The ultimate team sport

I’ve said this before (maybe not in as many words), but I believe God created North American football (Canadian or American) to provide metaphors for the walk with Him.

Miami Dolphins running backs (left to right) #21 Jim Kiick, #39 Larry Csonka, #22 Eugene “Mercury” Morris during their undefeated season. Mandatory Credit: Photo By Tony Tomsic-US PRESSWIRE (c) Copyright 1973 Tony Tomsic

I’ve written about the tale of “Wrong Way” Riegels and redemption at the Rose Bowl, and the concept of “Run to Daylight” when witnessing Jesus to non-believers. In one of my sermons, I talked about Vince Lombardi and his annual “back to basics” welcoming message, and I’ve referred to the Nick Buoniconti Factor — where people see the works of God all around them and when someone says, “It’s God”, they say, “No … no … that’s not it.”

I can’t think of another sport that parallels the Great Walk the way football does. Not baseball. Baseball is a team game played by individuals. At any given moment, it’s individuals who are required to do their job right: make the right pitch, catch the ball, throw it accurately, put down the tag, hit the ball, beat the throw. Nine players on the field, but at any given time, an individual has to do the job.

But football is a different animal. That was brought home the other day when I watched a documentary about the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

I had been a Dolphins fan from the get-go: I was obsessed with dolphins since fifth grade, so when I learned the new football team in Miami would be called the “Dolphins”, I was an instant fan. That fandom reached fever pitch when the ’72 Dolphins went undefeated and untied and won the Super Bowl.

Mind you, with my football knowledge being a mile wide and a foot deep, I mainly knew the Big Names on the team, like Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, so something Csonka said in an interview for the documentary struck me.

“My favorite five seconds,” he said, “was being in the huddle, and looking across at [the guys on the offensive line], and they’re all saying, ‘Follow me. Follow me. Stick your helmet up my — and follow me, and we’ll get it there.”

And that was an eye-opener. Kiick and Csonka got the publicity, the fame, the statistics as the Guys Carrying The Football, but the offensive linemen, whose names I had to look up because I only vaguely knew about them, had to do their jobs so that Kiick and Csonka could do theirs. They were proud of the job they had to do, and Kiick and Csonka and the other Big Names knew they were safe and protected as they did those jobs.

What does that have to do with the walk with Christ?

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.

And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:

for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,

to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,

to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:1-12

What position do you play? What gifts has the Holy Spirit given to you? What does “get it there” look like as we witness Jesus to others and how do we give others the comfort and protection — the blocking — to help them in their ministry?

You may not know the answer to that yet, but seeking the kingdom of God involves finding out from the Spirit what those gifts are and then, when you’ve learned, rejoicing that He has entrusted us use them to promote Jesus to the world. When we play our position and join with others as they play theirs, we all succeed in “getting it there”.

The “new thing” and the meaning of life

In The Moomins series of children’s books that I grew up on (up on which I grew?), one of the characters is a muskrat, a philosopher. He was a depressed and depressing fellow, whose main work was a book called, The Uselessness of Everything. I’m not sure if that made me leery of philosophy all my life, but it didn’t help its image in my child’s mind.

The Greek philosophers, at least, got excited about things. According to the Bible, they were always interested in hearing new ideas. So when the Apostle Paul started preaching Christ in the streets of Athens, they were intrigued and brought him up to their meeting place on the Areopagus, so they could hear what “this babbler” had to say.

You probably know the story. Paul is perturbed by all the idols and shrines to various gods around Athens, and he picks up on one idol, “To The Unknown God”. “Guys,” he says, “I know who this God is!”

If philosophers are generally searching for the meaning of life, Paul handed it to them, gift-wrapped. And the gift is for us, too, two millenia later.

“God who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.

“Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,

so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us,

“for in Him we live and move and have our being ….”

— Acts 17:24-28a (emphasis added)

There it is.

God created us all, set up our “times”, where we live, what we are supposed to do, all for one reason: that we seek Him. More than that, he says, God is not that hard to find, hidden in plain sight, within us.

“You will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”

— John 14:20

Kind of takes the steam out of the philosophies of those like the Stoics (life is to be endured) and the Epicureans (life is to be enjoyed), doesn’t it? Life is about love and drawing closer to God so we can be with Him in Eternity.

That’s just as true for us now, as it was then. And here’s something else that’s true: it’s a concept almost as foreign to today’s (western) society as it was to the first-century Greeks.

Our society these days puts its trust in the “ABC”s (Anything But Christ): mystic philosophies, crystals, mindfulness, science, technology, even pursuing wealth — “many ways to the top of the mountain”. People seem to want to find new ways of living — new ideas, as the philosophers in Athens did. As I’ve written before, Jesus is emerging as the new “alternative lifestyle”, a novel concept that there is only one Way to seek God and find Him within us.

Let’s present Him that way to the people we meet: not as something from an “old book”, but a living, breathing, effectual way of life in all its fullness.


One more thing: bear in mind that the coronavirus, with all the fears surrounding it, is just another sign that Jesus foretold about His Return. It’s also something of a mis-direct, to get us obsessing about one thing at the expense of other crises in our world: climate change, persecution of people for religious beliefs, drug addiction, homelessness, divisions based on heritage or outward appearances and so forth. Those are all very present, and we need to remember that God has promised that as we turn to Him and obsess on Him and His Son, He will take care of it all.

All.

Addressing racism: where’s your heart?

The truth is in the proof is when your heart starts asking

“What’s my motivation?”

— from “Shine” by The Newsboys

Over the weekend, the New York Times’ “Ethicist” dealt with a question from a woman in Maine, upset that a tradesman working on her home had a Confederate flag on his truck. Should she confront the guy about this apparent “racism”? Should she confront his boss, which may lead to the tradesman getting fired?

The Ethicist’s response is worth a read in its entirety, but one theme is that it depends on your motivation. How does she intend to talk to him about it?Why would she, a white woman, confront someone on this, anyway? Is she trying to strike a blow for tolerance? Is she assuming that this guy is a racist? Is she personally offended by the flag?

OR … does she want to make herself feel or look superior by calling him out?

This is where Jesus Christ comes in.

“Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”

— Matthew 6:2 & 5

Jesus is not just talking about our prayer life: we can apply that principle to speaking up about anything that offends us. Are we doing it to make a change, or to make someone uncomfortable? Are we doing it to change someone’s mind, bring an alternative point of view to light; or are we doing it to show off how “good” we are — “righteousness-signalling”, as it were?

There have been numerous occasions when I’ve been tempted to rip into someone for saying something I perceive to be an offense to God — like the times when someone blithely uses the word “evolution” or any of its derivatives — but after all was said and done, what that have served the Kingdom? Would the other person have been brought to their knees and believed in God the Creator and Jesus Christ the Redeemer? More than likely, it would have driven that person away, as the remark would have come out of left field and derailed their overall point. I might have felt good about myself for “taking a stand”, but I probably would have looked to others like one of them, a religious nut, yadda-yadda-yadda.

As ambassadors of Christ, we are no longer supposed to talk and act on our own: we are called to wait for the Holy Spirit to give us the words we need (or, as Jerry Savelle has said, “If you can’t speak the word of God, shut up!”). And when we do speak, it’s supposed to edify, not tear down.

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.

— Romans 15:2

Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. …

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

— Ephesians 4:25 & 29

“Please [your] neighbor,” Paul writes, and that leads to edification. In other words, stay on his or her good side and lead them to Jesus that way. Whatever you say, he says, let it be something that builds up a person, and grants them grace, not something that tears them down and makes them inferior. We are members of one another, and if we tear down someone else, we’re tearing ourselves down in the process.

“Kill and eat.”

St. Peter’s vision of unclean beasts; After Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino; 17th century. Courtesy: Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.

Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance

and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth.

In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.

And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”

But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”

And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

— Acts 10:9-16

Peter balks at eating the “unclean” creatures, which is the main focus of this incident: accepting and receiving people who had not been considered “God’s people”. But there’s another key part of the command: he’s supposed to kill them, too.

Why would he have to do that? Why wouldn’t the meat already be laid out in the sheet — maybe with those little pointy things shaped like the animals, like you get at some dinner parties so you know which is the steak and which is the pork?

Because killing is an essential part of one’s Salvation. Paul writes that we have to

… put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience,

in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.

— Colossians 3:5-7

People who come to Christ ultimately make their own decision, whether to put off the “old man” and put on the “new man” (Colossians 3:9-10), but those of us witnessing Jesus to them have to be responsible for helping in that “killing” — just as an accessory to murder is held just as responsible as the one who pulls the trigger.

There was no way the “meat” of those unclean creatures could have been prepared for Peter ahead of time. Those who are not “God’s people” to begin with need an outside force to introduce them to Him — resulting in that “killing”. That outside force could be as simple as planting a seed and trusting that it will grow, or something a bit more complicated, like doing random acts of kindness toward others and then crediting Jesus when someone wants to call us a “hero” (even if that leads to ridicule).

All religions are about killing,” I’ve heard on occasion — especially when it’s pointed out that people in some other religion are directed to kill those who don’t believe. I’ve shot back that Jesus is not about religion or forcing people to convert on pain of death, but now I realize that that’s not altogether so. There is an element of killing when someone comes to Jesus. Just not the way others do it.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

— 2 Corinthians 10:3-6

So when the opportunity presents itself to witness Jesus to people who don’t yet know the “meat” will not be laid out on the table for us. We’re responsible for “killing” — helping them put off the old person and put on the new.

A new disease and the old fear

Nothing like a health crisis to stir up blind panic.

Today’s New York Times reports that the Chinese government has expanded its campaign to round up suspected victims of the coronavirus beyond the city limits of Wuhan. The Times reports the mass quarantines have been chaotic and some people are being herded onto buses without preventive measures and others are left to die alone.

A few days ago, some pundits were speculating that President Trump, who apparently has a phobia about germs, may respond to the situation with a rash action (pardon me).

Fear is the motivator behind all this. That’s not telling you anything you didn’t know: people fear getting sick, they fear dying, and they especially fear any kind of situation that is beyond the control of themselves or other people.

Fear is the motivator behind climate change activism. It’s the motivator behind protests against pipelines. It’s also the barrier to ministering to people in poor urban areas.

A “progressive” think-tank in the USA recently identified fear as the motivating factor behind conservative reactionism, as opposed to the peaceful calm with which progressives handle situations. I hate to break it to you, kids, but progressives, too, use fear to rally the troops.

But fear happens to be what I call The Eleventh Commandment.

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,

Nor of the arrow that flies by day,

Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,

Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

— Psalm 91:5-6

If you read the “old” King James Version of that passage, it begins, “Thou shalt not fear ….”

That comes across as one of the Commandments, doesn’t it?

And among the things that thou shalt not fear is “pestilence”. Rampant disease. Epidemics. Pandemics. Health emergencies as declared by the World Health Organization.

That’s how Jesus Christ changes the approach to our world: we approach things in faith, not fear.

Faith is the belief that regardless of the circumstances, God will come through for us and be true to His promise.

Fear is the belief that God will not come through for us and be true to His promise.

As Jerry Savelle says, “Fear tolerated is faith contaminated”.

Let’s walk in faith in this and other situations — the faith that we are protected from sickness, we are healed before anything even touches us. If we do get caught up in some totalitarian scheme “in the interests of public safety”, let’s walk in faith that we will not be harmed and use that as an opportunity to witness the Gospel to others. In short, let it be like Jesus’ promise to those who believe:

[In My name] they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them*; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.”

— Mark 16:18

Jesus took care of the biggest fear of all — death — so how much more are we able to handle lesser things, like sickness, climate change, financial considerations or being mugged in a dark alley, with Him on our side?


*Do not take that as an invitation to slug back a bottle of battery acid, or to walk into a pit of cobras with a mouse tied to your belt. We’ll deal with that one another time.

John Harper and a matter of priorities

Another Christian writer posted a piece the other day about John Harper. He was a Baptist minister who was en route from the UK to a new position in Chicago when he ran into a spot of bother.

The ship sank.

He was on RMS Titanic, and having put his 6-year-old daughter on a lifeboat, he proceeded to run around the sinking ship, pleading with people, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!”

This item from the Baptist Press has a good account (it’s not the article that I initially read), and since our world currently has its figurative back to the wall — as I wrote yesterday — there’s an element of Rev. Harper’s actions that’s worth considering.

Think on this: leading people to Jesus Christ is a thankless job — at least in this world. You run the risk of ridicule, of being fobbed off with a “blah-blah-blah” response or even accused of spreading hate speech. So how do you get past that?

I’ve tried engaging people in conversation and gently hinting at what I believe and that it works for me and can work for them, too, but that’s kind of a coward’s way and only makes me think that I’m witnessing Jesus. What am I ashamed of, anyway?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

— Romans 1:16-17

And now, I’m doubly ashamed, because I’m also ashamed that Paul has called me out for feebing-out on the gospel of Christ*.

But look at what John Harper did. Or rather, look at what he could have done, and didn’t.

According to the Baptist Press article, Harper was a widower, and could have jumped into the lifeboat with his little girl. He also had a lifejacket, but when one fellow blew him off for saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!”, he handed him the lifejacket, saying, “You need this more than I do!”

Being a man of God, he could have called for a prayer circle, or dropped to his knees and prayed for his own safety, couching it in a prayer for the safety of all the people on the ship.

He could have cursed God, and died (Job 2:9).

Instead, he made proclaiming Jesus Christ as the way to eternal Salvation a higher priority that anything else: fulfilling the Great Commission, over his own physical preservation. As you read in the article, he even witnessed to another man just before he disappeared beneath the waves.

That, I daresay, would impress people he encountered. Seeing someone devoting their last breaths to concern for others might have looked like lunacy at first, but who knows what seeds were sown in those moments, or how those seeds would have flourished, years down the road?

Of course, we’re not to worry whether we’re seen to be putting God and Jesus Christ ahead of our own wellbeing. Our actions have to be Spirit-led and genuine (and I hope that time of witness doesn’t come when a ship is going down or a plane is plummeting out of the sky!): those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, will know!


*Some versions omit the words “of Christ” from that passage — i.e. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God …”, but I think that destroys the meaning. The gospel — the word of God — is already the power of God; but the gospel of Christ — the Holy Anointing that comes on us when we receive Jesus as our Lord and Saviour — is the power of God to salvation. Through the Anointing, the righteousness of God is revealed. The “of Christ” puts true meaning into that passage.

Backs to the wall

If I were to regale you with my testimony — which I won’t: not yet, anyway — I would tell you that my decision to come to Christ came when I ran out of other people to blame.

My back was to the wall. My life had cratered and I had no place else to turn. That was when I called on Jesus to help me, and He did. No, my life has not been all jam in the seventeen years since then, but I’ve broken out of the pattern of progress, plateau, setback and start over that I had fallen into. And I’ve known where true Hope lies.

But it started with my back to the wall.

I’m sure that’s a common factor with many people who have come to Jesus. It’s when we reach our lowest point ever that we realize we have no control over the circumstances in our lives and our only resort is to put our trust in Him. I know that’s a cliche, and is often followed by some high-minded response like, “He should be our first resort — not our last!”, but we’re human.

So I look at the current situation with coronavirus — COVID-19, as it’s been dubbed by the World Health Organization (doesn’t it feel better, now that it has a catchy name?) — with quarantines and a cruise ship being sealed off and another cruise ship being refused entry to five countries, even though no one on board was sick, before being allowed to dock in Cambodia, and I see a world that has its back to the wall.

Doctors haven’t found a cure. People have been dying from the disease; and yet, others have shown symptoms — one of them apparently infected other people — and then tested negative for the virus.

This adds to the “end-times checklist“, and could be the biggest sign of all that the world now has its back to the wall. A disease for which medical science has been neither able to predict nor cure, and from which some people recover completely while others die, simply compounds the sense that we humans are powerless in the scheme of things.

The only One we can turn to is God.

The only avenue we have to Him is through Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life: all the things we desperately need and are in woefully short supply right now.

As I’ve said before, I’ve envisaged God saying, “Hi! I’m over here!” We can’t let up, in pointing people to Him.


Farewell to a Friend Dep’t. A woman I knew in high school passed away yesterday from cancer. She’d been battling it for at least two years — it was two years ago this June, that she told me a trip she was taking would be her last time travelling. Publicly, she maintained a positive attitude right to the end — even posting on Facebook up to the day before she left us — and I hope I have that same attitude is something similar befalls me.

A year or so before she told me about the cancer, she posted this picture on my Facebook timeline:

It was a case of God’s exquisite timing. She had no way of knowing, but at the time, I was going through one of those periods when one questions if one is on the right track. This was a big confidence-builder and confirmation, and I’ve been grateful to her ever since. All this to say, sometimes, you never know what a “word in season” will do.

Mind that spirit …

On the TV show, New Amsterdam, one character brings his new girlfriend to Sunday dinner with his family. As they’re about to say Grace before the meal, the lady says, “Well, I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.”

To which one of the sisters replies, “Oh, yes? Which spirit?”

In the uncomfortable moment that follows, the audience could either say, “Ooh … how Religious!” or “She’s got a point.”

The writers appeared to land in the first camp, but I have to say, I sit in the second. I wrote the other day about turning to the Holy Spirit to guide one’s words and reactions to a situation, and if you’re not being guided by the Holy Spirit, then how are you being guided?

God is binary. Light and dark; good and evil; male and female; seed-time and harvest:

A time to be born, / And a time to die;

A time to plant, / And a time to pluck what is planted;

A time to kill, / And a time to heal;

A time to break down, / And a time to build up;

— Ecclesiastes 3:2-3

With apologies to Monty Hall, there is no “Door Number 3”.

And so it is with the Spirit. Once we start making acting, thinking, speaking and making decisions based on anything but the Holy Spirit, we’re stepping into the devil’s territory. Adam and Eve saw that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was “pleasant” — it appealed to their senses of sight and taste — and put a higher priority on that than on obedience to God.

And hasn’t that worked well for us?

When it comes to following spirits, John reminds us,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,

and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

1 John 4:1-3

In other words, when one says one is “spiritual”, there are really only two choices. One, is that one is following the Holy Spirit, and the other, is that one is following the enemy.

Now, how do we know that we’re listening to the Holy Spirit?

Here’s my “litmus test”:

  • If the direction or idea is completely opposed to anything I would have thought of, myself, it’s a good sign that it came from the Holy Spirit.
  • If it doesn’t appear to benefit me directly, that’s a good sign, too.
  • If it makes me uncomfortable, or stretches me to do something I don’t think I can do, it’s very likely from the Holy Spirit
  • There are no “winners” or “losers” — no “zero-sum” solutions. When you put God in charge, everyone wins in some way.

Any direction has to align with Jesus’ two “greatest commandments”: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself (as you, yourself are loved by God*). In other words, the solution to whatever you’ve brought before the Lord will likely give you the least immediate benefit, and you have to have faith that it will benefit everyone in the long run.

You’ll notice I’m not saying that the direction has to be supported by Scripture per se. It’s easy to pull a piece of Scripture out of context to justify doing something that’s clearly not Godly, like dumping your spouse and family because Jesus said that anyone who leaves their family for His sake will receive a hundredfold family in this life and eternally (cf. Mark 10:29-30). “Testing the spirit” boils down to asking yourself if you are motivated by love, or self-interest?

So when you consider the notion of being “not religious, but spiritual”, it’s fair to ask, “Which spirit?” Walking in the Holy Spirit is not a matter of “religion”, as such, but remember that if you’re walking in anything that doesn’t square with the Greatest Commandments, you’re walking with someone else. And it ain’t good.


*I prefer to read it that way, since “love your neighbour as yourself” suggests that if we happen to hate ourselves, for whatever reason, that gives us license to treat our neighbour like dirt. But it makes more sense to me, that we would be called to love our neighbour the way God loves us — unconditionally.

Decent discourse, and a case of “What if …?”

WARNING: slight profanity– quoted — below.

In the comic novel, Through the Fields of Clover, by Peter de Vries (1961), one of the sub-plots involves Harry Mercury, a comedian who hosts a TV variety show. His “people” and those of another TV host, Lew Pentecost, devise a plan where the two comics would “feud” with each other over the course of the season. The idea would be that both shows would benefit, because audiences would tune in every week to see what insults each comic would hurl at the other.

(People of an older generation will recall that Jack Benny and Fred Allen did the same thing, with remarkable success. A typical insult would be Fred Allen, “When Jack Benny plays the violin, it sounds like the strings are still in the cat!”*)

“WELL!”

Alas, the wheels fall off the plan when one of Harry Mercury’s writers writes some jokes that make fun of Lew Pentecost’s obesity and the size of his nose. Pentecost hits the ceiling when he sees the jokes. As Mercury’s two writers try to decide how to salvage the deal, one of them says, “It stands to reason that you can’t have a feud with a goddam sore-head!”

That line keeps coming back to me when I look at the level of discourse in our society these days. Not just in the things people say, but in the reactions.

A few days ago, a female member of Canada’s parliament was speaking about the recent murder of a prostitute in Montreal, making the case that the government needs to do more to protect sex workers. A male MP from another party asked her if she had considered sex work.

In the uproar, the male MP apologized unreservedly, and tried to explain what he meant, but his meaning was lost in the controversy of the way he said it.

As I understand it, the MP was not asking the other member if she had considered going into sex work, but was leading to a point that “sex work” is not something any woman or girl should be forced into.

This is not about that discussion. It’s about the fact that there are a whole lot of complex issues in our world, and people are so divided and entrenched in their views, that anyone who tries to have a conversation about these issues needs to be really careful how they broach the subject.

Point One: we need to lighten up. Just because someone disagrees with us doesn’t make them evil or even inferior to us. And let’s try to grant someone the grace to realize they’re saying something with the best of intentions.

In other words, don’t be a ****** sore-head.

But my main point is, the male MP could have put his point better, if he’d paused to consider Jesus’ words.

“Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say.

“For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you should say.”

– Luke 12:11-12

Does that apply to parliamentary debate, or even everyday conversation? I’d say it does: if we can rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the words we need when our faith is on trial and our lives are on the line — as Jesus says it would be, in front of the synagogues, magistrates and authorities — how much more can we rely on Him to give us the right words in everyday conversation?

We need to do more of that. The Holy Spirit is about responding to a situation, not reacting to it. Humankind has been all about reacting since The Garden, and look at the state we’re in now. Time and time again, God calls us to suppress our animal instinct

The case of “What if …?” is this. What if that MP had taken the time to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in making his point about prostitution? What if the MPs who shouted, in a knee-jerk reaction, “Shame!” across the floor had prayed for understanding as to what he was getting at?

What if … when we share our views on any subject, whether it’s known to be controversial or no, we stop, drop and pray, asking the Holy Spirit to give us the guidance we need? And then listen, as He tells us what to, how to and even (dare I say it?) whether to speak.

What if … we were to do the same when someone comes at us with a view we don’t agree with?

Eldridge Cleaver once said, “Too much agreement kills a chat.” We’ll probably have a lot better chats, and get a lot more done, if we learn to engage the Holy Spirit before we put the mouth in motion.


*In olden days, violin strings were made of cat-gut. Do not despair, fellow cat lovers: “cat”-gut was actually taken from sheep. Why it was called cat-gut probably has a very good reason, but I don’t feel like looking it up.


Cliques, envy and Judas

Don’t you love cliques?

You know: those little “inner circle” groups of people who, hang out together, plan things together and in some cases, can wield not a little influence over others.

You see them in schools, churches, clubs, workplaces: I’ve rather enjoyed being in a clique — until I wasn’t.

Because if you’re not in a clique, you start to wonder what they’re up to, and if you’re sufficiently paranoid, you start to suspect that they’re out to get you, personally.

Jesus had a clique. I don’t mean the twelve He called as apostles, but three, in particular, who got what some might say was special treatment. Peter, James and John were that clique.

Those three were among the first four that Jesus called — Andrew, Peter’s brother, was the other one (Matthew 10:2). Then there’s this:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;

and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.

And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

**

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

Matthew 17:1-3, 9

Yes, those three got to see the transfiguration, and were told to keep it to themselves until after Jesus had risen from the dead. In fact, as near as I can make out, they are the first ones to be privy to the idea of Jesus “rising from the dead”. Certainly, Mark records that they questioned among themselves what Jesus meant by that.

That’s not all. When Jesus goes to the home of Jairus, the ruler of a synagogue whose daughter had just died, the only ones He allows to go into her room with Him are Peter, James and John (Mark 5:37).

Then there’s this:

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew (Peter’s brother) asked Him privately,

“Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?”

And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you.

“For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many.”

— Mark 13:3-6

You’ll notice Jesus didn’t say, “Good question. Hey, everyone, gather ’round and listen up!”

Instead, they asked Him privately, and He told them privately: at that time, it was information for them, and only them.

And on the night He was betrayed, whom does He take with Him to Gethsemane? You got it: Peter, James and John.

Clique? You might say that.

And that would have engendered envy in at least one person I can think of: Judas Iscariot. He had a reputation as a thief (John 12:6), which covers two of the commandments (don’t steal and don’t covet) and would make him a prime target for envy. His paranoia would have been firing on all cylinders, to see those other three hanging out with Jesus: “What are they saying? Do they know I’m a thief? Am I on the outs with the Son of God? Who does He think He is, bringing those three with Him and cutting the rest of us out?”

(To a degree, envy might have been behind Thomas’ doubts: he’s the one who said they should all go to Jerusalem with Jesus to see Lazarus and “die with Him” — figuring they were already dead meat. When the others told him, after the Resurrection, that they had seen the Lord.

(THOMAS: Sure – He appears to you, but not to me? I’ll believe that when I see it!)

But to get back to cliques, often (here’s the pop-psychologist in me coming out) when we feel we’re being excluded by a clique, the reaction is to try to bring down the perceived leader — expose him or her as not being worth following. The envy would have been more than enough of an opening for Satan to enter into Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3; John 13:27).

Naturally, envy would have been behind the religious leaders’ desire to get rid of Jesus. Not only did they feel their authority was threatened, but Jesus had this inner circle of twelve men, plus a number of women, who believed He was the Son of God. “Why aren’t we allowed into that group?”

This isn’t about cliques, though: it’s about envy. Cliques can be divisive, but envy is destructive. It eats one up on the inside and builds paranoia. That’s one reason why God tells us not to covet anything anyone else has — including the “ear” of the leader of a group.

It’s right to question and be aware of what people are up to — wise as serpents and harmless as doves — but there is holy circumspection — “testing the spirits” (1 John 4:1) — and then there is suspicion based on the simple fact that someone else is “in”, while we’re “out”.