Lord, grant me the wisdom to shut up

Knowledge tells you a tomato is a fruit.

Wisdom tells you not to put it in a fruit salad.

— Anon.

At the beginning of the First Book of Samuel, Hannah can’t eat and is constantly crying, because she has been unable to have children. So takes her plea before the Lord.

So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the Lord.

And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish.

Then she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maid servant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.”

And it happened, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli watched her mouth.

Now Hannah spoke in her heart: only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk.

So Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk:? Put your wine away from you!”

But Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord. I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.

“Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.”

Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.”

And she said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

— 1 Samuel 1:9-18

One of the earliest lessons I learned in Ministry came when I met a man on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. He called himself Mike — although I found out later that his name was really Alex — and he had had a successful business. But his business partner cheated on him, his wife cheated on him and by then, in his 70s, he was destitute and living on the DTES.

And bitter as anything.

As I write in my book, God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, Mike would come into Rainbow Mission for the message and the meal, and then come up and talk about his situation, generally rehashing the past. And I, wanting to “help” and full of Bible knowledge, would try to minister to him with the Word of God and advice on how to move forward.

He would listen, nod, and then say, “But …”, and go over the whole story again.

I got frustrated because my advice wasn’t getting through. He got frustrated because I wouldn’t listen.

Finally, the Lord got through to me. “Learn when to shut the heck up, Drew.”

Apparently, Eli had learned that lesson by the time Hannah came to the tabernacle. Because do you notice what doesn’t get said between him and Hannah? She doesn’t actually tell Eli why she is so sorrowful, and Eli doesn’t press her for details. He lets her talk as much as she’s going to (he is, after all, a total stranger who had just accused her of being drunk: likely not someone she’s prepared to trust with her life story), and when she has finished, agrees with her prayer — whatever it is.

And Hannah goes away, smiling, ready to eat: encouraged that the Lord will hear her prayer and grant her her desire. Not because Eli stepped up with the “answers”, but because Eli listened and agreed.

“Whatever it is” was a phrase one pastor spoke when I went forward for prayer in church during the darkest period of my life. He didn’t bother asking what was troubling me (even though I was more than prepared to unload on him!), but simply said, “Whatever it is, Lord … whatever it is …”

And thus, we come to the difference between knowledge and wisdom. We may have knowledge of the Word of God backwards and forwards, but is it always wise to try to impart that knowledge? Our human nature is to want to provide the solutions — and, more to the point, to be seen to provide the solutions, to be regarded as the hero in the situation.

(This is not a “male thing”, by the way: you could have flipped the gender in those two roles and the message would have been the same.)

It’s important to remember that oftentimes, a person’s problem is deeper than and different from what we can see. As a result, we run the risk of being too specific and praying for the wrong thing. But God can see what the situation is, which is why wisdom is what’s important. With wisdom, we know when to shut up, listen, and agree — whatever it is.

Get out there, P.O.D.!

As evidenced by the fact that I’ve gone as much as a week between posts here (and perhaps by the fact that I just used a noun (“evidence”) as a verb, something I detest in our 21st-Century vernacular), I’ve been feeling a little dry lately. It may be the COVID-19 thing getting to me — not the lockdown part, because we haven’t really been locked down here, we go out when we need to, maintain physical distancing and don’t throw a fit when we see cashiers behind plexiglass shields: but the constant barrage of COVID-related news has become a bummer. Stories include:

  • Decline in number of new cases
  • No, wait: increase in number of new cases
  • Report of new deaths
  • Report of worldwide cases
  • Trump’s latest pronouncement
  • Predictions of a vaccine
  • Predictions of a depression to rival the Dirty Thirties
  • Predictions of a “second wave” of COVID-19
  • Reports of idiots defying restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus
  • No baseball/hockey/soccer/Australian football to temper things

That looks and sounds narcissistic, I know. No, Drew, these things are not conspiring to make your life a downer. (A columnist I know got roasted online a couple of weeks ago for displaying “Boomer Entitlement”, by describing the things he missed due to the restrictions.) But the fact is, the restrictions are taking a toll on different people in different ways, and the notion that we have “no right to complain because someone else has it worse”, just makes the feeling worse.

Last night, I came across a playlist I’d made up on YouTube that I’d called “Jesus Music”. It wasn’t “worship” music, per se — I have another playlist for that — but songs about Jesus. The difference, in my mind, is that “Worship” songs are modern-day hymns, intended to get people raising their hands, dancing, singing along and praying. “Jesus Music” doesn’t necessarily do that.

Some of those songs are:

  • “Breakfast”, “Shine” and “Take Me To Your Leader” (Newsboys)
  • “The 6:00 News” (Larry Norman)
  • “Sunshine on Leith” (Proclaimers)
  • “Spirit in the Sky” and “Jesus is Just Alright” (DC Talk)
  • “Revival” (Robin Mark)
  • “In the Presence of the Lord” (Blind Faith)
  • “I Believe in You” (Sinead O’Connor)
  • “(Jesus Hits Like the) Atom Bomb” (Blind Boys of Alabama)

(DC Talk re-wrote those cover versions, ever so slightly: in “Spirit in the Sky”, the controversial lyric in the last verse becomes “Yeah, I’m a sinner / We all sin / But we got a friend in Jesus”; the Doobie Brothers’ hit is changed to “Jesus is still alright by me”.)

All I can say is, “Thanks – I needed that.”

Listening to those songs again last night, singing along with the ones I knew and just listening hard to the lyrics in the ones I didn’t, started getting the old spiritual juices flowing again. And reflecting on them this morning, I thought of a band I hadn’t thought of in a long time: P.O.D.

P.O.D. stands for “Payable on Death”, and they’re described as “nu metal”. My son was very much into them around the turn of the century, with songs like “Alive“; “Here Comes the Boom” was the basis for the incredibly inspiring movie starring Kevin James a few years ago. I remember seeing a young man at a job I was doing, mouthing the lyrics to “Alive” as the song played, and the way young people in clubs across America would react to the music.

Just thinking about all that today, has started a fire inside me that I had almost forgotten existed. Part of it is thinking about P.O.D. — unabashedly Christian, managing to break into the mainstream, secular channels like MTV and radio airplay, and reaching young people.

The hope, amid this barrage of bummer headlines, is in Jesus, and so many young people have been denied that good news through the secularization of our culture and the claim that promoting Jesus, the most inclusive Man ever, is “non-inclusive”.

Hey – P.O.D.! You can reach them! You can do what a thousand evangelists can’t, and that’s bring them in! I don’t know where you guys are now, but we need you and any band like you! And for those of us in a slightly older demographic, we need that hope of seeing young people turn on to the Lord!

Get back on that stage! Get on the air! Here comes the boom — of Hope!

A setback … or a set-up?

Two Christians walk into a temple …

Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.

And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, who they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple;

who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.

And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.”

So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”

And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.

So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them — walking, leaping and praising God.

— Acts 3:1-8

I like to take a little dramatic license with this passage. (OK — a lot of dramatic license …) I think of the lame man as being like people you see on the street in just about any city these days, asking people for change. “Got change? Spare change? Can I have some change?”

And this guy, who hasn’t been able to walk his entire life, is saying that to people as they go into the temple. And that includes Peter and John.

“Hey guys … got change? Can I have some change?”

And Peter says to him, “You want change, buddy? I’ll give you change! In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

And our friend got change.

That’s something we have to consider today, as we have these changes in our lives imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. Change is inevitable. Change, someone said, is the only constant.

God is all about change.

Ever since He said, “Light: BE!”*, God has made change. Darkness changed to light. The formless mass changed into Earth. Dust changed into a human.

Abraham changed his homeland. Moses changed from being a prince into a Hebrew and the Hebrews changed from slaves into conquerors. Ruth changed her culture. Jesus changed from God to man to God again.

With the seasons, we get regular reminders that God is on the move.

When we receive Christ, we change.

And we fear change like nothing else. We don’t want anything to disrupt our routine, our comfort. When something changes, we tend to find what’s bad about it and fight it, tooth and nail. But even if a change looks to us at the time like a setback, if we have a little patience and remember that God is all about change and the enemy would love it if we just stayed put and didn’t progress at all, the change starts to look like something different.

Remember this fellow?

Nebuchadnezzar 1795-c. 1805 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05059

Nebuchadnezzar had change forced upon him. He was a mighty king, but pride got hold of him, and in an instant, he changed from being a mighty king into a beast of the field, eating grass like the oxen.

When he finally got his nose out of the grass and looked up to heaven,

At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me.

— Daniel 4:36

“… excellent majesty was added to me.” In other words, when Nebuchadnezzar praised God after his time in the wilderness, not only did he change back into being a mighty king, he was even greater than before.

When change comes upon us, as we look towards God, we find that things don’t “return to normal” — they come out better than we could ever have imagined or expected.

Change can often feel like a setback — that’s why we fight it when it happens to us. That’s what’s happening in our world these days, whether it’s COVID-19 or climate change. We need to remember that change is really a set-up for glory. Whether this we are being set up for the ultimate glory — the return of Jesus Christ — we can’t say; but we can be sure that the current situation is God, setting us up for something even greater and more glorious than we could ever ask or think.

*Intellectual musing: you’re welcome to it. Do you realize that God is the only entity who can use the verb, “to be” in the imperative, with no qualifier? We can say, “be quiet”, “be vigilant”, “don’t worry, be happy”; but we can’t tell something simply to “be”, because that thing already is. But God — and God alone — can say to something that doesn’t exist, “BE!”, and it comes into being.

Bring ’em in! Sign ’em up! Fill them pews! (really?)

When I was living in Vancouver’s West End — which I did until late 2014 — a woman set up a card table and chairs on the sidewalk of trendy Robson Street, advertising tarot card readings. One afternoon, I was walking home from the SkyTrain station in the pouring rain, and when I rounded the corner onto Robson, the card table was deserted and the woman was standing under the awning of one of the shops.

My “inner snark” — that part of me that keeps me sane from time to time with snarky responses — muttered, “bet she didn’t see that coming!”

I thought of that over the weekend, when I saw a piece in the New York Times that claimed there was an increase in visits to astrology sites during COVID-19. This was happening even though none of the astrologers predicted anything like a worldwide pandemic for 2020.

Now, you would think that the Times would have compared that with, say, changes in attendance at churches (viewership of online church services would be remarkably easy to track), but that story didn’t.

Indeed, it’d be tempting to consider what some call the “9/11 Effect”, in which church attendance spiked in the weeks after the terrorist attacks. One could declare from the rooftops that this is a sign of God trying to get our attention, and anyone who hasn’t repented already had better get on with it.

But as a friend of mine pointed out at a gathering of believers the other night, rather than looking to others to “draw closer to God” in these times, Believers themselves should spend time drawing closer to God. By doing so, we strengthen the Body of Christ and set an example that non-Believers will want to follow.

SO … Are we loving one another as God loves us? Are we loving people who don’t see the world in the same way?

When Jesus tells us to “make disciples of all nations”, remember that we can do that by example, as much as by words. He told Peter to “feed My sheep” — not shove their noses in the trough until they gagged on it. Feed them with love, glorifying God at every opportunity. We in The Church need to draw closer to God by doing more of that, and attracting others to the light that is Jesus.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.

1 Peter 3:15-16

The thing to remember is, the “9/11 Effect” only lasted so long — like, until people figured it was “safe” not to keep on going to church or found other ways to seek comfort. Yes, the pandemic is a glorious opportunity to demonstrate what it is to follow Jesus Christ: to demonstrate meekness, humility and love for all, knowing that it’s God who will bring us through this storm — as He does through any. Rather than fixate on “filling the pews”, let’s focus on filling the souls — with love.

Speaking of Peter, something that I guarantee will not attract new Believers is dangerous stunts like the “walk for liberty” that happened in Vancouver on Sunday. The idea was that the “lockdown” (which isn’t really a lockdown but a suite of measures to prevent the spread of the virus) had to be lifted because it infringed on “personal liberty”. John Fischer wrote an excellent piece about that concept last week.

Since some of the people involved with that protest and similar ones in other cities are also associated with Christianity, I would point out a couple of things. First, I would ask whether their concept of “liberty” is considered when they call out others for not obeying God’s Commandments.

Second, I would remind them that both Peter and Paul advised us to obey governing authorities (Romans 13:1, for example), and when they gave that advice, they were in considerably tougher “lockdowns” than we’ll ever see.

And speaking of “governing authorities”, they’re at it again in Haiti. My friend, Jen Wride, who runs Bonne Terre Farm near Port-au-Prince, tells us that the city has decided it needs to make the road through the farm wider still, and is taking away another 10′ x 300′ stretch of land, on top of the 10′ x 325′ taken away a few weeks ago. And the farm has to pay for the clearing, and the workers can’t maintain physical distancing while doing so.

Drugs, street people and the elephant in the room

A few months ago, I wrote about a columnist in Vancouver, who pointed out the failing of the current policy of “harm reduction” to combat drug abuse and homelessness. Now, another journalist, Bill Cleverley, former scribe with the Victoria Times Colonist, has taken a similar tack. Yesterday, the TC published a response of mine.

You can read the TC article here, but there is a longer version, which follows.

Bill Cleverley’s opinion piece, “Victoria’s homeless need more than harm-reduction help” (Times Colonist, April 19), finally calls out the “elephant in the room” when it comes to our approach to drug abuse and urban poverty in general. Simply put, if the intent of a harm-reduction strategy was to reduce the number of people living on the streets and reduce deaths from drug use, it has not worked. Twenty years of observation should tell us that.

There is another elephant in the room, though, that I think should be called out. I am not an expert in addictions, but I spent ten years ministering on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Many of the people there became my friends, and it was heart-rending to watch how drug use gradually eroded their minds and bodies. Men and women of all ages, ethnicities and intelligence levels (I was surprised at the education level of many of the people I met) were robbed of all these good things by the drugs and a society that has decided that the best it can offer is to make them less harmful.

There are two “inconvenient truths” that we need to confront: one, is that drugs kill. No matter how clean the needle, how “safe” the space, how vigilant the staff, using illicit drugs like crack cocaine or heroin destroys the vital organs, ravages the brain and rots the teeth so a person can’t nourish themself properly. It’s not about a cataclysmic overdose: this is a slow death. “Reduced” harm is still harm.

“Really … I’m fine …”

So many images come to mind from the DTES.

  • seeing people wandering the streets, bent double, looking for little bits of crack cocaine that someone else might have dropped in the street
  • one Saturday morning, some people pried open a manhole cover and dug up a pile of sewage in Pigeon Park. When I went out to look, there was a man sitting in the midst of it, searching for bits of drugs. A police officer was standing by, making sure no one fell in before the city crews arrived. “Are you going to take him in?” I asked. The cop shook his head. “I can’t book him under the Mental Health Act. I know: someone sitting in a pile of shit doesn’t look like he’s stable, but so long as he’s not a threat to others, there’s nothing I can do.”
  • Debbie, one of the women who came into The Lord’s Rain, declared one day that she was going into rehab and joining a Bible study. “I’m not going back to that stuff — no way!” She was sick of the drugs and sick of the methadone treatment. The next week, I asked her what they were taking in Bible study. “We’re reading Isaiah,” she said. “It’s pretty good.” The next week, I saw Debbie in the lineup to get methadone.

See, the myth is that “harm reduction” will keep someone alive until they decide they want to get off the drugs. But these three incidents show how strong the pull of the drugs is.

(And even when they do make that decision, a coroner’s report has noted that “the system” doesn’t have the supports to strike while the iron is hot. I’ve seen people who were determined to get off the drugs, only to be told, “there’s no room,” or “come back tomorrow”. By the time “tomorrow” has come, the person has had second thoughts about giving up the drugs. The old public-relations adage, “Now is too late” truly applies here. It almost makes you wonder if “the system” has any desire to see these people get well.)

So what is the other “inconvenient truth”? That any one of us is one misstep away from landing in the same situation. You never know what wrong decision, what action that “seemed like a good idea at the time”, could start a cascade of events leading to poverty, homelessness, and, yes, drugs. Maybe that’s the harshest, scariest truth of all, to say to oneself: “That could be I.”

Is “reducing” the harm the best we can do, as a society? Are we not judging addicts to be unworthy of total healing? Are we not creating a separate class of people – the ones who are addicted, poor and homeless, as opposed to the “good folk” who have avoided that calamity? And who gets to make that call?

So the other “elephant in the room” is the effect of our attitude. It’s easy to judge. It’s easy to “pass by on the other side”, either pretending not to notice them or shaking one’s head and muttering that “someone (but not I) should do something about that.” It’s easy to say, “well, when they want to beat the addiction, they will.” Anyone who believes that has no idea how the addiction, once it’s taken hold – and it doesn’t take much – dominates a person’s life, so that everything else, even eating, comes in a distant second.

As Bill writes, we need to take our treatment of people who are addicted beyond that first “pillar” and actually heal them. Does that mean forcing people into treatment? Not necessarily: whether it’s quitting smoking, losing weight or beating a drug habit, people have to want to rid themselves of it. If drugs are not the problem, but the solution for many people, and our society offers a promise of “reducing the harm”, why would someone bother getting off the drugs?

But as a society, look at what we lose. We’re talking about humans like you and me: do we measure their value in terms of worldly, dollars-and-cents “productivity”, or something different and less tangible? Consider John Donne’s words,

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind ….

And that leads me, by the way, to another scene of an addict on the DTES. I said, “No man is an island” in one of my sermons and joked, “All you have to do is say the first line of something and then say, ‘et cetera, et cetera’, and people will give you credit for knowing the whole thing.” And one of the guys piped up, “Any man’s death diminishes me.”

What was I saying earlier about the level of intelligence in the area?

This fellow, by the way, was a teacher, who had lost his job, family, and, frankly, his life because of drugs.

One mis-step away …

Our attitude towards “street people”, “the homeless”, “addicts” – who are really our neighbours – can be the greatest harm. But that’s a harm we can reduce and even eliminate. As we do that, we’ll be amazed at what follows.

Bite Your Tongue!

There are few TV shows these days that have consumed my attention like The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Maybe it’s because it’s set in a New York City I’ve fantasized about but is no more (and which my friend, Howie Siegel, who was born in Brooklyn in the late 40s and bleeds “Dodger Blue”, has said probably never existed in the first place); maybe it’s because it’s about a standup comic and in a previous life, I dreamed of being a comedian; maybe it’s because the scripts come off like Neil Simon’s Greatest Hits.

Hard to say. It’s the closest I come to binge-watching (sitting through two episodes is binge-watching, for me), and that’s having an effect: I woke up in the middle of the night, the other night, brooding on the developing situation.


One of the underlying themes that has developed involves people who can’t keep their mouths shut. Gradually, other people’s lives and hopes get eroded and damaged as a result.

That’s what kept me awake the other night: not worrying about the characters, but considering the number of times and ways that I’ve made an unguarded remark, or said something I thought was incredibly clever and witty, and it’s either set me back or caused grief to others.

My late mother, who was not exactly a shrinking violet herself and was arrested for producing a “lewd and filthy” play in Vancouver in the 50s (“Tobacco Road”, which had been the longest-running non-musical on Broadway by the time it closed), once told me, “Never say anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times!“.

James puts it another way:

Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they mayu obey us, and we turn their whole body.

Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.

Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.

But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.

Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing., My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

— James 3:3-10

The tongue leads us to react, rather than respond. Sure, it can tell us if a burger tastes good or the milk has gone off; it also told me that the can of Sprite my friend Bill handed me at school one day had been spiked with gin and that it tasted pretty good: before I knew it, I had trouble distinguishing the door from the walls.

In other words, if something “tastes good” to our tongue, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for us. Before we know it, we’ve swallowed something that we shouldn’t have.

The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil tasted good to Adam and Eve. The tongue — that “little member” of the body — overruled the brain and any sense of obedience to God.

Whether it’s words, food or drink, our tongue can lead our entire body and soul into places it shouldn’t be going. James is right: we humans are incapable of taming the tongue. We need help. We need to turn to the Holy Spirit to guide the things we say and moderate our reactions so that they become considered responses. Think of it: when that happens, we’ll become less hurtful and less judgmental, and people around us will be more receptive when we share the Good News of Jesus.

Enjoy the storm

Have you gone squirrelly yet, with the self-isolation and physical distancing and other privations brought on by COVID-19? How about the constant worry that the next person you meet, who may appear perfectly healthy, could be an unknowing carrier of the novel coronavirus and is passing it on to you? How about the head-spinning confusion brought on by various self-appointed experts who promote THE REAL TREATMENT THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT, or the ones who claim that what the government and health officials are telling you really doesn’t make sense?

Oh, yes: don’t let’s forget the very real threat of the disease itself.

We are in a storm, and there’s really nothing we can do about it, which means there’s only one thing to do: turn to Jesus to calm the storm and enjoy the ride in the meantime.

How do you enjoy a ride like this? Consider the Apostle Paul, who was en route to Rome when his ship got caught in the Euroclydon, a vicious tempest on the Mediterranean:

Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.

But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss.

“And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.

“For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve,

“saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’

“Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.”

— Acts 27:20-25

Paul was to get to Rome. God has put us — each of us, individually — on a journey, and now is the time to realize that when we focus on that, and not on the fear of things we cannot control, we will get there, and arrive safely.

The other thing to remember is that we don’t necessarily know what the destination or purpose of the journey is.

Remember when the disciples set off in a boat with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. They ran into a storm at night, and when they woke Jesus — who was asleep, comfortably, in the stern — He got up, told the storm to calm down (which it did), and as He went back to bed, said, “Why were you afraid, you of little faith?”

To the disciples, the storm had not only threatened their lives, but had knocked them off-course. It was keeping them from getting to where they were supposed to go. But the rest of the story is that, in the morning, they arrived at a spot where a madman lived. He was possessed by powerful demons — so powerful, that anytime people tried to chain him, he broke the chains — and he wandered, naked, among the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.

Even then, the disciples might have cursed the storm for putting them in a dangerous, scary place, for as soon as they landed, the madman rushed up to them. Jesus drove the demons out — sending them into a herd of pigs, which promptly plunged off a cliff and drowned — and by the time the townspeople arrived, the madman was clothed and in his right mind.

The storm the disciples had encountered did not knock them off-course, after all. Rather, it put them exactly where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there — to heal the madman and provide another witness to the glory and mercy of God.

In the same way, the storm Paul encountered landed them on the island of Malta, where he healed the father of a “leading citizen” and showed other miracles by the Holy Spirit, including healing other sick people and surviving an accidental snakebite. Presto: more manifestations, more witnesses and more Believers.

And then he went on to Rome.

So DO NOT FEAR. We can see the storm in two ways: as a horrifying, scary time when we don’t know what to do or whom to blame; or as something to move us off the track we thought we were supposed to follow, and onto the one God has laid out for us.

*”Surviving the storms of life” may sum up the existence for people in places of urban poverty like the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, BC. They’re sometimes referred to as “the homeless”, “street people”, “addicts”, or whatever. My book, God At Work – A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, puts faces on these people, showing that they are little different from you and me. From now until the end of May, you can download the book at a discount, as part of the “Authors Give Back” sale at Smashwords — e-publisher. It’s a way to provide readily-downloadable reading material for people shut in by the COVID-19 situation. Click on the link to place your order.

Also part of the special sale is the latest version of A Very Convenient Truth — or, Jesus Told Us There’d Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program! It’s an exploration of the way the current environmental trauma is really part of a broader picture that was defined for us thousands of years ago, and a reminder that God promises to “heal the land” if we only turn back to Him.

An Earth Day Apology

Dear Post-Millennials,

Another Earth Day has come and gone. The news about the state of the environment — even though it’s been blown off the front pages by COVID-19 — keeps getting bleaker. One of my “news aggregation” services just forwarded this piece from Rolling Stone about an Antarctic glacier the size of Pennsylvania that’s about to break off and cause massive increases in ocean levels.

No matter that the article came out in 2017: we needed a regular hit of bad news about the environment so we could celebrate Earth Day.

Anyway, it adds up to one more reason why kids like you are scared stiff of stuff. You have a very real fear that the Earth is going to burn up, that people will starve, places will be flooded-out and disease will rampage around the world, all because of stuff you didn’t do. You feel helpless and your backs are against the wall.

And when someone’s back is against the wall, one lashes out. You’ve been doing that, and you’ve also been doing something else that’s understandable: find someone to blame. In this case, it’s been chic to blame previous generations for today’s situation — especially mine – the Boomers.

This is an apology, but it’s not for that. I’m not going to take that rap, and neither should the rest of my generation. Because, strange as it may seem, most of the actions taken in years past were done with nothing but good intentions. Actions regarding land use, resource extraction, development, and so forth were taken primarily to build a better world for now and the future. They involved places to live, the ability to travel, whether it was to see other cultures, visit family and friends or study in far-off places; they involved giving people an opportunity to work, earn a living and feed their families; some of the profits were turned back towards helping others (three foundations dug into their bank accounts to support Gospel Mission Society, where I ministered for seven years: two of them were set up by families who may have been part of that “evil 1%” that control most of the wealth).

Yes, greed and evil were underlying motivators in many of those actions, but greed and evil have been in our world ever since Adam and Eve decided having a piece of fruit they’d been told not to eat was more important than obeying God.

But many in my generation and even my parents’ generation saw the problems these actions were causing for the environment and took action to mitigate them. We launched recycling programs, agitated for better air and water pollution controls and raised alarms about farming methods that were threatening the food chain. We demanded better public transportation options. It was all with the best of intentions. And it still wasn’t enough.

So please, don’t point fingers at us and say that we screwed up your world.

So what am I apologizing for, on behalf of my generation? Helping to take away your source of Hope.

My generation is responsible for moving people away from The Bible — the Word of God. We got this notion that following Jesus Christ and worshipping the One True God was exclusionary and discriminated against people with different “belief systems”. In Grade 9, I agitated at my high school for the daily recitation of The Lord’s Prayer to be discontinued — which it was.

It wasn’t that hard a sell, actually, because while many of us were pulling away from publicly worshipping God and acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Saviour in the name of “inclusion”, others in my generation and the preceding one were turning the Bible into the Manifesto of Self-Righteousness, turning the Word of God into a weapon with which to club anyone who Wasn’t Like Us. The reaction was to resist becoming “one of those people”, and the overall effect was to reject The Bible, Jesus Christ and God Himself.

And what’s wrong with that?

Plenty. But the point for this Earth Day period is that The Bible is the source of Hope that you — we — sorely need right now. Those well-meaning actions have failed, in different ways, to save the earth. On the one hand, it predicted the things we’re seeing today — 2,000 and more years ago. It also does something that science, technology and other things we humans have tried to think up do not do, and that’s tell us, unequivocally, what happens next. And what happens next is a time of unspeakable beauty and joy.

God promises to provide all the things we need — including a planet that’s been restored to its original, glorious state — so long as we do two things: love Him above all others, and put other people’s interests ahead of our own.

God’s promises are there in The Bible for you to read for yourself. Nothing is kept secret — although there are mysteries that you need to spend time contemplating in order to understand (and you’ll never understand all of it — one friend of mine once said that if The Bible were easy to understand, God couldn’t possibly have written it).

It’s never too late to pick up a copy and read it. Read it with the same open mind you demand of others. Sure, parts of it may make you uncomfortable; but all of it will give you hope to keep pressing ahead without the fear that has gripped you and others in your generation.

So for my part in suppressing the Bible half a century ago, I truly apologize and ask you to forgive me — and us.

The new version of my e-book, A Very Convenient Truth – or, Jesus Told Us There’s Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About The Planet and Get With His Program! is now on sale at booksellers. What’s more, as part of Smashwords’ “Authors Give Back” offer (to provide reading material for those staying indoors due to COVID-19), until May 30 you can download the book for 30% off the regular price. Such a deal.

The one we don’t forgive

“But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

— Matthew 6:15

We finished off last week talking about forgiveness: the necessity and the relief of, essentially, refusing to take someone else’s transgressions as a personal attack. That’s basically what Jesus did on the Cross, setting a very high bar for the rest of us. But how many times have you lamented, or heard someone else lament,

“I just can’t forgive myself.”


It seems fairly natural, right? You’ve done something phenomenally stupid and/or harmful to others and you’re remorseful and all that, and in trying to demonstrate your remorse to friends, a pastor, the judge, whatever … you declare that you’re constantly beating yourself up and cannot put out of your mind the fact that you done wrong.

But there’s a problem with that.

Where does Jesus tell us to forgive ourselves?

We forgive others — CHECK.

God forgives us — CHECK.

But if we try to forgive ourselves, we’re trying to do God’s job. And frankly, only God can do God’s job. Heaven knows, we’ve tried, and made rather a mess of things.

It’s actually prideful — false humility. To suggest that we can ever forgive ourselves for something is to make a show of your righteousness. Taken to the extreme, you’re almost revelling in the fact that you have the power to hurt someone else, but because you REALLY FEEL SORRY ABOUT IT, that makes you not such a bad person, after all, right?

So one is absolutely right to say, “I can’t forgive myself.” No — we can’t. The trick is to convince ourselves that God has forgiven us, and that’s a hard-enough job. The enemy is always around, trying to make us forget that and advocating against us in front of God, but

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

— 1 John 2:1

So anytime the nattering nabob of negativism* tries to bring up something you’ve done in the past, if you have asked God to forgive you, rest assured that it’s now off the books (Colossians 2:14). Jesus knows it; God knows it; even Satan knows it; we need to know it, too.

A thought: my country — Canada — has been noted for giving apologies to groups that have been wronged in various ways. There have been apologies to First Nations (for cultural genocide, as identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), to Chinese-Canadians (for the head tax and other discrimination), to Japanese-Canadians (for internment during World War 2), Jews (for turning away the Saint-Louis and its boatload of people fleeing Nazi Germany just before WW2), among others. But what I have not heard is an official request for forgiveness, which, ideally, would be followed by a granting of that forgiveness. I believe there would be an amazing breakthrough — especially in the case of First Nations — if that were to happen.

Now, there are two books of mine that are available online! You can get them through booksellers like Barnes and Noble or Kindle, or — until May 30 — just click on the link and get them for a discount as part of Smashwords’ (the publisher) “Authors Give Back” sale.

Just in time for Earth Day, the new version of A Very Convenient Truth, or Jesus Told Us There’s Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About The Planet and Get With His Program! It’s a reminder that in a time of COVID-19, climate change and other environmental concerns and a whole lot of other things to be scared of, God promises that when we turn to Him, He will take care of the things that we can’t.

God at Work – A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty puts some human faces on people of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side — or any Skid Row area, for that matter — to remove the Fear Factor that prevents so many people from ministering in such areas. The book also describes the building of The Lord’s Rain, a facility to provide showers, which was built despite a lot of obstacles that The World put in its way.

*One enduring relic of the Spiro Agnew era as vice-president of the USA. William Safire, then a White House speech-writer, coined it.

“Forgive them, Father …”

The contemplation that comes with Easter — especially coming to grips with the meaning and magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross — tends to last much longer than Sunday evening. Consider, for example, Jesus forgiveness of His tormentors.

Even if you’ve never cracked open The Bible in your life, it’s likely that you’ve heard that, as He hung on the Cross, Jesus cried out, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do!”

Forgiveness is a cornerstone of the walk with Jesus. He is the One who tied forgiving others to our own relationship with God, and the benefits are both tangible and spiritual. When you forgive, you release the burden of holding something against someone. Holding a grudge is part of our animal nature — on one hand, being a victim gives you a chance to feel morally superior to the lintbrain who did you wrong; on the other hand, it starts to take up your time and energy. You re-play the incident in your head, thinking of what you could have said or done so you would have come out on top; you think of situations where you might be able to “get your own back”.

Do you realize how much effort that takes? Reminding yourself of how someone has wronged you takes work, and blinds you to some of that person’s good points. And you know what? That person probably doesn’t even know they’ve wronged you.

Forgiving someone takes effort, too, but the Word of God tells us it’s worth it. For one thing, it’s a relief to say to yourself that you refuse to let someone else’s (mis)-deeds govern your life. You can get on with things and maybe have a decent relationship with that other person.

But more than that, Jesus tells us of the Eternal benefit.

“But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

— Matthew 6:15

In fact, Jesus raises the stakes when He tells the parable of the servant who owed money to his master and begged for the debt to be forgiven. But then he turned around and threw another servant who owed him money into prison. And when the master found out, he threw the wicked servant into “the torturers.”

“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

— Matthew 18:35

Translation: forgiving others could make the difference between our spending Eternity with God and Jesus, and … well, not.

And we need to make it part of our spiritual DNA, so that the forgiveness is not a drudging duty to God, but something we genuinely feel “from the heart.”

I’ve sometimes dumbed-down the concept to say, “If Jesus can be beaten, flogged, tortured and then nailed to a cross and left to die, and still say, in effect, ‘Hey – nothing personal’, then we can forgive someone for ____(FILL IN THE BLANK WITH THE OFFENSE OF YOUR CHOICE)____.”

But there’s an interesting dynamic in the way Jesus forgives His tormentors. He doesn’t say, “I forgive you.” He calls on God to forgive them.

Our forgiveness is between ourselves and God, unless the person who wronged us asks us to forgive them. If someone offends us and we say, unbidden, “I forgive you”, we’re claiming a moral high ground by saying that we’re the Better Person. Of course, if they ask us to forgive them, we should do so on the spot, without reservation or condition. But as I say, they may not even know they’ve offended us. Part of forgiving someone is to convince ourselves that they didn’t mean harm to us.

So, while the movie, The Passion of the Christ, takes a bit of artistic license by having one of the thieves who was crucified beside Jesus shout to a Pharisee, “Do you hear that? He’s forgiving you!”, Jesus Himself didn’t point that out: He was calling on His Father not to hold it against them.

Jesus Christ set a very high bar for us humans in so many areas. Forgiving others is but one of them. And yet, with His help, we can reach that standard. God knows that we can — we just need direction and strength to do it.

Now, then: who is the one person we are not called to forgive?

Ah. That’s for Monday.