs 31:6-7

Now, let’s not use that as an excuse to forget the poor, sick and drug-addicted: indeed, it may be that Solomon was being sarcastic. Think about it.

In any event, Mike’s experience reminds us that drug abuse and any form of urban poverty are rooted in myriad deep-seated issues. As one friend of mine put it, drugs are not the problem — they’re the solution. But do we let the “Mikes” of the world do a drug-induced slow fade, or do we try to do something beyond making it “safe”? Dealing with those issues — like Mike’s lifelong trauma — is beyond any power we humans have on our own. But with the Holy Spirit, the answers start to come.

Frankly, only God can reveal and only Jesus can heal. And if there’s “choice” involved, it’s ours — to cry out to Them on behalf of our brothers and sisters.

Not for sale!

And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,

saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!”

— Acts 8:18-20

On Thursday, we were talking about prayer for healing, in light of the slightly condescending tone taken in an article about “The Trebek Effect”. If you didn’t catch that action-packed instalment, you might want to have a look and especially read Randall’s comment. Powerful testimony.

Peter nails it: you can’t buy it with anything in the world. After making a career out of performing dark-side magic, leading people to think he was in tune with God, Simon the Sorcerer saw the miracles being performed by the apostles and came to believe in Jesus. But he was still unclear on the concept. He still had one foot in the world — possibly because he was making a packet performing his own sorcery.

So while the miracles Philip performed (Acts 8:13) blew him away, he hadn’t quite grasped the fact that all Philip had done to “earn” the spiritual gifts was say, “Lay it on me, Lord” (in essence).

I have a gift of healing. I can’t recall asking for it, as such, but I was so revved-up by watching Victor Emenike at work and listening to other people’s testimonies (and having my own), that I started trying it for myself, as a means of glorifying God.

The Greeks have a word for it … I learned this in church yesterday, that at times, the word we translate as “gifts” comes from the Greek χαρισματα. (Don’t be overly impressed: I copied and pasted it from Google Translate.) The transliteration is “charismata”, which comes from the root word “charis”, meaning “grace”. In other words, any “spiritual gifts” we enjoy are actually the manifestation of God’s grace towards us.

And all we have to do is ask.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

“If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?

“Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

— Luke 11:9-13

Of course, if you want to talk about paying for the gift, that’s already been done. Jesus had to die, in order to go to the Father, and then He would send us the Holy Spirit — the ἅγιος πνεῦμα* — haigos pneuma — literally Holy Breath.

There are many such gifts, and Paul writes that each of us gets at least one. Has God ever told you, flat-out, what your gifts are? Have you ever asked Him? What He tells you might be a surprise — or, come to think of it, maybe not.

Fear of prayer?

In one of the last episodes of The Big Bang Theory, Penny offers to perform reiki on Sheldon, assuring him that it absolutely “works”. Behind her, Leonard makes a slashing motion across his throat, shakes his head and mouths elaborately, “No, it doesn’t!”

-I couldn’t help thinking about that — and a couple of other things — when reading this article about the latest health update from Alex Trebek. The host of Jeopardy!, as you probably know, is being treated for cancer, and the update is that the tumors have been shrinking in a manner that’s baffling doctors.

“The Conversation” article talks about “well-wishes” and calls it the “Trebek Effect” — the idea that a whole bunch of people wishing someone well has a beneficial effect. However, while Alex thanks people in this clip for their “kind words and prayers” (and no mention of “well-wishes”, as such), the article only mentions prayer in passing, and in a negative tone, at that.

Prayer offers perhaps the most dramatic opportunity to study the health benefits of well wishes. In studies of the efficacy of prayers for others, some studies have shown small health benefits, while others have shown no effect.

— Prof. Richard Gunderman, “The Trebek Effect: the Benefits of Well-Wishes”, in The Conversation, June 17, 2019

(It almost seems like those sentences undo the whole premise of the article: they seem to say that if someone is gravely ill, go ahead and wish them well, but don’t expect them to get better.)

According to the abstract of that study, it specifically refers to social workers using intercessory prayer as part of their practice, and the empirical evidence for its effectiveness. The overall conclusion is that the effect of prayer is “small but significant”. Further, if the study is confined to social workers, that’s not the same as evaluating cases of people who have received healing from a minister with a healing gift in a faith-charged environment (in Matthew 13:58, we see that even Jesus couldn’t heal people where doubt was present).

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that my own testimony is one of complete healing (back trouble) through Jesus Christ, and that I have witnessed other healing miracles, including:

  • kidney stones dissolved after laying on hands
  • lump in a woman’s breast healed after I prayed over her*
  • dramatic reduction in my father’s PSA level (indicator of prostate cancer) after I laid hands on him
  • healing of my father’s finger, which was about to be amputated, after my daughter laid hands on him
  • a woman emerged from a coma after prayer in hospital; she died a couple of months later, but her husband told me he counted seven more miracles — seven times she confounded the doctors in some way — after that initial prayer
  • serious drug addiction problems, healed through faith in Jesus Christ.

And that’s just what I’ve seen or experienced. Prayer is not simply “wishing someone well”, sending them a “Get Well” card or visiting them in hospital.

The effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous [person] avails much.

— James 5:16b

I’m one of those who have been lifting up Alex in prayer for complete healing; and it’s safe to say I’m not the only one.

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

— Matthew 18:20

And lest we forget,

“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

— John 14:13 (and two other times, in case we missed the point)

More than “wishing someone well”, or making them feel happy and “not alone” on an inevitable journey towards death, prayer is about putting your faith on the line, glorifying God and Jesus Christ; letting your faith pick up the slack when someone’s physical pain and fear make it hard for them to believe.

Don’t worry, Doc: it’s OK to refer to prayer and the notion that people can be completely healed by the intervention of the Holy Spirit, even when modern medicine has come up short. After all, Who gave you your gifts for compassion to heal and learning in the areas an M.D. requires? I know: some people, as they learn more and more and reach a position of eminence in their field, get the idea that they, themselves, are special. The idea that they received their gifts from the Lord is almost an insult.

There’s something else at work here, too, that we need to be aware of. In our search for solutions to problems, we tend to settle for the reasonable facsimile, the generic version, the spiritual equivalent of the “edible oil substitute”. That’s often because we figure that if we accept what we think is good, rather than what God knows is best, we won’t have to acknowledge Him or “owe” Him anything — like our repentant souls.

Is that not a case of following those “false Christs” that Jesus warns us about?

*That was an interesting situation. I had no intention of actually laying a hand on the woman’s breast, so I simply hovered my hand over the affected area, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

It is written … the only verse you need

This just in: another compelling reason to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters overseas.

Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple,

and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”*

Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ”

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”

— Matthew 4:3-10

We all face temptation. That’s the nature of being who we are. And one of the glorious things about Jesus’ coming to earth is to show that no human being is capable of withstanding temptation. Not on their own, at any rate. We are totally incapable of saying, “NO! I will NOT give in to (fill in the blank with the temptation of your choice)!”

With Jesus in our lives, with the Holy Spirit within us, we can stand against it, but we can’t do it in our own strength.

But notice this: not even Jesus tried to resist temptation in His own strength. What did He do? He simply said, “It is written …” He stood on the Word of God to banish the devil. He did not engage in a worldly debate, because that’s the devil’s turf.

Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

— Jude 1:9

Jesus stood His ground by standing on the Word, by speaking what is written in Scripture.

OK … but what if you’re faced with a temptation, whether it’s a sexual sin, covetousness, or even to walk in unforgiveness, even blowing your stack at someone you are angry with? What if you don’t know exactly what is written?

There is one passage that is guaranteed to shut down the workings of the devil.

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

— Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning ….” means the very first thing that happened and the first, and most important, thing you need to know. Without this thing in your mind, nothing that follows in the Word of God will be valid.

“God” — and no one else, and certainly not a chance occurrence.

“created” — did not build, construct or make, but caused to come into existence using nothing but His word — and His love.

“the Heavens and the earth.” — God created everything, including the home where Satan resides (note that “Heavens” is plural). That’s how impotent Satan really is: he can’t even build his own home — God had to do it for him.

And that statement, taken all together, is the linchpin around which the entire Bible is based. It should be the linchpin for our lives, too. With that principle, we know:

  • We are responsible to God for what we do
  • We are created by and in the image of Love
  • We can remind the devil of his impotence in our lives

If you know no other piece of Scripture than that, that is all you need to make your stand.

*In the King James Version, the devil is quoted as saying, “lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” But Psalm 91 does not say “at any time”: which suggests to me that the devil is re-writing Scripture. His version makes it seem like even if Jesus tempted God by jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple, He would still be protected.

Inclusive? It is written …

When you look at Thursday’s and Friday’s posts — about the persecution of Christians around the world — it would be easy to think that anything we go through in the First World is horrifically insignificant, by comparison.

What we go through is generally along the lines of subtle, under-the-radar, water-off-a-duck’s-back kind of attack. I mentioned the question I was asked during a job interview — whether being a Christian would affect my judgment as a newsperson; there was also an out-of-left-field exchange between two co-workers sitting next to me, where one mentioned something about “you have to be a Christian or you go to hell” and the other said, “that makes it tough for Muslims and Buddhists, doesn’t it?”

I know: it wasn’t directed at me, so don’t take it personal. But what stuck in my craw was more the notion that Christianity is non-inclusive. It’s the same, as when a Victoria City Councillor proposed removing civic-funded Christmas decorations* because Christmas, to his mind, is “non-inclusive”.

But Scripture belies that claim, and if you ever need to refute that argument, here are some suggestions:

Christmas celebrates

  • Joy to the world (no exceptions)
  • Peace on earth (no exceptions)
  • Goodwill to all (no exceptions)

Jesus says,

“… the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

— John 6:37b

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

— Revelation 3:20

Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.

— Mark 4:24

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

— 2 Corinthians 5:17

Shall I go on? That’s pretty dang inclusive, dontcha think?

Oh, sure, Jesus makes a couple of statements that could be construed as “non-inclusive”, like

“Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.

“But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

— Luke 12:8-9


Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

— John 14:6

But you can choose to confess Jesus; and when you do, when you turn to Him, He is there, no matter what you’ve done, who you are, or what “belief system” you’ve followed to that point. You’re also not required to follow any ritual or jump through any religious hoops in order to “qualify”: saying, “I believe”, “I repent” and “thank you, Lord” is all you really need.

It’s that great paradox of turning to the Lord: the great inclusive/exclusive club.

*The irony of that is, of course, that it’s hard to find civic Christmas decorations in Victoria, BC, that actually refer to Christmas anymore. He has a problem, apparently, with celebrating anything in late December. More to be pitied than blamed, I guess.

Fighting on our knees

In considering yesterday’s post about the persecution of Christians around the world, another passage kept coming back to me:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,

for kings and all who are in authority, that we may led a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.

— 1 Timothy 2:1-2

That passage has often been cited as a command to that “first of all”, we must pray for those in authority. But while that’s important, “first of all”, those prayers are for all men (people). Which means that, as we intercede for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, who face far worse persecution than we, God willing, will ever know, we need to pray for:

  • the victims, for their courage and strength of faith
  • supernatural physical protection for the victims
  • the perpetrators — they qualify as “all men/people”
  • governments and those in authority — especially in regimes where the persecution is state-sanctioned or where Christianity is illegal
  • one another — we in the First World — that we never lose perspective and are always conscious of the trials others are going through.

Speaking of perspective, it’s interesting to back up a few verses to see what led into Paul’s exhortation about prayer. At the end of Chapter 1 (remember that the words are anointed, but the numbers aren’t), Paul has been writing about people who have rejected the faith and have “suffered shipwreck” as a result. In particular, he singles out Alexander and Hymenaeus as people he has “delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

Then, he calls on Timothy (and us) to pray for all. Not for “all people of the faith” or “all people who are nice to us”, but even for those who have rejected the faith and may even have attacked us. Because they, too, will “suffer shipwreck” and Paul, who knows a bit about being shipwrecked, doesn’t want that to happen to anybody.

But I digress. Christians are being persecuted worse than any other faith group in the world. That interim report chides Western journalists for turning a blind eye to the situation. It also points out that response from governments has been sadly lacking. But we have weapons that are far greater and more potent than anything a terrorist can muster.

Let’s not be afraid to use them.

Persecution, privilege, and “the greatest story never told”

Have you felt discrimination because you believe in Jesus?

I’ve heard the little, snide, side-swiping remarks in the workplace and was once asked in a job interview for a radio newsroom, if being a Christian would affect my news judgment. (I didn’t get the job, but I took the question as a sign that I wouldn’t want it, anyway.)

But at least, I haven’t had my head cut off.

I’ve been reading through the interim report by Rt. Rev. Philip Mountstephen, Bishop of Truro, who was tasked by the British government last year to look into the matter of persecution of Christians around the world. To give you an idea of the scope, the Bishop was supposed to bring in his full report by Easter, but had to move his deadline to the end of June.

The report has found, among other things, that Christians are the most widely-targeted religious group in the world, and that 80% of the people persecuted for their religious beliefs are Christian.

Significantly, while the interim report breaks down the situation region-by-region (e.g., Middle East/North Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, etc.), I can’t find a reference to the situation in North America, except to note a “blind eye” turned to the issue by western journalists and politicians.

Journalist John L Allen wrote in The Spectator: “[The] global war on Christians remains the greatest story never told of the early 21st century.” While government leaders, such as UK Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have publicly acknowledged the scale of persecution, concerns have centred on whether their public pronouncements and policies have given insufficient weight to the topic. Baroness Warsi told BBC Radio 4 that politicians should set “legal parameters as to what will and will not be tolerated. There is much more we can do.”  Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said western governments have been “strangely and inexplicably reluctant to confront” persecution of Christians in the Middle East. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “not convinced” that Britain’s response to Christian persecution was adequate.

— from Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians- interim report (Overview)

Persecution ranges from laws against blasphemy and conversion to kidnappings, mass murder, torture, sexual assault, forced conversion and “disappearances”. The perpetrators could be “official” government actions or the actions of paramilitary or terrorist groups.

Suddenly, I don’t feel so “persecuted”, because of a couple of ignorant remarks at work and a telling job-interview question.

From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.

Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;

in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;

in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—

besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

— 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

Jesus did warn us.

“But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them.”

— Mark 13:9

I say it’s significant that the Bishop’s report doesn’t mention persecution in North America (although the final report may), because whatever we Jesus Followers have to endure in Canada and the USA — nasty names, a toxic atmosphere, discrimination in the workplace or on campus, controversy over a cake — is nothing, compared to what others are going through around the world.

But it also tells us that we have a responsibility, as we sit in our comfortable positions, to turn our thoughts and prayers towards our Christian brothers and sisters who are going through the real persecutions around the world. God has blessed us to be in this state of comfort for exactly that reason.

Religion or politics?

or should that be “God or religion?”

Every so often, my mind goes back to a scene when I was in eleventh grade, and billetted in Seattle for a student conference. We stayed at what was essentially a crash pad: a man and his wife who didn’t have kids of their own (or at least, not living with them — it wasn’t clear) opened up their house to “strays”, as a sort of crash pad. A couple of other students from Vancouver were also there, and my best friend and I happened to mention that we supported a certain political party. That touched off an angry response from a kid from a different school, and just as I was about to come up with some choice words, one of the residents — a girl — stepped in.

“We have freedom of speech in this household, but two topics we do not discuss here are religion and politics.”

‘Nuff sed. It was kind of a relief, because things could have got ugly, and at the end of the day, what would have been accomplished?

Fast-forward 48 years, as one of the most divisive issues in North American society involves that deadly combination. I’m talking about abortion.

I read the impassioned writing of people on both sides of the issue, and I realize that what’s lacking is that vital component of any proper debate: a common starting point. One side regards abortion as a matter of a woman’s choice; the other says it’s killing an unborn human. As a result, the issue is — as it has been for over half a century* — the cause of screaming matches of escalating ferocity. The rhetoric becomes more shrill and inflammatory, and you haven to wonder if anyone is being swayed.

But here’s the thing. Anti-abortion/pro-life people also tend to be Christians, so here are some thoughts about the way this is going down.

First, is this how Jesus would want us to handle it?

What does Scripture say?

A soft answer turns away wrath

But a harsh word stirs up anger.

— Proverbs 15:1

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;

for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

— James 1:19-20

And more to the point:

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?

“You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.

“For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

— John 13:12-17

Wait a minute — what does that have to do with abortion?

Plenty. Jesus doesn’t tell us to fight against everything we feel offends God. For one thing, we wouldn’t know where to start — and we wouldn’t know where to stop. That’s one reason why we weren’t supposed to ingest the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Judgmentalism follows quickly, and we’re usurping God’s job. We know how He feels about that.

Rather, Jesus tells us — as He told Peter — to “feed My sheep”. Feed them with what? With the Gospel and the Good News of God’s love for all of us and His salvation through His Son.

Feed them. Don’t shove the junk food of self-righteousness down their throats until they choke on it and do what anyone else would do, which is to shout “¡no mas!” and push you and the food away.

We have to remember our purpose in Christ: that we are His ambassadors, assigned to love others — whether we agree with them or not — and to wash their feet, however dirty we might think they are. We also are called to respect life — and I mean the lives of immigrants, refugees, the homeless, drug addicts … if you catch my drift.

Of course, the devil doesn’t understand the concept of loving people. He’s perfectly happy to see us at one another’s throats, even if (or especially if) one of those throats claims to be on the side of God.

Religion is the result of humans turning away from Jesus’ instructions and trying to make everything look the way they believe God wants it to look. That, in turn, is the result of impatience with the way God works out His will.

Try it. Break new ground by refusing to get dragged onto the devil’s turf by trying to “win” an argument, whatever the issue might be. You might be surprised at how many people come to the Kingdom as a result — and isn’t that the whole point?

*Let’s not kid ourselves: the abortion “debate” has been around for a lot longer than that. In 1916, Lois Weber, the most powerful woman in Hollywood at the time (some refer to her as the most important female director in American film history), wrote and produced Where Are My Children?, a movie with a definite anti-abortion stance. So – yeah: the debate is nothing new.