Saturday, July 30, 2016

The beautiful fruit: a reminder from the Lord

One of God's many attributes is that He is self-revelatory -- i.e. He makes Himself known to us in His way ... and sometimes, those ways can be surprising -- and surprisingly glorious. 

My wife, Amelia, and her mother came home yesterday with an egg-crate full of fresh figs, bought from a chap on the Saanich Peninsula. Delicious! Hasn't this been an amazing summer for fruit? We've been enjoying "two-bite" cherries, amazing peaches, blueberries and blackberries ... my friends in Otter Point realized last week they have to pick their apples NOW because their tree is so full and those babies are READY! 

Come to think of it, our apple tree has exploded with apples this year -- it hardly bore anything last year; these ones are not quite ready -- but they will be, soon.

It almost makes you forget the turmoil and strife in our world. But the turmoil is man-made, and the solutions, so far, have just brought more turmoil.

And here we have these magnificent fruit crops, which are the product of that ages-old partnership between humans and God: a combined effort of what we need to do and what we leave to Him. (Isaiah 28:23-29 refers, in part, to that partnership.)

There it is: God, revealing Himself in a beautiful way that is both understated and spectacular, that He is here, reaching out to us through the branches and bushes to give us the very best.
He's reminding us, too, that even in the face of all the things that worry us and cause us fear, don't despair. He's there, calling to us to turn to Him with all of our issues.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Racism: Is "understanding" what it's about?

The inter-racial strife we're seeing in the United States is bringing pleas for greater understanding. White people, the thinking goes, have to make a greater effort to understand black people and they're "experience", as a way of reducing racial tension.

That seems like a good idea, but is that a Biblical approach? What did Jesus tell us to do?

Was the "new commandment" He gave us in John 13:34 that we understand one another?

No: He calls us to love one another.

Understanding others is an unrealistic concept. How can I "understand" an entire race made up of individuals with individual experiences? Indeed, who says you can apply any one set of "understandable" attributes to a particular race?

Doesn't that lead to stereotyping, of a condescending, rather than hostile, kind? How do I "understand" someone, anyway? Do I Google "understand black people"? Do I plunge into a study of the history of everybody who Isn't Like Me and not emerge until I've got it down-pat?

What if I find I can't understand someone? What if I can't fathom abject poverty or persecution? Do I give up on the idea of racial harmony?

And how can I deal with the here-and-now if my nose is buried in history?

But love picks things up in the here-and-now and moves forward; it levels the playing field, which is exactly what Jesus wanats of us. It allows us to move past skin color and ethnic background to see people as the children of God that we are. We come to the revelation that, as Kenneth Copeland once said, there are only two races in God's eyes: those who know Him and those who don't.

Striving to understand another perspective only lasts as long as our energy and determination to keep learning. For some, that determination might do a fast fade as soon as someone in the group we're trying to understand says, "how can you ever understand what I've gone through?" On the other hand, love -- submitting ourselves to everyone else -- lasts forever and cannot fade.

Most importantly, love brings God's will onto a situation. We've tried to "understand" people and to legislate equality and niceness, both of which are man-made devices to address a situation that, deep down, we know is beyond our control. But God is standing by, waiting for us to call Him in, and the way to do that is to fall back on Jesus' New Commandment.

One more thing: Jesus warned us there'd be days like these. He told us, "because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold." [Matt. 24:12] We're seeing both happening now. The encouragement to draw from this is that seeing the predictions of 2,000 years ago and more coming to pass should be proof that God is alive and we should look to His word to find out what else is happening. For those of us who do know what else is going on because we've read the book, we know how to focus our efforts and attention -- and it's not on the things of this world.

But to my main point, ask yourself this:

Would you rather be loved or understood?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas, 2015! (War is over)

-- "The Nativity" -- Salvador Dali, 1959

And suddenly, there was with the Angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host, praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"
-- Luke 2:14

Recently, I was struck by something I'd puzzled about for many years: John Lennon's declaration that "War is over, if you want it".

The Angels' song, heard by the shepherds outside Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, was actually a declaration of war: war on war, in fact, as only God can do it. With those two sentences, He changed the game, and with World War III blazing all around us, let's take a breath and contemplate that.

The movie Miss Congeniality spoofed a recurring theme in the hopes and dreams of beauty pageant contestants -- to work for "world peace". A friend of mine recently sent her own non-religious holiday greeting with the words Pax in terra. But if you parse the Angels' song, you actually find that "peace on earth" is just one of three interconnected ideas:
  1. Glory to God in the highest
  2. On earth peace
  3. Goodwill toward men
I believe those three are not only interconnected, they're inseparable. We are to give the greatest glory to God -- glorify Him with our words, our actions and most importantly our love; and extend goodwill towards everybody, regardless of their declared Religion, background or past -- remembering that "goodwill" actually means God's Will, and His Will is for us to have more abundant life.

When we do that, we have peace on earth.

Can we have peace on earth without giving God the highest glory and extending His will towards people?

Have we even tried?

War is over, John sang, if you want it.

As I contemplate that, I realize that God has done His part to end the war. He's given us an "out" through the Birth of His Son, that breaks us out of that vicious cycle that comes from the human desire to want "one last lick", but it's up to us to receive it. It's up to us to declare, "war is over".

This Christmas, and heading into 2016, I pray that we'll all reach out, in our way, to receive that amazing Gift the Lord has given us: the solution, that smashes the chains of our own human nature and the yoke that comes with it, and truly sets us free.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jesus Warned Us There'd Be Days Like These ...

Out here on the Left Coast, we've just come through some of the most ferocious storms in recent memory. On Southern Vancouver Island on Tuesday, we had winds touching hurricane force, and caused the governor of Washington to declare a state of emergency after at least three people were killed. Colorado, Kansas, Illinois have also been whacked with unusually strong storms.

In the US, NOAA is warning of more to come, thanks to a really bad El Nino.

There's also another round of international negotiations and finger-pointing over climate change as more evidence mounts that big changes are happening.

On top of that, there are the terrorist attacks -- each day seems to bring some new report of inhumanity. I wrote in a post last week about how Jesus warned us, nearly 2.000 years ago, that these things were coming. Today, I'm reminded that He also told us this:

"... because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."

The love of the homeless and impoverished in cities like Victoria and Vancouver has never been particularly warm (as I write this, an extreme weather alert -- for cold -- has been issued in Vancouver) and different levels of government are spending more time declaring the situation is another level's responsibility than doing something about it.

The response to the refugee situation is strikingly un-loving. Maybe even moreso, because of the hostility towards these millions of innocent people, trying to escape murderous situations in their home countries.

Countries that may have seemed like safe havens have blocked their entry, even for temporary asylum. (Read the Facebook posts from my friend, journalist Iayisha Khan, from Lesbos, Greece.) Indeed, a better word would be refusees, rather than refugees. 

In North America, the refusees have become a political football, with right-wing politicians -- many of whom profess to be God-fearing, church-going Christians -- declaring that because these people are presumed to be Muslims, then there are bound to be terrorists among them.

A "selah" moment: 

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

-- "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus -- the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty

All this is not Doomspeak, by the way. Rather, it's to point out that these are wake-up calls -- symptoms that we need to change our focus, strengthen our relationship with God and endure to the end (Matt. 10:22), because what comes next is ... Jesus returns. As we do that, dealing with the symptoms -- like caring for the environment and caring for others -- follows as the night the day.

Many non-believers (and even some "liberal" Christians) tend to dismiss the Bible as an "ancient book" that's out of step with today's times. Consider what this "ancient book" has predicted about what's going down now: maybe it's not that out-of-step, after all.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Paris attacks: remember the antidote to fear

We cannot give in to fear following the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Since Friday, there's been talk of tightening borders, turning away refugees on the outside chance that there's a terrorist among them, continuing the bombings on IS sites and "war", in general.

In Canada, there are already “I told you so’s” coming out of the political and journalistic circles in Canada about our new prime minister’s campaign promise to withdraw from the anti-IS coalition.

On Twitter yesterday, someone asked rhetorically why we're concerned about France when we "don't give a rat's butt" about what's happening in Africa.

Actually, that assumes that people don't care about what's happening in Africa, and it totally misses the overall point here.

"Caring" about "what's happening in Africa" implies that the name of the game is to fight Islam and, essentially, hate Muslims.

But that's not the name of the game. This is not about hating anyone -- there's already enough hatred going on, so to hate someone in return is to return evil for evil.

The Paris attacks are particularly poignant for people in the First World because they remind us that they can happen in our back yard, and aside from the thousands of people whose lives have been turned upside-down and inside-out by the carnage on Friday, millions more (billions, perhaps?) are walking in fear that they could be next. And that just magnifies the impact of the initial attacks.

What's more, people are afraid that, because intelligence, vigilance, military action and even peaceful, tolerant "outreach" towards other groups has not worked, they are totally powerless in the situation. And that's FEAR.

Forget the A-bomb and the H-bomb: one F-bomb can spread destruction all over the world.

(I know "F-bomb" generally refers to a word that's been increasing in social acceptance lately, but we're going to appropriate the term for these purposes.)

And what's the antidote to fear? If we keep that in mind, we'll realize that we have more power over this situation than we could ever imagine.

"... there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love." 1 John 4:18

Combating fear does not mean strapping on a bulletproof vest and toting a sub-machine gun wherever you go. It means extending love to our enemies -- and given that the "enemies" turned out to be people walking among everyone else in Paris, that means, extending love to everyone -- just in case. ("Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some have unwittingly entertained angels." Hebrews 13:2)

Because, you see, this is a spiritual war. The IS communiqué after the Paris attacks closes with “Allahu Akbar!”, and the terrorists are all described as Islamists. This means that, whatever scriptural grounds they have or don’t have for killing people, they believe they have a license to kill, and this license comes from On High. 

Worldly weapons have no real power against that. All they'll do is kill the people you can see, but others with the same spiritual mindset will come along, as we've seen ever since 9/11. The prediction by British MP George Galloway, that if we were to take out Osama bin Laden today, 10,000 more would rise up tomorrow, was never more 

The Apostle Paul writes that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12) He also writes, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.” (2 Cor. 10:4)

This means turning (back) to God; not trying to do things in our own strength and wisdom; forgiving our enemies – especially our enemies – and loving all, unconditionally, as God loves us. The effect of that is guaranteed in the Word of God to break out of the pattern of you-hit-me-I-hit-you-back that perpetuates the carnage and misery. It means praying and connecting with God through His Word, so that we’re aware of where danger lurks and wise as to what to do about it.

(It also means you don’t “lead with your face” by going out of your way to insult someone else’s religion, even in the name of free speech. Jesus says we’re to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.)

The beauty of this approach is that it engages each and every one of us in this spiritual war. We don’t have to rely on the military, espionage and counter-espionage, or politicians of any stripe. What's more, the Word of God also guarantees victory and (this just in) we're no closer to victory now than we were 60 years ago.

How can we believe that the Bible holds the answers? Because it’s already told us it would happen. Jesus warned us we would see wars and rumours of wars – and what is terrorism but a “rumour of war”? But in the same talk with His disciples, He also says that “he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24:3-14)

On a spiritual level, this de-fangs the enemy. Terrorism thrives on striking fear into people's hearts, and heaven knows, it's working. But the antidote to fear is love. The Apostle John writes,  (1 John 4:18)

Hmm ... "He that fears is not made perfect in love." Do you catch the nuance there? Even though we may be the ones being terrorized, hated, attacked, and even killed, the onus is on us to love and forgive. But that also means we have the power to overcome terrorism -- by refusing to walk in fear, and refusing to be afraid to love.

Yes, I know some will say this sounds simplistic and weak-kneed, but we have to ask ourselves, How is the current approach working so far?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Humans as "Super-Predators"? There's a Commandment for that!

A couple of University of Victoria researchers are about to publish a study on humans as "super-predators".  It's an extension of something people have talked about for a long time: over-fishing, over-hunting and over-using our resources in all ways.

The study acknowledges that, on the one hand, hunting at a rate greater than that of lower animals -- who tend only to take only what they need for themselves or their immediate group -- is necessary, because not everybody hunts or fishes. But we tend to over-do it, and that's led to extinctions and threatening of species, not to mention deforestation and its effects, for the sake of creating more pasture land for livestock. Throw climate change into the mix, and it's a recipe for catastrophe.

Just in case we didn't have anything more to worry about.

In my book, A Very Convenient Truth, or, Jesus Warned Us There'd Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program!, I point out that humans were actually placed on earth to "have dominion ... replenish the earth and subdue it." Over-use of any resource, including the animals who were given to us for food, leads to environmental trauma.

What's interesting, though, is that the authors of the study refer to human behaviour as "unnatural", as if humans are supposed to be just like animals. But we're not: we're different: in fact, Scripture tells us, we are created on a higher level so that we can care for and nurture creation, and enjoy it at the same time.

(Indeed, I'd suggest that the way any animal or human behaves is not natural but creational: according to the way God made us all; but that's for another time.)

But because we tend to over-do things and respond to animal instincts, God gave us His Commandments to point us in the right direction. You'll find those instructions throughout the Old Testament (particularly in Leviticus), including the proper use of land and the way to kill for food. Those instructions usually require faith -- the knowledge that God will reward our obedience by providing for us what we need*. Stepping away from that obedience leaves us without His protection, and while we might get a short-term fix for our needs, we lose out in the long run. Indeed, we see the results every day, as the UVic researchers have pointed out.

The authors of the study suggest that humans could learn a lot from lower animals when it comes to killing animals for food, but we have to remember that a lot of people who eat meat are not the ones who kill it. So where's the happy medium between necessity and overkill?

The Word of God, as I say, provides the instructions we need. Remember that the Word was given to us long before there was any idea that over-fishing or over-hunting would ever be an issue. Yet God saw it coming, and gave us His Commandments to save us from that.

But while the answer to this super-predator situation implied by the UVic researchers appears to involve nothing more drastic than a complete re-set of the thinking and behaviour of our entire species, the beauty of our relationship with God is that He has provided us with an "out" -- one that does not rely on someone else taking the lead. In Christ, each of us, individually, can repent for the sin of failing to follow those Commandments, turn back to Him and re-start with a clean slate. Indeed (and here's the basis for my book), He promised long before Jesus came that if people repent and turn back to Him, "I will heal the land".

*I should point out that what God knows that we need is significantly different from what we think we need: it's usually more, so that when our "cup runneth over", it spilleth onto others. "Blessed to be a blessing," and all that.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Just too big for humanity?" You better believe it!

“It’s easy to be cynical, and to say climate change is a kind of challenge just too big for humanity to solve. I’m absolutely convinced that’s wrong.”
-- US President Barack Obama

I don't know about you, but I've never really thought that the cynics' response to climate change was to say it was "too big" to handle. As I've seen it, cynics question whether climate change is actually happening, or that if it is, it's caused by human beings. But as he rolled out his climate change action plan, the President made his dramatic statement. It's a dynamic statement, to be sure, ranking with Franklin Roosevelt's "the one thing we have to fear is fear itself". But while FDR's aphorism still rings true today, to say that climate change is too big for humanity to solve is not only un-cynical, it's Biblical.

As I point out in my book, 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!, we're seeing events today that were foretold 2,000 years ago and more. Some of them could be attributed to climate change and some not. The whole end-times plan of God is to bring change of all sorts, so it's worthwhile to hit "pause" and see if we really want to be fighting these changes, or whether that will put us on the wrong side of God.

There's no question we've been messing up the planet, big-time. Regardless of what the climate-change deniers say, we've been placed in Creation to be its lords; to care for it, nurture it, and "replenish the earth and subdue it." The environmental troubles we're experiencing now come from our using the earth beyond our ability to replenish it.

The trouble is, we've been doing that to God's Creation for thousands upon thousands of years, and the President's plan presumes to un-do that in 15 years I'm afraid it's true: this is beyond humanity's ability to solve -- on our own. We need to turn to God for help, wisdom -- and a whole lot more. 

In reading through the President's speech and the accompanying background material from the White House Press Office, I see claims about numbers of lives saved, jobs created, money not spent on health care, but those are all debatable. What's more, the alternative energy it proposes is natural gas: have a look at the two excellent HBO documentaries, "Gasland" and "Gasland 2", and decide whether that's an appropriate alternative.

Even more unsettling is that Press Office Backgrounder includes a number of "Progress" reports, but all of these are reports on laws passed and regulations instituted over the years. To my mind, that's policy, not progress; "progress" should mean tangible benefits, results from the efforts taken to date -- particularly since the first Earth Day in 1970 -- that indicate that those efforts are bearing fruit. 

Two more things to keep in mind here. One is that, while FDR said, "the one thing we have to fear is fear itself", climate change policy is about nothing but fear: fear of rising ocean levels; fear of drought; fear of violent storms; fear about possible extinction of species. Fear is not of God; a policy based in fear is not going to have God's blessing.

That's why, when Jesus tells about these very events and even says "these are the beginning of sorrows", He quickly adds that, "he who endures to the end shall be saved." (Matthew 10:22) That's why Psalm 91 says, "only with your eyes will you look and see the reward of the wicked" (Psalm 91:8). We're warned about these things not so that we'll be terrified and try to fight the events -- we're warned so that we'll be prepared and know that God is at work and so long as we stay close to Him, we'll know what to do about it. 

Yes, climate change is cause for concern: it is a wakeup call for us to clean up our environmental act, but not out of some desire to halt or reverse that process, but out of obedience to and love for God. He gave us this wonderful Creation and He gave us an assignment to be its caretakers. He also gave us specific instructions on how to take care of it -- we are not left to figure things out for ourselves.

But more than that, climate change is one of many signs that God is on the move and we need to turn to Him, read His Word and find out what we are to do about it. That's something anyone can do, without pointing fingers, judging your neighbor, waiting for governments and corporations to come onside or (you gotta love this one) spending a whole lot of money.

The Word of God is anything but Doomspeak. It's all about hope and definite promises. Take note, for example, of the number of times the word "shall" appears in connection with the results of our following God's will. But (and here I go again with this one!) what could be more compelling than the promise the Lord gives King Solomon in 2 Chronicles:

If I shut up Heaven that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the earth, or if I send pestilence among My people; if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:13-14)

A better climate change policy would be very hard to find.