Easter and the "killers of Christ"

(Special provocative headline)

In my early days as a Christian (I did not “grow up” in the faith, but came to it in my forties), I started to realize that Christmas, for all its beauty and mystery, had been supplanted by another holy day as my “favorite”. Easter had taken over First Place in that category – at least in a tie. With Easter came the reminder of newness, my ability to walk away from my past, and the delightful fact that the fear of death – Satan’s last line of attack – had been smashed beyond all repair: as Isaiah puts it, “the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing” (Isaiah 10:27).

With Easter coming, we can reflect on the “killers of Jesus”. Now, before anyone starts pointing fingers, let me say right away that I do not believe any person or persons “killed” Jesus. The Gospels tell us that Jesus “gave up the ghost” or “yielded up His Spirit”: I believe He did so, so that no one could be accused of “killing” Him. “Killing” Him would have been blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that He said was irredeemable (Matthew 12:31); but by giving up His ghost on the Cross, we are all redeemed.

No, this is not about “who”: it’s about “what”. And there are two of those.

ENVY.

Don’t you hate cliques? They come up in the workplace, on sports teams, churches, service clubs: people who are “in” with the leadership, trusted with privileged information. I’ve been in cliques before, and it was quite exciting – until I wasn’t. Then, they stink. You start wondering what they are doing: what are they talking about? What are they plotting? How will it affect me?

Jesus had His clique: Peter, James and John. They were the only ones who went with Him up the mountain to see Him transfigured, chatting with Moses and Elijah about “the decease He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31) and He told them afterwards not to tell anyone what they had seen.

Peter, James and John were the ones Jesus allowed into the bedroom where Jairus’ daughter had died, after Jesus had frog-marched all the mourners and scorners out of the place so He could raise the young girl without anything to contaminate the faith. Peter, James and John – along with Peter’s brother, Andrew, this time — were also the ones in whom Jesus confided about the signs preceding His return (Mark 13:3 ff.).

And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44)

And whom did Jesus take with Him into the garden at Gethsemane on the night He was arrested? Peter, James and John. (Mark 14:33, Matthew 26:37)

If you were another of the Apostles – say, Judas Iscariot – sooner or later, you would have wondered, “What are they up to? Why isn’t Jesus talking to me? Why don’t I get to see that miracle?” Since Judas was known as a thief, he already had an element of envy in his spirit, making it easy for Satan to “enter into him” and lead him to sell out Jesus to the authorities.

When one is on the outside of a clique, the reaction is not so much to envy the people in the clique as to want to tear down the leader. “Who’d want to follow that person, anyway?”

That attitude would be multiplied, because Jesus had other cliques. There were probably people who envied all twelve of the Apostles, who didn’t seem to be any different or better than they were, but got to walk with the Son of God for three years and perform miracles. Then there was the clique of several thousand, whom He healed or fed from next to nothing. No wonder the authorities – the religious leaders – felt threatened. It wasn’t just about protecting their “turf”: they were envious that this carpenter was attracting all these followers.

And what about the people in Jesus’ hometown? When He got up to preach, it was, “Who is this Guy? He’s Joseph’s kid! What makes Him so special?” To which Jesus replied, “A prophet is not without honour – except in his hometown.”

So envy was one of the killers of Jesus. What was the other?

IGNORANCE.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

That’s true on many levels: the people who crucified Jesus did not know that they were killing the Son of God; nor did they know that their motivation was the devil, or that in the overall scheme of things, they were merely carrying out God’s plan.

A corollary of Murphy’s Law states, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” and throughout the Book of Acts, the Apostles put the killing of Jesus down to ignorance, albeit on a grand scale. In one of the Apostle Paul’s speeches, he says, “For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him.” (Acts 13:27)

It’s not just that people didn’t recognize the Messiah when they saw Him, Paul says: their ignorance stretched back to the fact that they would sit through the reading of the Prophets every Sabbath and not really listen to what was being said. If they had been listening, Paul implies, they would have known who Jesus was.

It looks to me like envy and ignorance not only killed Jesus 2,000 years ago, they continue to do so today. People envy those who seem to “have it all together”, against worldly odds, and the reaction is often to reject anything to do with Jesus, God or the Bible.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Because you have rejected knowledge,

I also will reject you from being priest for Me;

Because you have forgotten the law of your God,

I also will forget your children.

— Hosea 4:6

I must say that when I finally stopped relying on others to tell me what the Bible said and read it for myself, my reaction was that people needed to read it, so they would truly know the gift God had given us.

But this is not just about non-believers. There are professing Christians who claim to follow Jesus, but their words and deeds suggest that they, too, are ignorant of what the Bible really says. When those words and deeds push people away from Jesus – condemn them, rather than edify, or try to assume moral superiority – that, too, “kills Jesus”.

So let’s remember that Easter is not about killing Jesus by envy and ignorance, but showing He lives, by rejoicing and increasing our knowledge.

Wise as serpents …

This past week, I shared a prayer request from my friend Jen, at Bonne Terre Haiti farm. Things are bad enough in Haiti as it is, but she pointed out that the people are also terrified at the thought of more totalitarianism in their country. Jen used the word “conspiracy”. Certainly, with the country’s history of brutal dictatorships and the Svengali/voodoo hold the Duvaliers held on the people for decades, you can understand the worry.

Now,. this next bit is difficult to write, because there’s a risk of sounding like some conspiracy-theorist whack-job who’s listened too much to George Noory and Alex Jones.

(Let me be clear: I listen to George Noory mainly while on my way home after a game* and it gives me practice rolling my eyes while driving. For me, “too much” of Alex Jones is if I listen any longer than it takes to recognize his voice.)

There are elements in this whole situation that don’t smell right to me, and a couple of other people have expressed similar doubts. Last week, The New York Times reported on ways governments have shown signs of abusing the powers they’ve given themselves in the name of public health and safety. That’s not just established dictatorships, but democracies like the UK and Israel.

All this is to say that, while God calls us to obey governing authorities — which, if nothing else, gives us something worldly to focus on, rather than the myriad and conflicting statements that are floating around — we have to remember:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

— Matthew 10:16

We are Jesus Followers, and that means we are sheep in the midst of wolves. We stand on our faith that, as we obey God by obeying governing authorities, God will protect us from any evil that comes along. We have all sorts of ways to continue loving others and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ without having to leave our homes or stand less than two metres away from someone.

More importantly, look at the images Jesus uses. We are to be wise as serpents. Recall that the serpent is the most cunning of all the creatures in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1). That’s how wise we have to be — we have to out-Satan Satan, in fact: be aware and ready to turn any situation to God’s glory.

And then we have to be harmless as doves. Why do you suppose Jesus would use the image of a dove? Why not a kitten or a puppy or a koala?

Because the dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit — descending on Jesus “like a dove” at His baptism. To Satan, how “harmless” do you think a dove would be?

So we need to be aware, to see past the distractions, confusion and “doomspeak” of the current crisis so that we can see the many other situations going on in the world. We need to remember that the pandemic is only a part of the list of signs Jesus said would precede His return.

Whether it’s COVID-19, climate change, the plight of Indigenous peoples or the humanitarian disasters going on in places like Syria and Yemen, we need to stay focused on what we are supposed to do. And we pray for God’s will to be done in all these situations: that people everywhere will be healed, protected and given hope.


*George’s weekend host recently had a flat-earther on, who was actually using Scripture to support his position. Don’t these folks realize that, if the earth were flat, all the cats would have knocked everything off by now?

From everlasting …

(1) Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.

(2) Before the mountains were brought forth,

Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,

Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

— Psalm 90:1-2

Those words were written by Moses — the same Moses who led the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, the wilderness and as far as the boundary of the Promised Land, some 4,000 years ago.

Even then, he and others recognized that God had always been there — in fact, “always” doesn’t even come close to describing God’s reality — and that (get ready for it), He has been our dwelling place or refuge when we have needed protection, encouragement and hope.

This is the wonderful thing about God. When I first met Him — I mean, really met Him, rather than waste words with righteousness-signalling while committing the very sins I was judging others for — it was like I’d discovered something no one else knew. Then, as I dug deeper into my relationship with Him and saw how cultures through the ages had related to Him, I realized that “this same Jesus” had always been with us; and before Jesus came, the Father had been watching over His people constantly.

Jeremiah says that the Lord’s mercies and compassion are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

No kidding.

If ever there was a time to think about this, it’s now. God has always been there and always will be. He promises to fix things, heal us and our land, mend our broken hearts and give us something to hope for beyond what we can see with our human eyes.

You turn man to destruction,

And say, “Return, O children of men.”

— Psalm 90:3

He has brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, and has carried us through countless crises since then. Thanks to Jesus, we are all God’s people, and in Jesus, we overcome, individually, whatever crisis we face.

No matter how “bad” the current situation gets, the Lord’s arm is not shortened and He is there — always has been and always will be — whenever we choose to make Him our dwelling-place.


The entire Psalm 90 is something to meditate on. If you don’t have your Bible handy, here it is.


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All things work together …

Here’s a cheery thought. The Globe and Mail reports that “some” doctors are urging Canadians to make their end-of-life preparations now, rather than leave those decisions to loved ones later.

I’ll spare you.

I mean, the sentiment is nothing you won’t see on those two-minute late-night commercials with some Trusted Spokesperson pitching us $20/month life insurance. It’s really common sense*, since we never know when the Big Sir is going to call our number.

The thing is, in today’s world of fear-driven media, a piece of no-brainer advice like that gets put into the context of the fear du jour, resulting in a completely different spin on the story.

So how about some uplift today?

Yesterday, I told you about a prayer request from my friend, Jen, in Haiti. I got to thinking about that afterwards, and realized it was the latest link in a remarkable chain of events going back over 40 years.

In 1979, I covered the Mann Cup lacrosse finals at Cyclone Taylor Arena in Vancouver for a small sports magazine. In the press box, I met a chap named Chris, who was pursuing his passion: scorekeeping, managing statistics and writing about lacrosse or amateur hockey. We hit it off, although we were never close buddies, and over the years we would collide at sports events.

In late 2003, having moved to Surrey from Victoria, I took on a paper route to help make ends meet. On the second or third morning, waiting at the distribution site for the packages to arrive, who do I run into, but Chris? We exchange phone numbers, and a couple of months later, he calls me. “The (UBC) Thunderbirds need an announcer for women’s hockey. They’ll pay. Are you interested?”

The words, “they’ll pay” got my attention.

Chris was the scorekeeper; another fellow operated the clock and scoreboard. As well as announce goals and penalties, I got to open and close the penalty box gate.

Late that spring, the head of athletic events called to see if I’d be interested in doing basketball games, too. That started a twelve-season run as UBC’s main sports announcer.

In those first few seasons, I worked for — and alongside — Jen. We stayed in touch over the years, and now, here she is, in Haiti, the founder of Bonne Terre Haiti, growing food to feed people — particularly those at an orphanage. As I said yesterday, she included me in an email list, asking for prayers for her adopted country.

All this is to point out the strange and wonderful string of events that started with my getting that press pass into the 1979 Mann Cup. Sometimes, it’s worth rewinding the events in your life to see how the connections work. Sometimes, the start seems insignificant. Sometimes, it could be a “bad scene”.

Consider the genealogy that led to the birth of Jesus Christ. If you have half an hour to call your own, have a listen to this sermon, I go into intricate detail about the number of “bad scenes” along the way — relationships that violated God’s law and births that really shouldn’t have happened. One of the takeaways is that we can’t judge a situation because we don’t know what God is working towards.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

— Romans 8:28

All things work together. There’s my favorite word in the Bible — “all” (and its similar forms, like “any” and “every” and “whosoever”). So whether it’s a big win or a tremendous piece of good news, it’s worthwhile to look back at all the events that led up to it and see how many “bad” things happened that made it possible.

In the same way, consider a bad scene now, like a lost job or a broken relationship or — yes — forced isolation because of COVID-19, and trust that this is something that will lead to something good. The trick is to keep saying, “God, You are in control, and I trust that all things will work together for good!”

Of course, that’s not to tell Him, but to remind yourself; because we need to hear that — especially with “some” doctors telling us to Get Ready.

Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!

— Psalm 46:10

*Why is it called “common sense” when hardly anyone seems to have it?

Another prayer for COVID-19

Got a Facebook message from a friend this morning (an actual friend — not a FFF (Fony Facebook Friend), who runs a farm in Haiti that provides food for an orphanage. Let’s let her speak:

Need pray warriors going on their knees for Haiti. There are layers upon layers of difficulties happening here now. Firstly there is doubt about how real the virus is. People are thinking that it is a government conspiracy to control them.

I have heard that the cost to do 1 test is $353 USD and have confirmed that with other missionaries and medical personnel. Tied into that is that people do not want to be tested anyways because of the stigma that will be attached to them. Very much like HIV.

The government has now shut down all markets across the country. People work to earn daily and buy their food daily here. There is no money to buy supplies and go home to practice social distancing. Especially not when you live in a one room house with 6 people or more!

Borders are closed, markets are closed and now prices are skyrocketing. We were able to get a bag of rice and a few packages of spaghetti last week and are still making food for staff. We have gone down to essential staff only to maintain the farm and security. I am scared of what things are going to cost when we need more supplies. Thankfully we can use a lot of what we grow for meals.

(To get some perspective of the situation there, here’s an item from the National Post a couple of days ago.)

(As an aside, the conspiracy suspicion is very likely a hangover from the years of the Duvaliers, the brutal father-and-son dictators who used voodoo to maintain a Svengali-like hold on the people.)

You know what to pray. You know how to pray — in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And we all know the Holy Spirit doesn’t work in a realm of physical distances.

Let’s get to it — in Jesus’ Name!

A prayer for this day

I woke up this morning with a strong urge to pray and write this to share with you. One of the things that is so hard for me to grasp is the notion that many people have nothing “coming through the door” because of the COVID-19 epidemic. Indeed, for all the billions of dollars set aside in government relief programs, there will still be those who fall through the cracks and still don’t qualify for a dime.

I also felt convicted. I’ve been writing about the “opportunity” that self-isolation presents to draw closer to God and suggesting that the pandemic — along with other things happening in the world — were signs that Jesus told us would precede His return. Perhaps it sounded smug, even arrogant: it wasn’t meant that way, but those points could take one’s mind off the misery people are going through, basically through no fault of their own.

It’s a simple equation, really: one person’s spending is another person’s income.

I also recall what my dad told me about the Great Depression, when the economic crash, combined with the Dust Bowl, ruined people. The image of my grandfather, standing on the porch near Belcarres, Saskatchewan, watching a huge cloud kicking up on the horizon and sobbing, because that cloud was rich topsoil, being carried away by the wind, and with it, another crop, and their livelihood.

I could never imagine what it would be like to have no income, no resources and mouths to feed and bills to pay. Am I about to find out? I hope not — but more importantly, other people are about to find out, if they haven’t already.

Please join me in this prayer:

Father, I come before you in Jesus’ Name. Thank You that you are God, and that You are in control of all things and know the big picture. Forgive us, Lord, for the ways we have strayed from You. Forgive me, for the ways I have strayed from You. Forgive me, Lord, if I have sounded smug or uncaring when I have declared that this is part of Your plan for the end of this age.

Right now, Lord, I intercede on behalf of the people who are affected by this pandemic: the people who have lost their jobs, are laid off, let go, deprived of income. You provide all our needs, and I call on You to provide the needs for those people.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be without a job, unable to pay the rent, mortgage, utilities: understanding that people who receive that money are also dependent on that for their income and may not have anything to fall back on. Provide for them supernaturally, Lord: meet their needs according to Your riches in glory. And that’s for all people, Lord: not just those who believe in you or know Your Son.

And provide for us, that we may provide for them in Your name. Those of us who are able, Lord, help us to help those who are not.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

Here’s a piece of uplift to pass along. A friend of mine from university days now manages a grocery store in northern New Jersey. As a food provider, they’re an essential service. They’ve just given their staff a 10% pay raise. Well done, Vinny! I’m sure that’s just one example of companies stepping up for their people.

Let’s make the most of our “isolation”!

Another day, and another vain search for some news item that isn’t related to COVID-19. It’s like, if a news story isn’t about the latest casualty count and measures being taken, then it’s about someone criticizing “them” for not taking steps earlier. The World Health Organization stated this week that countries “squandered” an opportunity to contain the virus by not acting when WHO said they should have; the Toronto Star has run an editorial, saying the Canadian government could have acted sooner and prevented the spread.

But rather than backward-looking, benefit-of-hindsight stuff that only gets us depressed, angry, or both (none of which is conducive to good health), let’s remember that we have the benefit of knowing that the Lord told us this would happen AND told us what comes next.

I won’t belabor the point, except to say that the current piling-on of events that Jesus told us would be signs of His return tells us we need to prepare: turn our attention away from the sickness, the political sniping, even the economic impact, and put it on Him. Look to Him for the healing and the peace and even the things of the world that we need, and let Him handle the rest.

“… when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

— Luke 18:8

Living in faith may sound like we have to do a lot, but doesn’t it simply mean drawing closer to the Lord? When we’re expected to maintain “social distancing”, let’s remember that God does not follow that decree. Far from it.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

— Galatians 2:20

And Paul tells the Colossians,

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

— Colossians 1:24-27

And Jesus promises us,

“If you love Me, keep My commandments.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—

“the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

— John 14:15-17

Do you see the recurring theme? The Holy Spirit does not recognize “social distancing” or “physical distancing” — and praise God for that! If He did, that would literally rip a portion out of us.

So this time of self-isolation, quarantining and social — or, more properly, physical — distancing, is a perfect time to spend more time with the One who is never distant: Christ in us. We can read, or just go quiet and listen for Him and to Him.

Music helps with that. Here’s an old classic you might enjoy: “In the Presence of the Lord”, written by Eric Clapton, sung by Steve Winwood, performed by Blind Faith (that’s the late Ginger Baker on drums and Ric Grech on bass). The lyrics are pretty simple: in a moment of total arrogance, I thought of writing another verse, but I realized that the song says all that needs to be said; besides, Eric’s guitar solo is a great way to groove and draw closer to the Holy Spirit. (Admittedly, many in that Hyde Park crowd were probably grooving on something else that wasn’t necessarily legal in those days.)

One more thing: my friend, Victor Emenike, would say, “Poor little devil!” Maybe the enemy thought that the pandemic would close churches and strike so much fear into our hearts that we lose our focus and kill the move of God.

WRONG.

We have a glorious opportunity to draw near and get to know Him better. Let’s take full advantage … AND … keep praying for everyone to be healed, comforted, and to know that God promises He will never leave us nor forsake us.


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A merry heart …

The news these days isn’t getting a whole lot better, is it? The Australian bushfires were a dress rehearsal for a situation in which there is probably no one on this planet — at least, in the northern hemisphere — who is not affected, in some way, by a major crisis.

People are dying from COVID-19, although they are (as I understand it) people who already had a health issue. Just about every “developed” country has decreed severe limitations on movement. The economic impacts are growing daily.

Indeed, I hope you don’t mind my mentioning it (the low end of the “affected” scale, I grant you), but this situation has personally cost me thousands already, through events where I was supposed to be The Voice being cancelled.

The author in his natural habitat: will FIBA be the next to pull the plug (on the Olympic qualifiers in June)?

And while the Canadian and USA governments are proclaiming assistance packages in the billions of dollars, I look at the reports and realize there’s no way I’d qualify.

This is not to kvetch. This is to say that, for all their good intentions, we can’t rely on governments. Medical science is still chasing this coronavirus, trying to catch up with it and create a vaccine, so putting all our eggs in the basket is a non-starter, too.

No, this is to point out the One we can rely on. And rather than hang our heads and whinge about the uncertainty and dreadful scene around us, let’s remember something very important from His Word:

A merry heart does good, like medicine; / But a broken spirit dries the bones.

— Proverbs 17:22

All the days of the afflicted are evil, / But he who is of a merry heart has a continual feast.

— Proverbs 15:15

In other words, let’s laugh in the face of this situation! We could complain until we’re blue in the mouth and at the end of it all, we’ll be right back where we started from. So let’s laugh and when we turn to the Lord and take our eyes off ourselves and the world’s “solutions”, we have no reason to despair!

What makes you laugh or brings you enjoyment? My wife, Amelia, likes “chick-flicks”. For me, it’s

  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? (mostly the original UK version)
  • Any movies by Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy
  • Old-school comics like Milton Berle, Bob Newhart and Jack Benny (before comedians decided that to be funny, they had to ridicule people in authority)
  • Randy’s Vinyl Tap — Randy Bachman’s weekly radio show on CBC and Sirius XM
  • Vintage sports telecasts (preferably complete with commercials)
  • Comic strips like Bizarro, Pearls Before Swine, Rhymes With Orange and anything by Adrian Raeside

What? A deadly disease is “no laughing matter”? Au contraire. This is the time we have to make our hearts merry and let that medicine do its job. And what are we supposed to do when we’re merry? Sing psalms, praising God and keeping Him in the picture (James 5:13).

Which reminds me: if fasting is a time for self-denial and a serious countenance, Jesus reminds us that this is not the time for fasting:

And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.

“But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”

— Mark 2:19-20

And guess what? Jesus — the Bridegroom — is with us until the end of the age! He is on our side (who can be against us?) and His Spirit lives inside us! He was taken away, but came back and is with us now! Do we need any more reason to rejoice, laugh, make merry, even with sickness surging around the world and the world’s systems powerless to stop it?

One more thing. Remember my screed, a couple of weeks ago, about Larry Csonka and the 1972 Miami Dolphins?

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

What are they wearing on their heads? Helmets. What do we followers of Jesus have with us? The helmet of Salvation. Think about it.

Like Larry’s linemen, I can hear God saying, “Follow Me. Follow Me. Stick your helmet behind Me* and follow Me, and we’ll get it there.”


*(Sanitized version.)

Stuck inside? Confused? Time to look up!

This article appeared last Saturday — March 14 — in the Victoria Times Colonist, and this is a longer version. It was written a few weeks before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, but the timing turned out to be quite appropriate. If you’re currently being told to “shelter in place”, “self-isolate”, “WFH”* or are wondering where your next roll of toilet paper will come from, it’s something to keep in mind.

The character Father Guido Sarducci (a/k/a comedian Don Novello) sometimes offered this piece of advice: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

That pseudo-aphorism always got a laugh, but I’ve found more than an atom of truth in it: many times, I’ve found myself in a location or a situation that’s left me wondering, “Why am I here?”.

When I first moved back to Vancouver, newly called into Ministry, I had a distinctly different idea of where I was supposed to be going. I told my previous boss I wanted to be a Christian talk-show host. Since I got hired next by a Christian TV station, I figured I was on that track.

But that job didn’t pan out, and back in radio, I found myself walking to the radio station along Granville Mall late at night. I would run a gauntlet of panhandlers. Usually, I didn’t have any money for them and I felt guilty, until I heard the Lord say, “These people don’t need money. They don’t need programs. They need Me. They need My Son. And I want you to tell them.”

Soon after, I wandered into Rainbow Mission near Oppenheimer Park, thus beginning ten years of ministering on the Downtown East Side. It was not what I expected. It was certainly not in any “plan” I had for my life. But it was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Recently, we were on a cruise to Sydney, Australia. Two days out of Vancouver, there was a medical emergency. We couldn’t turn back, so we ran full speed to Honolulu, arriving a day early. We bought a transit pass, took a cheap tour of the city and were heading back to the dock in the evening when we passed what appeared to be a homeless man, sitting on the sidewal. I was moved to go back. I pulled out a five-dollar bill and gave it to him, mumbling, “the One I work for wants me to give you this little picture of Abe Lincoln.”

“He” turned out to be a wizened 50-something Vietnamese woman. In her broken English, she said she had no home, and her family were all dead, including her son. She tried to give back the five-spot. She talked for a while more and let me pray over her.

Did that do her any good? At the least, someone listened to her story. Now, what if there hadn’t been that emergency and we’d arrived in Honolulu as scheduled? We would have had our planned shore tour and sailed away that night. And the night before, that woman would have sat there, all alone, forgotten, hidden in plain sight. As it was, we were where we were supposed to be – when we were supposed to be there.

The Gospels tell us about Jesus, setting out in a boat with His disciples. A storm comes up, and after Jesus calms it, they seem to have been blown off-course. When they land, a demon-possessed man immediately rushes them. Jesus heals the man and dispatches the demons.

Whatever plans the disciples might have had for the boat trip got completely upended; yet they wound up exactly where God meant them to be.

Have you ever found yourself in an unexpected situation? It doesn’t have to be a bad situation – just one that wasn’t in your “plan”. Yet hasn’t it turned out that you were in the right place at the right time?

Wherever you go – there you are. The trick is to remember to say, “OK, Lord – now what?” Soon enough, He’ll tell you.

One more thing: as I write this updated version, the morning sun is streaming through the dining room window. Hummingbirds are fighting over the feeders outside. My cat is prowling the forested grounds, looking for adventure and our plum trees are budding like mad. Crocuses are popping up in unexpected places and ravens are making their presence known, their wings flapping gracefully and loudly as they fly by.

In other words, non-human life is going on, and God is reminding us, “I’m still here! Turn to Me!”

Wherever you go – there you are: and there He is, too. Sometimes we humans have to work to remember that — but right now, we have to make the effort.


*WFH = Work From Home. Yeah, I thought it was rude, too, at first.

COVID, pride and a government decree

Some years ago, a fellow called me on a mobile phone (back before it was a “given” that everyone had a mobile phone). In the middle of the conversation, I recognized the background noise.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Are you at a gas station?”

“Yep.”

“And you’re talking on a cell phone while filling the tank?”

“Yep.” At the time, there was an urban legend about cars being set on fire by electromagnetic waves coming from cell phones and mixing with gasoline vapors. “But don’t worry,” he said, “I prayed for protection from the Holy Spirit.”

The car did not blow up. (Chances are, it wouldn’t have, anyway, but that was before the urban legend was debunked.) But there was still that little sign, warning people not to use their cell phone while gassing-up.

And that brings us to the question of authority versus Holy Ghost protection.

It’s been interesting to consider some of the responses churches have had to the dicta from governments in Canada and the USA, that gatherings of over 250 people should be cancelled. In fact, that advice has been revised in the week since then to “no gatherings over 50” and then to “no gatherings over 10”. Initially, I thought that if any place should stay open, under the protection of the Holy Spirit and standing on Psalm 91, it should be a church.

But that would bring God’s people into conflict with the governing authorities, and regardless of whether we think the governing authorities are full of navel lint, God is quite clear in His Word:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

— Romans 12:1

Defy the governing authorities, in other words, and you’re defying God.

Put another way, you’re walking in pride, part of the “laundry list” of things that Jesus says defile a person:

And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

“thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.

“All of these evil things come from within and defile a man,”

— Mark 7:20-23

Pride is a case where a person says, “I know better than they do!”, where “they” are the people in charge, the ones who know the big picture and, presumably, have considered all the factors.

Or maybe they haven’t, and the person really is right, but God says we still have to obey them, because He’s put them in charge for a reason, and if anyone knows the Big Picture, it’s the Big Sir.

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

— Proverbs 3:34 (quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5)

One more thing: not even Jesus was willing to “stand on Scripture” and disobey the Father.

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

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

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

— Matthew 4:5-7

This is a delicate time. We want to continue spreading the Gospel and demonstrate the Holy Spirit’s power; but now we have to do it within certain constraints imposed by the governing authorities.

Well, Peter and Paul were under some pretty serious constraints from the governing authorities when they wrote their epistles, and those have been moderately effective, wouldn’t you say?

So let’s look for opportunities within the newfound limits — that “new reality” people talk about — and humble ourselves to submit to the authorities without complaining. Doing that can be a great way to start our own witness to others.