Kobe and Redemption

The evil that men do lives after them

The good is oft interrèd with their bones.

— Mark Antony, in Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare

I don’t know where Shakespeare got that one: most of the people I know who have passed on, have left legacies of good. But these days, you could add the words “thanks so social media” to the first line and it would be true. Not exactly iambic pentameter, but you get my point, I hope.

John Fischer, in his daily online offering, The Catch, wrote a lovely piece about Kobe Bryant the other day. In fact, much of his writing this past week has been about the basketball star, and the things he meant to the community. (It’s interesting how an urban area of nearly 19 million people can be a “community”.)

Such a surreal moment, watching the Raptors and the Spurs take turns, running down the 24-second clock to honour Kobe Bryant (#24) on Sunday night.

The timing of John’s piece was interesting and possibly coincidental, as it came as a Washington Post reporter had run into trouble after she tweeted a link to a story about Bryant’s rape charge in 2003. I won’t go into the details, but this item from ABC in Australia is a pretty good rundown.

The point from reading John’s posts — something more on-the-ground and personal than tweeting a link to a story — is that Kobe Bryant apparently repented and got on with life — not as a basketball superstar, but as a member of his community.

And repenting is something that’s available to us — and something required of us, if we are to survive.

“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

— Luke 13:3 & 5

As He often does, Jesus injects a double meaning into His words. The situations He addresses with the disciples involve seemingly unjust and unexpected worldly deaths — a tower falling on people or Pilate massacring Jews and mixing their blood with that of the sacrifice. But “perish” also means being separated from God forever, and that, too, can happen in ways we humans might think are unjust.

But when we repent, God does something only He can do. Heaven knows we humans can’t.

He forgets.

Oh, the enemy tries to remind Him of what we’ve done, but

… if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

1 John 2:1

and when the arguments in front of the Throne are finished,

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

So while the enemy — that nattering nabob of negativism — constantly tries to make us remember what rat-finks we’ve been in the past, we need to keep in mind that if we have confessed and repented, God has forgotten.

From the DTES – Lojas

Have you ever felt like you were in the presence of a fallen genius?

When I was going over my book the other day*, I realized that of all the stories I’d included about people I’d encountered on the Downtown East Side, I had left out the part about Lojas.

He pronounced it like the Spanish “Luis”, although he was from one of the Eastern European countries — Hungary, would be my best guess. I first became aware of him at Rainbow Mission. Neatly dressed, in a brown jacket and usually with a brown cap (I can’t remember him without the cap, in fact, so I have no idea if he was bald, or what), he stood up at one service and read from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,

Because the Lord has anointed Me

To preach good tidings to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives,

And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,

And the day of vengeance of our God;

To comfort all who mourn,

To console those who mourn in Zion,

To give them beauty for Ashes,

The oil of joy for mourning,

THe garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

That they may be called trees of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

— Isaiah 61:1-3

And he sat down. Pastor Bob Brown was leading the service. He thanked him; there was a bit of a pause, to see if anyone else wanted to share anything, and then we went on.

Another day, he asked me if he could put on a puppet show at one of the services. “I want to explain the Bible to people, using puppets.”

“Go for it,” I said.

The show was about Adam and Eve in the Garden. The “puppets” consisted of pieces of cardboard, each stapled to a stick, with “ADAM”, “EVE” and “SNAKE” printed neatly in felt marker. Using the pulpit/lectern as a stage, Lojas moved the puppets around, giving Eve a cracked falsetto, Adam a deep voice, and the Snake appropriate hissing noises interspersed with his lines.

With the story told, Adam and Eve banished, the snake cursed, the puppets all took bows and a few people clapped when they realized it was over, and I couldn’t help thinking that here was someone who sincerely wanted to share the Gospel, and was grasping for different ways to get people’s attention.

Over the next few years, Lojas would pop up at services — both at Rainbow and at Gospel Mission. A very quiet loner, whom I would also see walking the streets on the DTES, perhaps praying quietly, perhaps lost in his own thoughts.

He asked for prayer for healing after one service, telling me he had cancer. I kept seeing him long after that: considerably thinner, but still up and about, so I have no idea if he had been cured or the cancer had gone into remission.

It was after that prayer, that he came into the office after a Saturday night service at Gospel Mission.

“I want to talk to you about an idea for a game,” he said, “and maybe you can help get it out there.”

“What’s the game?” I asked.

“It’s called ‘Gospel Chess’.”

“‘Gospel Chess.'”

“Yes. Do you play chess?”


“But you know how it works.” He pulled out a piece of paper with some diagrams drawn on it. “See, in chess, the idea is to kill as many of your opponents as you can and prevent the king from escaping. But in ‘Gospel Chess’, the idea is not to kill your opponents but to use your moves to gather them in. The Gospel is all about bringing people together under Jesus, so this game helps you to do that.”

I tried to digest that. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I heard a line from a long-forgotten movie: “It’s a crazy, stupid, impossible idea … AND IT JUST MIGHT WORK!”

I had to bury that thought, because Lojas was deadly serious — remember that bit about him grasping for new ways to spread the Gospel to people? That was the case here. I replaced the movie line with the realization that here was a genius, who somehow wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

“Can you help me get it out there? No one else is interested.”

“Let me give it some thought.” I looked harder at the diagram. “But how …?” I started to ask.

“You can’t see it either!” he snapped. “No one can see it! It’s right there! You don’t make moves to beat your opponent, you make moves to bring everyone together. It’s not about you winning or them winning, it’s about everyone winning!”

He turned on his heel and left. I can’t remember talking to him after that: he probably had me clocked as one of those people who were out to discourage him and prevent him from reaching others with the Gospel; but in worldly terms, I knew no one in the game industry and if I couldn’t grasp how ‘Gospel Chess’ worked, how could I explain it to them?

Lojas never opened up to me, so I have no idea how he wound up on the Downtown East Side, wandering lonely through life and believing that the rest of the world Just Didn’t Understand — and hence, Just Didn’t Accept — him.

What I do know is that here is another illustration, that we can’t paint everyone in a Skid Row area with the same brush. They’ve come from well-to-do families, successful businesses that went wrong, a lifetime of “survivor’s remorse” from being the only one to live through a car crash that killed the rest of their family; a momentary lapse when someone said, “here – just try this”; a decision that their life was going nowhere on the Rez, so they’d head for the city …

At the end of the day, as the Lord told me that night on Granville Mall in 2004, what they need isn’t money or programs or a “safe place to shoot up”: they need Hope and they need Jesus; and they need us to tell them about Him.

*God At Work – A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty is available through Smashwords (just click on the link) or at any online bookseller like Chapters/Indigo or Barnes and Noble.

Evil woman (?)

Hey woman, you got the blues,

‘Cos you ain’t got no one left to use

— “Evil Woman” by Jeff Lynne (ELO)

It’s a couple of years, now, since my wife and I walked away from what had been our “church home”, when the congregation voted against allowing women to be elders. I wrote about it at the time, noting how the Word of God supports women in leadership.

Yet, throughout history, women have been cast as “evil”. This episode of “History Bites”, a satiric TV series, mentions some of the arguments, some of which were made by men later canonized as “saints”. But as it was in Paul’s argument against women preaching, they claim that women are “evil” because Eve was deceived by the serpent.

They conveniently leave out the fact that the Word tells us Adam “was with her” at the time. Either he was deceived, too, or he didn’t have the cojones to say to his wife, “bad idea, honey!” Or both. Note that, when God called them out on their disobedience, Adam’s main response is to point fingers both at Eve and at God.

Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

— Genesis 3:12

“It’s all Your fault, Lord, for giving me this woman in the first place!”

Self-righteous positions tend to cover up one’s own moral failing, and that was no exception.

So what about the “evil woman” thing? Why this attack on women throughout the ages?

Check this out:

So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

— Genesis 3:14-15

It’s a nuance, maybe, but do you notice that God doesn’t speak to Adam and Eve in the plural, when He talks about her Seed bruising the serpent’s head? Eve is the one who gets to produce the Seed (note the capital “S” — it’s a prophecy about Jesus). God has singled women out for a very important role: producing the ones who will stomp on Satan’s head — and only receive a bruised heel in the process.

Could there be a tinge of envy in the pronouncements about “evil women”?

Try this for size:

And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying,

“We will eat our own food and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by your name, to take away our reproach.”

— Isaiah 4:1

“That day” is the Day of the Lord. I’m still ruminating on this one — what do you think of this? — but doesn’t it suggest that in the time of the Messiah, that perfect “day of the Lord”, women will be independent for their livelihoods, yet still reliant on men for moral and spiritual support?

Feminism — God-style?

Don’t you get a tinge of envy when someone else gets an important assignment — regardless of whether you think you can do the job, yourself? I repeat: is that what this longstanding “evil woman” theme is really about?

Something worth considering, for sure.

A soft answer …

A couple of weeks ago, the pastor at Keawala’i Congregational Church — where we go when we’re on Maui — gave us all a heads-up. Westboro Baptist Church may picket them in the near future.

Westboro is the church that’s been known to picket the funerals of fallen soldiers, declaring to the grieving families that their children died as God’s punishment for America’s falling-away from God.

It appears the issue that has these people torqued has to do with a transgender student at a local high school, and they’ve already paid a visit to the island once to show how much they figure God is offended. Keawala’i, the pastor said, may be in their crosshairs on this second visit.

“So, if they do,” he said, miming giving someone a hug, “make sure you give them lots of aloha.”

A soft answer turns away wrath, / But a harsh word stirs up anger.

The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, / But the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, / Keeping watch over the evil and the good.

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, / But perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

— Proverbs 15:1-4

Wise words, both by the pastor and King Solomon. When someone is in your face with a disagreement, especially when they’re using Scripture quotes — or even a religious tone — to back up their position, our “fight or flight” response kicks in, and our desire is to meet them on their level.

But Jesus Followers are advised (if not commanded) to overcome that fleshly reaction and defuse the situation with a “soft answer”, or, as Paul writes,

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

— Romans 12:21

If a person’s argument is not founded in love of God or love of others, love the person anyway: lay out the welcome mat, offer them a cup of coffee and a place to sit down. Don’t try to engage them argument-for-argument. because their own “fight or flight” response will kick in and you’ll never get anywhere.

And pray that God will take control of the entire situation. Remember that just because you disagree, that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

I haven’t mentioned my book, God At Work – a Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, for a while. That’s because I had another think about it and re-worked it a little. Basically, after reading Charles Price’s foreword and doing an interview with John Fischer on his BlogTalkRadio show, I realized they were focusing on the stories of the Downtown East Side, rather than the building of The Lord’s Rain. So Part The Second is now Part the First, and the book is back in circulation. It’s available by clicking on the link above, or online through bookstores.

Faith, Patience and a Tarrying Lord

That’s an expression you hear some old-school preachers use some times: “If the Lord tarries”.

“If the Lord tarries, I’ll see you next week.” “If the Lord tarries, I’ll visit Africa next year.”

It’s about declaring a desired plan, but leaving open the possibility that God may have other plans we don’t know about, that would cancel anything we planned to do — like the Second Coming.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”:

whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”

James 4:13-15

But throughout history, we’ve wanted to do things in our time, and not as the Lord wills.

When Stephen, one of the seven disciples chosen to take care of the daily distribution to widows, was accused of blasphemy, he launched into an account of the history of the Israelites.

“This is he [Moses} who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us,

“whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt,

“saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’

“And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.”

Acts 7:37-41

In other words, they got impatient, waiting for Moses to come back from meeting with God, and created their own idol — a golden calf — to worship and even gave it credit for leading them out of Egypt.

When Moses found out, he threw the calf into the fire, ground it to powder, mixed it with water and made the Israelites drink it.

In the same way, it feels like our society has done the same thing with Jesus. He was taken up into Heaven nearly 2,000 years ago, and what have we done? We have anticipated His return. Maybe we misconstrued Jesus’ saying that “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things [the signs preceding His return] take place” (Mark 13:30), thinking that He meant a “generation” the way we mortals measure it — from parent to child. I believe He actually means a different kind of “generation”: the Holy Spirit generation, which isn’t measured in human years.

Nevertheless, haven’t we — as a society — started asking, “Where is He? We do not know what has become of Him”. In His absence and our impatience, we have given up waiting and made idols of our own to worship, be they money, science, human intellect or New Age icons.

We need to beware: when Jesus does come down, perhaps people who still cling to the idols will be forced to swallow them, as the Israelites were with their golden calf.

So where is He? Is the Lord “tarrying”? That’s not for us to say.

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night …

Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:8-10a, 13

So let’s hang in there! Let’s get rid of the idols in our lives and return to God in our worship! And let’s make sure that those around us don’t perish, either, when that day comes!

Indignation, Peter, and #WDJTUTD

The other day, I got an invitation to sit in on a conference call with some members of an evangelical association. The topic is concern about new legislation being brought in by the government. I’m going to guess that it involves restricting what churches and preachers can do in certain situations and will be declared “another assault on Christianity”.

Excuse me, but dozens of people getting their heads chopped off for being Christian is an “assault on Christianity”; certainly the report by the Bishop of Truro for the then UK Foreign Secretary spells out atrocities around the world that are far worse than what we see in North America; in fact, any “freedom of expression” issues in North America didn’t even move the needle in that report.

Being aware of such legislation is valuable, because, like finding out about symptoms of an illness, we then know what to pray about. But we have to remember that we followers of Jesus are a different breed. We are expected to preach the Gospel, whether it’s legal or not, and when someone threatens us for it, keep pointing people towards God, and not our own “victim status”.

And when [the Captain and officers] had brought [the apostles], they set them before the Council. And the high priest asked them,

saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look: you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”

But Peter and the other apostles answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

— Acts 5:27-29

And the apostles were willing to go to jail, be beaten or executed, rather than stop preaching the Gospel. And what were they preaching, after all? Were they naming sins and condemning people? No: they preached that Jesus came to earth “to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31)

Recall Peter’s sermon, which I talked about yesterday: it was all about the new hope in Christ — not the degradation of the world. It was about God fulfilling His promise of sending a Savior — not about sins that made us need to have a Savior. That message brought 3,000 souls to Christ in one day, and more and more as the days progressed.

That should tell us something. Rather than cry out, “Help! I’m being suppressed!”, let our example and our words of peace be incontrovertible. It’s no crime to spread good news, even if it’s made a crime to believe and to declare that some things are an offence to God; if we’re as effective as Peter was in proclaiming Jesus, those “offences” won’t have a chance.

Here’s a challenge for you: is protesting “restrictive” laws or declaring something is an offence to God a way of deflecting attention from the fact that we’ve fallen down on the job we’re supposed to be doing?

#WDJTUTD = What Did Jesus Tell Us To Do?

He told us to spread the Good News, to heal people, to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit and show the love that God has for all of us. He didn’t tell us to protest and complain “This is so not fair!” As Jesus Followers, we’re part of a counter-culture that’s been around ever since Calvary. It’s what makes us different.

The Pharisee Gamaliel advised his colleagues that if the doctrine Peter and the Apostles preached was really nothing, then it would wither and die within a generation; but if it was of God, it would not go away, and they would be putting themselves in a very awkward position by opposing it.

Let’s remember that. If we stick to our “playbook” and not get distracted by the things the enemy wants us to fuss about, we’ll see more people come to Jesus. And that, after all, is the name of the game.

Was something “missing” from Peter’s sermon?

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.

“For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.

“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel …”

— Acts 2:14-16

And Peter goes on to deliver the first Evangelical sermon, describing the prophecies that point to Jesus as the Messiah and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (which those who witnessed the commotion in the upper room had written off as drunkenness), and “with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying ‘be saved from this perverse generation’.” (Acts 2:40)

And 3,000 people came to Christ in that moment.

But as you read Peter’s sermon, you may notice something missing, and I believe that is the key to the sermon’s success. He doesn’t mention sin.

He doesn’t accuse people of being bad and hellbound: he declares the Good News that the Messiah, the One who had been promised for generations, has come, conquered death, and enabled all people to come closer to God.

Yes, he refers to “lawless hands” and the unjust crucifixion of Christ, but he tempers that by saying that Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) — in other words, that everything that happened was according to God’s plan all along, and the people involved were only playing their part.

He also calls on people to “be saved from this perverse generation” — but he doesn’t dwell on how the generation is perverse or whether the people he’s speaking to are necessarily part of it.

Instead, Peter exhorts them: he encourages them with the news of the love God has for His people. He says, in effect, “Come on! I have seen the Lord! Let’s follow Him out of the darkness!” (Much as Peter’s brother, Andrew, said to him at the beginning of their walk with Jesus (John 1:41).)

And that evangelizing worked. Three thousand people that one day; more, as the days went on. Paul brought others to Christ by pointing them towards God — consider his speech at Areopagus (Mars Hill), where he helped them to know the “unknown God” — rather than pointing them at themselves and their sin.

That needs to be our focus as we talk to our NBFs* today: a better way – the only way – and that any troubles we have in our lives can be resolved by turning to God through Jesus Christ. Admittedly, there are challenges, especially when it comes to intimating that sin is a root cause of our problems. People do get their backs up when it’s suggested they might be responsible for things going wrong in their lives.

But that’s where testimony comes in. Even if you just say, “I realized that my troubles came from being disobedient to God,” and that by turning to Him, strength and solutions started to come, you put your own personal stamp on the message. No one can argue with your experience.

Nor can anyone argue with this, which is probably the greatest evangelical message of all:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

— Matthew 11:28-30

Even as we compile an “end-times checklist“, looking at the various things happening that fit in with what’s supposed to happen just before Jesus returns, there is some good news. Our prayers for rain in Australia have been answered! There’s more on the way for the weekend in New South Wales and Queensland, and that should give the firies (firefighters) some respite. We need to keep focusing our prayers on the people who’ve lost their homes and for the animals who’ve suffered in the fires, and certainly, we can’t say, “Thanks, God – we’ll take it from here!” As with any instance where He has pulled us out of a disaster, we need to take it as a reminder to keep drawing closer to Him. That’s especially true in the immediate recovery period, when rebuilding one’s life is more than one can handle with one’s own strength.

One of the latest additions to that checklist is the report of a mysterious new virus in China. As of last night’s news, there had been nine deaths and 400 cases. In a country of – what – 1.5 billion people, does that constitute an “outbreak”? Certainly, the news media say so, but here’s the thing to note: the fear of an outbreak can be destructive, too. Keep focused on God, and hold onto the faith in His ability to keep us healthy!

The End-Times checklist (a living document)

  • tsunamis
  • stronger, more intense, more concentrated hurricanes
  • earthquakes
  • volcanic eruptions
  • civil wars
  • wars between countries
  • deadly, incurable diseases
  • mass starvation
  • mass shootings
  • terrorism
  • die-offs of coral reefs and various forms of ocean life
  • deaths from drug use, and a “harm reduction” mindset based on the idea that drug addicts are not worthy of healing
  • a general “me-first” attitude in society
  • wildfires in California
  • phenomenally destructive and unprecedented bushfires in Australia
  • new disease reported in China
    • Coronavirus a/k/a COVID-19

Thinking about that dream …

This post — admittedly belated — initially ran two years ago and again last year for Martin Luther King, jr. Day. I think it’s still something to consider.

Today, my cousins and friends in the USA celebrate Martin Luther King, jr. Day, and it will be a time to discuss how far race relations have come — or haven’t come — in the years since Dr King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC.

Lately, there has been a lot of focus on diversity and identity, essentially breaking people up into discrete groups, based on outward characteristics. But was that the spirit behind Dr King’s dream?

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood … that … one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

He wasn’t talking about Black Power, or pride, or even affirmative action: he was talking about unity and brotherhood, as James Taylor reminds us.

King wasn’t the only one with that theme around that time: Kath Walker, an Australian Aboriginal poet and activist, wrote:

I could tell you of heartbreak, hatred blind,

I could tell of crimes that shame mankind,

Of brutal wrong and deeds malign,

Of rape and murder, son of mine.

But I’ll tell instead of brave and fine,

When lives of black and white entwine,

And men in brotherhood combine — 

This would I tell you, son of mine.

— Kath Walker a/k/a Oodgeroo Noonuccal 1920-1993

So … not “power” of any one race over another, and not separation based on race or history; not talk of revenge against former oppressors or even special consideration; but brotherhood and integration. The Apostle Paul would appear to agree:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), there is neither slave nor free; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

— Galatians 3:27-29

In Canada, there is a similar situation involving First Nations. The “reserve” system and specialized programs — not to mention other policies put into practice over the generations — have served to segregate First Nations people from non-Indigenous people. That runs counter to Paul’s principle of unity and brotherhood among anyone who has put on Christ.

So we can wring our hands now and look back on the past 50-plus years and wonder why Dr King’s dream seems even farther away now than it did then. But I believe one of the reasons for the setback has been that the progress that has happened was achieved through legislation — forcing change down people’s throats in an attempt to find a quick fix. The changes have been cosmetic and did not address root causes — including bitterness on the part of those who felt they were the losers in the world’s zero-sum thinking where if one person wins, someone else has to lose. True change starts in the heart, and moves forward through prayer, unconditional love and PATIENCE.

That was, after all, the way Jesus came into the world; He started as a baby, whose birth had been prayed-for by devout, patient people (like Simeon and Anna at the Temple), growing into a man, eventually arriving at His time to appear to the world.

One wonders: what if people had opted to pray for integration and softening of hearts between the races, and then waited patiently for God to do His work? Instead, people got impatient and wanted change NOW. Did that change really happen?

What if people had determined to love and forgive others, no matter what they did to them? What if people had determined they would stand on God’s promise, because the “effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous [person] avails much”?

Is it too big a stretch to say that today, we could well be joining hands as brothers and sisters with “lives of black and white (and red, yellow and brown) entwining”? Is it too big a stretch to say that God would have come through faster and more decisively than we could ever have imagined?

Praise God, the Cross allows us to get back on track as soon as we make the decision to turn to Him. It’s a calling on each and every one of us, and it’s never too late to start.

“If My people …”

“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,

“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 sin and heal their land.”

— 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

That passage keeps coming to mind when I look at the fires in Australia, the volcanic eruption in Philippines, the cyclone bearing down on Fiji and the earthquakes in Puerto Rico. There’s also been talk of a new “mystery illness” that’s broken out in China.

But while the end-times checklist makes for an unmistakable call for us to lead more and more people to Christ so they’re not left behind when the Lord does return, there’s something else that’s key to our role as “God’s People”. It may even be easier, in some cases, than overtly evangelizing.

That is to turn to God, ourselves.

The Lord’s promise is that if “My people” pray and turn to Him, He will heal the land. He doesn’t say that all people have to be the ones praying: just that His people had to pray. The impact of that prayer is not simply on our land and home, but on the land of those around us.

Remember that Elijah prayed first for drought, and then for rain (James 5:17). When Jesus set out on the Sea of Galilee with the disciples and later calmed the storm, “other little boats” were in the vicinity (Mark 4:36). They would have been just as threatened by, and just as saved from, the storm as the disciples were.

In other words, our prayers affect not just us, but those around us, regardless of the other people’s “belief systems”.

So if we are “God’s people” — that is, not necessarily “perfect” in the self-righteous sort of way, but if we love Him above all, put everyone else’s interests ahead of our own, and submit our ways to His ways — we have a responsibility to pray. We pray for specific situations, but also continue to seek His face, ask Him to expose whatever wickedness still lives inside us and turn to Him to heal it; and as we do that, He promises to heal the land.

Not just our land, but that of those around us.

There’s our marching orders. Let’s march!