Getting two minutes for cross-checking in hockey (or lacrosse) is a Bad Thing. But this is about giving yourself just two minutes to reflect on where you are in God's plan — and where He is in your life.
Let’s have some fun for the start of the Long Weekend …
Yesterday, I was talking about music and worship and songs that glorify God — or at least refer to our relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.
My friend, John Fischer (he of “The Catch”), is launching an internet radio station in January, “Music That Matters”. Best description is the sentence above: songs about our relationship with God, that don’t necessarily qualify as “Worship” music and aren’t necessarily by artists regarded as Christians.
For years, now, I’ve been compiling what I call the “What Were They Thinking?” playlist — songs that made it into the mainstream, whether through airplay or just being on an album, that refer to God, or Jesus, whether overtly or in a sort of “code”.
Here’s what’s on my list for now: can you add any to this?
DC Talk: “Spirit in the Sky” (I’m just including this because it’s less “mocking” than Norman Greenbaum’s original — although Greenbaum himself said he went through a conversion when he wrote it. Note the change in lyrics: “I’m a sinner / We all sin”, rather than “I’m not a sinner/ I never sin …”)
OK … enough from me. How about you? Are there any “mainstream” songs that carry a Christian message, whether overt, or “laid between the lines” as the Peter, Paul and Mary song goes.
I love Worship time in church. I’ve played on and sung with Worship teams and occasionally led Worship. I’ve even written a few “Christian” songs, although they’ve never been published. I showed one of them to a pastor friend of mine who was also a Worship leader, and he said, “Hmm … it’s not exactly a Worship song, though, is it?”
(He got a different perspective when I played the song for my dad’s funeral, and his wife told him she thought it was good.)
Anyway, I’d agree with my friend, that none of my songs exactly qualifies as “Worship” material. I listen to them in my mind and try to visualize people with their hands in the air, eyes closed, basking in the Holy Spirit, or clapping joyously along.
But lately, I’ve been wondering if the Standard Worship Song isn’t overrated. Recently, one of the songwriters at Hillsong Church in Australia, Marty Sampson, in an online post, declared that he was “losing his faith” and posing questions he had about the Bible and faith in God in general.
My reaction, for what it’s worth, was sort of a combination of the reasoned response by David Robertson and the blunt-instrument satirical treatment in Babylon Bee. I find myself cynically considering the idea that the secular music industry would rush to embrace a talented performer who’d “seen the light” and left the Christian music world, and at the same time bewildered by the facile arguments Marty makes — the “how could a loving God …?” and “too many contradictions” tropes that atheists and mistheists love to trot out.
Indeed, if that’s his understanding of the Bible (or lack thereof), has he been reading the Bible to draw closer to God, or to find some good hooks, calculated to elicit a certain reaction in the audien… I mean, congregation?
And this is a cautionary note for, well, me: am I reading the Bible to get greater understanding or to find blog post ideas?
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
— 1 Corinthians 10:31
Bottom line: I’m not going to worry anymore about whether the songs I write sound like “worship” material (heaven knows, the Newsboys don’t — how many of their songs would you consider to be “worship” music?) or whether what I write does anything but express The Jesus I Know to people who’ve never met Him.
Maybe the Marty Sampson Thing is a wonderful example of God on the Move: helping us to reinforce and re-focus our own faith and purpose.
As often happens, when I’m awakened in the middle of the night, I have a really hard time getting back to sleep. I find that if I go into the den and sit on the couch and pray for a while, I’m able to make my eyes sufficiently leaden and I can crawl back into bed and sleep soundly.
Sometimes, the Lord will speak to me, like the time He told me to clear my mind of all thoughts and let Him do the talking. And then, the other night, He laid this on me.
“Visualize,” He said.
I know what you’re thinking. Gawd, here comes some hipster, motivational-speaker-type prayer technique (eye roll). Maybe like Wesley Snipes, preparing himself mentally for the Big Game in Major League?
Nope. Not this time.
This was to visualize Jesus’ sacrifice and what it means. Not the gore of the Cross and His own suffering, but what that has meant for us: the way He took punishment for our bad choices — the ones that go against what God wants from us.
Consider it: all those things that gnaw at us, the memories that we can’t change, the thoughts that keep us from sleeping peacefully at night (even the nagging accusation, “Was it really all that hard to follow God’s way in the first place?”, which is another ploy of the Enemy’s), are all erased for all time, for all of us, because He submitted to that punishment.
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
— Colossians 2:13-14
“Wiped out the handwriting …” Jesus’ sacrifice removes any accusation so completely, you can’t even see that anything had been written in the first place!
Let that marinate for a while and sink into your spirit and soul. It takes time and not a little concentration, but it adds up to encouragement. That’s how much you mean to God. That’s the extent He’ll go to, to ensure you and I and everyone, regardless of race, creed or color, will do His work on earth and spend Eternity with Him.
That’s the reality, but sometimes, we have to stop, sit still, and visualize.
“Paul was a convert,” I once heard someone say, disparagingly. It was in the midst of a discussion as to whether the Apostle Paul was a misogynist (he wasn’t) and his zeal for the faith was noted. The remark about being a convert made him sound like a reformed smoker or a person who’s discovered a wonder diet (“I only eat raw meat: do you know what that stuff does to your gut when you cook it?”).
But aren’t we all converts, when it comes to following Jesus Christ? Following Jesus is a personal choice we make, regardless of whether we were brought up in a church-going home or surrounded by the most secular of humanists. Seeing that light, experiencing Grace after a fall, finding hope in something we can’t see, but that we know that we know that we know is there: that ignites the conversion.
And with that sensation of “newness”, as one pastor called it after I answered an altar call back in 1999, comes a desire to pass it on. Like Paul, we become zealous to share with others what we believe, how it’s changed us and how that same strength is available to them.
I learned another vital lesson at Rainbow Mission: don’t try to have all the answers. Mike (a different Mike from the one you met earlier – this one’s real name was Alex and I learned later that his son was one of my friends in high school) was well into his 70s and looking back on a life filled with infidelity – on the part of his wife, himself and a business partner – and a failed business. Mike was remorseful, alright, but his way of taking responsibility was to say that he had trusted the wrong people. He was left pretty much penniless and living on the Downtown East Side. He could also quote reams of Scripture and would come up after services to talk about his woes.
Zealous as I was (and still am) to impart faith and words of life to people, I tried to do that for Mike, pulling out as much Scripture as I could think of to support it and get Mike to stop beating himself up and look to the future rather than the past. But all Mike wanted to do was talk about it, and as I was getting frustrated at trying to get him to change his outlook, he was just as frustrated that I was coming at him with the Bible rather than listening.
And God said, “learn when to shut the heck up, Drew.”
Of course, we’re supposed to pass along what we’ve discovered in our walk with God, but it’s a different kind of passing-along. The newfound knowledge has to be combined with wisdom (“knowledge tells you that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom tells you not to use it in a fruit salad”) and an understanding that leading someone to the Lord does not mean hog-tying them and dragging them to the foot of the Cross, but walking side-by-side, sharing what you’ve learned, while giving them the opportunity to see the Truth for themselves.
Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
And they said to one another, “Dot not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”
So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,
saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
— Luke 24:30-34
They were side by side, with Jesus present; they received answers through Scripture, and together they got revelation. And it was a different revelation for each, for do you notice that they say Jesus had appeared “to Simon” — not “to us”?
Christians are often accused of “having all the answers”. We’ll never have all the answers, but we have an advantage in knowing where to look. And as we bring someone else into the conversation, looking together for those answers, we both wind up getting our own personal revelation.
*Available as an e-book (US $4.99) through online booksellers, or by clicking on the link.
Some call the DTES “Canada’s Worst Postal Code”. That’s as may be, but to an evangelist, it’s “Vancouver’s Whitest Fields”. As I say, people on the DTES are, like the Samaritans, outcasts, dumped there by society because they’re not wanted anywhere else.
You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
— Acts 1:8
The Bible teacher, Charles Price, has pointed out that that
verse shows an “order of operations”: Jesus commissions us to spread the Gospel
first at home, then in our neighbouring region, then in the “land of the outcasts”,
and then to faraway countries. Hearing that teaching reinforced, in my mind,
the importance of preaching Christ on Skid Row.
None of all that was on my mind when I landed back in
Vancouver in 2003. My marriage in Victoria had fallen apart. I had led a less
than righteous life up to a few years before and was what one might call a
“ChrINO” – Christian In Name Only. My own redemption is a long story: the short
version is that I repented, but much damage had been done on the home front. I
found myself without home, family, or job at age 47.
I (finally) placed everything in God’s hands and He
manoeuvred me out of Victoria and into a new job at a Christian TV station
based in Surrey, just outside Vancouver. I moved into a “nanny suite” in a
house belonging to Laura-Lynn Tyler (now Tyler-Thompson), who was an on-camera
personality at the station at the time. The TV job didn’t last, but I was in an
Evangelical environment with time to spend reading the Bible, praying, and
learning to trust in God.
One thing I knew was that I wanted to preach. Even as a
child in a non-church-going family, whenever we went to church for a wedding or
some other service, I found myself wanting to “be that guy up there”. Despite
my mother’s rejection of religion, I felt an unrelenting “draw”, which I
thought was just a desire to perform. It was, to a degree: I tried to make it
as a professional actor, then a standup comedian; I had the makings of a
successful broadcast career (one boss told me I could be “a field general, not
a foot soldier”), but for some reason, my career trajectory was a cycle of
moving forward, then stalling and slipping backwards. Such situations could
either be frustrating, or, like the repeated visits to the DTES, God, trying to
tell me something.
In spring of 2004, a job opened up at a radio station in
downtown Vancouver, and that meant commuting from Surrey, through Granville
SkyTrain station at any time of the day or night. This became my new encounter
with Vancouver’s “street people”, running a gauntlet of panhandlers, homeless
people and drug addicts, some of whom could get belligerent if you turned them
down or ignored them.
I rarely had any cash to give them and I would feel guilty
about that. But one day, I heard something clearly, and I know it was the Lord.
“These people,” He said, “don’t need money. They don’t need
handouts; they don’t need programs. They need Me. They need My Son. And you’re
the one to tell them.”
I protested. “But my testimony is too white-bread,” I said.
“I’ve never been addicted; I was only homeless briefly; how can they relate to
God would not be put off. “What did happen to you nearly
killed you, didn’t it?’
“And I pulled out, didn’t I?”
I had no idea how to take that command and turn it into something. So I let the notion percolate in my mind for a while, and gradually, an image started to form:
a storefront venue
people coming in to hear a sermon and talk about the Bible
coffee and sandwiches
one night a week
I mentioned the Avon Theatre earlier. I got this crazy idea
that I should take over the theatre – which had been unoccupied for several
years – and turn it into a church.
One Sunday in June, I was sitting in a downtown church, when
the Lord said, “As soon as this is over, we’re going on a location hunt.”
The service over, I got in my car and drove down Hastings. I
drove past the Avon, and took a quick look at the grating over the entrance and
the boarded-up windows.
And the Still, Small Voice sayeth: “Not a chance.”
(There was a movement to resurrect the Avon, which had begun
life as a vaudeville house on the Pantages circuit, but that got the kibosh
after two street people stole a parking meter, hoping to break it open to get
the money inside. Probably inspired by seagulls dropping oysters from a great
height to crack them open, they took the meter to an upper floor of a building
beside the Avon and dropped it onto the theatre roof. The meter survived. The
roof didn’t: the inner membrane was breached, and water damage finished off the
roof and any plans for the building’s future.)
I drove a little further – past Carnegie Centre on Main
Street, past the Ovaltine Cafe and hung a left on Heatley. Another left, onto
Powell. Just past Oppenheimer Park – a ball field that had gone to seed in many
senses of the term, I was prompted, “Park here. Go for a walk.”
I walked down the block, past some vacant storefronts that
looked promising; but I had no income for buying or leasing a place, and
besides, the vision I had was for one night a week.
I walked past the Sunrise Market, with its open bins of
produce on the sidewalk, then turned down Gore Street for another block and then
doubled back along Cordova. A couple of blocks later, I turned onto Dunlevy:
and that’s where I saw the Rainbow Mission.
It was a hole-in-the-wall, with a metal grating in front of
a metal door, heavy screens on the windows and a hand-painted sign announcing,
“RAINBOW MISSION”. It was closed, but a hand-lettered sign in one window told
me there were other services throughout the week – all in the evening, and
“Meals Served At All Services.”
When I got home, I found Laura-Lynn in the back yard with a pitcher
“Get a glass and come sit,” she said.
I did and told her what I’d found.
“Why don’t you see if they need help?” she said.
I tried to hide my disappointment: it was not exactly the radio/TV ministry I’d imagined for myself. “Yeah … I think I will.”
I had been sacked from two broadcast outlets in six months, and a year and a half later, I would be dropped from the downtown Vancouver station, as well. (Veteran broadcaster Red Robinson said, “Three times in two years? That’s not a record: in this business, that’s job security!”) Yes, one would think they were setbacks, but they all pointed to ministry on the Downtown East Side, and specifically to the building of The Lord’s Rain — not to mention the clichéd reminder that it’s not about me.
Chatting with my old friend and radio colleague, Dennis Rimmer, for his podcast, Talking Books and Stuff,* I was reminded again of the way our plans can fall to pieces, but God, if we let Him, can turn them for His glory and our benefit.
See, the “death” of my broadcasting career coincided with my newfound determination to go into ministry. But my last few stops on that journey did not end particularly well. I had moved into a position at a TV station that didn’t fit me: I wasn’t getting along with others and my attitude stank. When the boss and I decided to call it quits, I took “the package”.
At the time, I thought my career path would make me a Christian talk-show host, and indeed, within a couple of months, I was hired at a Christian TV station to produce someone else’s talk show. That didn’t work out, and I was sent packing just before my probation period ran out.
Both those incidents felt like setbacks and left me at something of a loose end. But because of my newfound faith in God and His plans and provision, I learned to say, “OK, Lord, where are You and what are You doing?”
Or, in more flippant moments, to tell myself that those situations seemed so unjust to me, that God had to be behind it.
And after a couple more months of studying, praying and contemplating, the Number-1 radio station in the province came calling. They had a position open. The position required me to work any shift that came along: early mornings, overnights, afternoons – you name it. And the station was located in downtown Vancouver, right in the midst of one of the worse street scenes imaginable.
So I would go to work by SkyTrain and get off at Granville Station, running a gauntlet of “street people” — homeless, mentally ill, addicts — at a time when the City Council of the day passed a bylaw against “aggressive panhandling”.
That led to the word of the Lord, telling me that those people didn’t need handouts or programs or anything like that: they needed Jesus – and it was my assignment to introduce them to Him.
I often tell people that while it looked like I was ministering to people on the Downtown East Side, it was really the other way around.
Every so often, it’s good to look at the events in your own life — especially the setbacks — and ask yourself if the “good” things that have happened could have come to pass if it hadn’t been for the “bad” stuff? Remember what the Lord told Jeremiah:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
My post the other day, that a certain president might be today’s version of Nebuchadnezzar — unrelentingly prideful and taking credit for things that were really God’s work and provision; heading for a fall of, well, Biblical proportions — ended with the Great King rebounding to even greater power and blessing. Nebetc. essentially declared The One True God to be the “state religion”, and lived out his life without much further problems. His son, Belshazzar, succeeded him.
But Israel was still in captivity. Even when Darius, whose kingdom conquered Babylon shortly after, saw the power of God through Daniel and again decreed the “state religion”, the Israelites were still weeping “as they remembered Zion”. It wasn’t until Cyrus came along, that the Israelites were released, more or less, to go home and re-build Jerusalem.
And this should offer a new hope for Jesus Followers today. Because even if history repeats itself and Biblical history plays out again in our times, Nebuchadnezzar’s rehabilitation only leads to a worldly form of peace and security. Declarations of “righteousness” mainly amount to lip service: spiritually, people are still captive and there are still forces like the “officials” whose accusations led Darius to send Daniel into the lions’ den.
But eventually, along comes Cyrus, someone whose spirit is stirred by God (Ezra 1:1), who releases God’s people to rebuild the foundation of their faith. And that’s the source of hope. I have no idea if any of the players on today’s stage is that “Cyrus”, but it gives us cause to take a step back and remind ourselves that God is in control. Even when things don’t look so good as we define “good”, we need to keep looking for Him; and when we find Him — which we will — get onside.
I try to stay out of politics in this blog, but a Word came to me this morning that I need to get out there for you to see. We’ll see if it comes to pass.
With the emotional marathon called the US presidential election campaign now rolling along, President Trump is staking his fortunes on the state of the American economy. He’s not the first president to take credit for a booming economy (even if the groundwork was laid by previous administrations, as many commentators point out), but this bit of Scripture struck me this morning:
At the end of the twelve months (Nebuchadnezzar) was walking about the royal palace of Babylon.
The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”
While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!
“And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen: and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”
That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar: he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.
— Daniel 4:29-33
Is this something that will happen to Donald Trump: that he will suffer a major fall as a result of taking credit for something that is arguably the work of others and is, at its root, the Lord’s doing?
Let’s answer that question with another question: why would this passage have been brought to mind today, when Trump has been claiming credit for the American economy practically since the start of his presidency?
Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson: when those “seven times” (months? seasons? years?) had passed, he finally turned his face towards heaven and prayed to God; and in what seemed like an instant, his kingdom, wealth and power were restored.
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.”
— Daniel 4:37
As far as I can tell, he lived out his years as king and when he died, indicated by the fact that that’s the last we hear of him, and his son succeeds him, i.e. he wasn’t conquered by another ruler.
This is also a cautionary tale for us all: remember that God provides and is in control of our wealth, our blessings and our fate; once we start acting or talking as though we, ourselves, had that control, we’re in for a fall. Some of us go to our graves, still covered in those eagles’ feathers.
It’s another good reason to pray for our leaders, regardless of whether we agree with their policies or despise their personalities: because if they go down, we all fall down.
It’s time to be direct here. I feel like I’ve been dancing around the obvious point (haven’t we all?) and after Friday’s post — which was initially written on Thursday and updated the next day — I heard a very clear Word.
So long as we continue to reject God; so long as we worship human intellect; so long as we obsess on “self”; so long as we focus on “being good” or “doing good” on our own terms: we will continue to see mass shootings, senseless killings, environmental destruction, drug addiction and death, and hatred spread over the Internet and in the mainstream media.
All we like sheep have gone astray,
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
— Isaiah 53:6a
God was speaking to us in the 21st Century just as much as He was to the people in Isaiah’s time. All the sorrows, the disasters, the pain we see in our world boils down to our unbelief — not that God is “punishing” us, but we have refused to choose the life that He has promised (Deuteronomy 30:19) and because of that, have walked out of His protective covering (Psalm 91:4).
Mind: I’m not talking about any one particular sin. We’re all in this, and we’re all responsible for turning back to God and setting the Jesus Example for others to follow.
Besides, look at the rest of what God tells us through Isaiah:
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
— Isaiah 53:4-6
But as I said on Friday, Jesus may have told us that the circumstances we see today would precede His return, but that doesn’t mean we resign ourselves to them. Our job is to love others — put others’ interests ahead of our own — and love God above all. Paul likens it to running a race (1 Corinthians 9:24), where we don’t let up until we cross the finish line.
As I write this, we in North America are shaking our heads, once again, at a series of senseless killings: El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; northern British Columbia; Santa Ana, California.
The all-too-common occurrences have come with an all-too-common reaction: some people demand gun control, others defend the right to bear arms (while not explaining why someone should have the right to own an assault rifle), many people express their rabid hatred for the President of the United States in the name of denouncing hatred. Victims and their families become political rallying points — at least until the next senseless killings.
And here we come back to a familiar refrain from this corner: Jesus told us there’d be days like these.
“And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”
— Matthew 24:12
As I was considering this the other day (before the latest shootings, in fact), it occurred to me that “lawlessness” doesn’t simply mean criminal activity. Indeed, the “old” King James Version uses the word “iniquity”, the same as in Isaiah 40:2: the thing that will be pardoned when the Messiah comes. In other words, what Jesus calls “lawlessness” is a falling-away from God.
So more and more people fall away from God and love grows cold, and without love, people take matters into their own hands, which means they fall away from God … and the cycle persists.
It’s up to us to overcome this lawlessness.
Sure, that sounds impossible, but God has made things ridiculously simple for us:
Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
“On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
— Matthew 22:34-40
Brothers and sisters, LOVE DOESN’T HAVE TO GROW COLD ON OUR WATCH!
WE CAN HEAT UP LOVE!
We don’t have to throw up our hands and say “There’s nothing we can do”! Or even take my observation that Jesus told us this would happen and decide that it’s already been determined so why bother.
Does it really take effort to reach out to people without condition, to pray for and with them (even if — or especially if — they don’t believe in Jesus or God); how much does it take to offer a helping hand, a word of hope or to have coffee with someone you disagree with.
Will it stop mass shootings? That’s a case of proving a negative. Ask yourself: can loving others possibly be any less effective than the political rhetoric, the protests and the overall cycle of lawlessness and lovelessness that we’re seeing today?
This is our time and our test of faith and whether we truly follow Jesus Christ! Let’s do what He calls us to do!
Further to last week’s piece about loving people more than the planet: when I said that, as we turn to God, He promises to “heal the land”, I didn’t mean that we expect that the environment will magically repair itself. I’m not saying it won’t, but as we turn to God, the Holy Spirit, which Jesus promises will “teach you all things” (John 14;26), will show us exactly the right actions to take and bless them with success. Let Him lead: let us follow.