Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 - The Year of Healing

The following is a Word from the Lord, received in early December, and relayed to the people at Carrall Street Church/Gospel Mission Dec. 29, 2008.

Up until now, it has seemed like the lives of My people on the Downtown East Side -- all those in poverty in cities -- have been out of their control. Poverty has them in bondage on one hand -- politicians use them as bargaining chips on the other -- people in social service functions, including missions, seem like they get no help at all.

But I am here. I never change. My only agenda is the wellbeing of My people.

My will is for the yoke sitting on My people to be destroyed. As I told My servant, Isaiah, "it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing."

The yoke is poverty ... addiction ... alcohol ... despair ... the lie that there is nothing better; the belief that survival depends on lying and cheating and stealing and conning people ... the lie that you're not worthy.

To Me, you are all worthy!

Come to Me -- receive My Son as your Lord and Saviour -- let Us knock off the rough edges and smooth things out and turn you into the image I had of you since before I created anything.

The key to it is your healing, and 2008 will be the year that you shall be healed. To do that, you must come to Me ... you must be active to receive what I have for you.

Turn to Me and the yoke of sickness will be destroyed -- crushed to powder.

Turn to Me and you will walk in a power and authority far greater than any drugs or anything else that's had a hold on your life.

Turn to Me and the control the politicians and activists and social workers and drug dealers have had on your lives will be wrested away. Turn that control over to Me and let Me take it from here.

I am the Lord Who Heals ... I want to heal you as no one else can. In 2008, hand me that control, and I will take you places you couldn't even imagine in your present state.

Have you had hard times? Have you been beating yourself up, saying you deserved it? Turn to Me, because I have already forgotten it. Turn to Me and you can leave that in the past where it belongs.

I can heal you of bad memories just as surely as I can heal you of a cold.

I can heal you of a broken heart: bring your broken hearts to Me and let Me comfort you and mend you.

Tossmas Activism

In the post, "12 Months of Christmas ...." (Dec. 24), I mentioned a really good video in Stuart Shepard's "Stoplight" series, called "Merry Tossmas". It's a reality check for people who think that "Merry Christmas" is somehow offensive; a protest against retailers' turning Christmas into The Holiday That Dares Not Speak Its Name. I suggested we make a note in our day-timers to start sending that link to retailers and mall managers around Oct. 1, '08, so they can get the message in time to re-think their plans for the coming CHRISTMAS season.

I've just heard from Mr Shepard: the link to "Merry Tossmas" will stay in place indefinitely, so that, when Oct. 1 rolls around, we can put it to work!

Hooray!

So in the mean time, start making your list of email addresses for the malls and stores!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Numbering, the Mark, and the nearness of God


And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
-- Luke 2:1

The word KJV translates as “taxed” actually means “enrolled” or “listed” or “counted”, like a census. It comes from a Greek word, apographo, and while it's used a few other times in the New Testament, you don't see it at all in the OT.

What you do see in the OT is the Hebrew word, “manah”, which also means to count or reckon, and that's the word used in II Samuel when David tells Joab to take a census of “his” people – the people of Israel and Judah.
Joab protests, trying to get the point across that it's the Lord who multiplies His people: they're not David's to count (II Sam. 24:3), echoing Moses' word to the Israelites, “The Lord your God hath multiplied you, and ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.” (Deut. 1:10).

But Satan had taken over David (II Sam. 24:1) and he was determined to get those numbers. It was only after he'd gone through with the counting that he realized he'd sinned against God, and as part of David's “atonement”, God sent a plague, and quickly reduced that census figure by 70,000.

God asserted Himself strongly that these are His people, and not anyone else's for the counting, and as David drew nearer to God, the plague was kept from the rest of the people (II Sam. 24:25).

So when Augustus decreed that there should be a census of the whole world, as if they were people who belonged to him, God was right there to assert Himself. Within half a century, it would become abndantly clear that “the whole world” did not belong to Augustus as they drew closer to God through Jesus. Rather than send a plague to kill people, He sent the way to new life – a different kind of plague on those who had been taken over by Satan, and a holy outbreak, as well.

Was there a cause-and-effect process at work here – as if taking a census causes God to assert Himself? Yes and no. It shows how Satan had entered into the people in power – David at that time, and Augustus at the time of the birth of Jesus -- causing them to want to count how many people they had under their "control". But it's also a sign of hope, because as Satan becomes more and more evident, it means we're about to see a magnificent move of God.

What does that mean for us today? In part, it means that, as we see Satan become more and more evident in our society, we can expect another such move of God. But more than that, we can see that there are two such moves of God in Scripture, and we should look for a third.

I believe that third move of God – related to counting or numbering the people – is in Revelation. “And (the second beast) causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
-- Rev. 13:16-17
This second beast wants all of us to be “counted” or “enrolled”, by means of his mark, holding the fear of economic deprivation over us if we don't receive it.

Remember, Satan has insidious ways of getting what he wants. He will not show up as anything blatantly evil, but as something masquerading as “for the common good”. It could be a “homeland security” initiative to identify and track potential terrorists; it could be some World Health Organization decree to keep tabs on people who might be carrying a disease; it could be something as innocuous as an electronic transit pass, which can be embedded in one's skin and passed through a sensor to open a turnstile.

But we are not to fear, but to remember: “From henceforth, let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17) Paul is reminding us that, in Christ, we already have the only marks we need, and that the Lord will provide for those who have faith in His promise.

The Bible repeats incidents and themes to establish a precedent in our minds. We saw the “assertion of God” with David and again with Augustus, and can take comfort – in fact, rejoice – that, as we see more signs of Satan's increasing influence and feel more pressure from worldly sources, God is actually preparing for a mighty move to assert Himself.

Men and Mikes

We lost Don Chevrier, the week before Christmas. He was a brilliant sportscaster, with more than 50 years in the business -- and when you figure he was only 69 (he died of a blood disorder, according to the reports), yes, he was a teenager when he broke in. I never met him, but he had the kind of broadcasting career I would have treasured: every sport -- one of his last gigs was calling the Kentucky Derby earlier this year -- on both radio and TV. Probably the one "prize" the eluded him was a regular gig on Hockey Night in Canada. According to the post in the Canadian Sportscasting Hall of Fame, Chevy was already major-market material by the early 60s (he was the English radio voice of the Montreal Alouettes), but was passed over time and again. After all, Danny Gallivan was entrenched as the Montreal Canadiens' play-by-play man, with Dick Irvin in the wings (and rightly so, on both counts), but I sure would have preferred to hear Chevy calling the Leafs' games, rather than the Hewitts with their grating nasalities. But of course, Foster and Bill were an "institution", and in broadcasting, "institution" trumps talent, any time.



That is, in fact, a glass ceiling that knows no gender differences: the one that holds back talented people in broadcasting. Broadcasters with talent tend to stay on the air, while less talented ones tend to move into management (CKNW and CKWX come to mind); but the ones in management then tend to see the talented ones on-air as threats, and do what it takes to keep them down. Including pass them over.



But enough of that. One of the items in Don Chevrier's bio from the Hall of Fame is a glorious on-air moment. Chevy was the Blue Jays TV broadcaster for 20 years, and in one game at Texas, color man Tony Kubek pointed out that a pitcher on the Rangers was ambidextrous, and would warm up right-handed and left-handed. Chevy noted that this would save the manager going to the bullpen early because, if the pitcher got into trouble right-handed, he could switch hands and thus relieve himself on the mound.



The field producer, Tom McKee (who related the story), says he opened the talkback and said, "did I just hear what I think I heard?". There was one of those pauses (15 seconds, McKee figures), and then Chevy and Tony went on as if nothing had happened.



I lay claim to a similar on-air remark -- and totally independently of Chevy, I'll have you know! I tend to store possible one-liners in my brain and wait for the opportune moment, and that arrived when I was doing sports at CFAX Victoria. The general manager of one of the teams in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League was also the coach, but the team had a bad finish to the season, so he announced that he would step down as coach and concentrate on the GM duties. But the new coach wasn't able to start his job when the new season began, due to work commitments, so the GM handled the coaching for the first few games ... to which I asked, rhetorically, if that meant he relieved himself behind the bench.



No one called.



Actually, in one of the Christmas Day NBA games, one commentator remarked on Steve Nash's excellent passing abilities left-handed or right-handed, and his color man pointed out that it was good that Steve was ambidextrous in both hands.



Sports is full of such things. When Jorge Bell of the Blue Jays had a contract dispute in the early 90s, it took GM Pat Gillick to step in and end the stalemate; some commentator noted that it was a good thing Gillick was able to take charge and "exacerbate the situation".



But my favorite was this past spring, when a Seattle sportscaster described a spectacular hydroplane crash on Lake Worth, and was so thrilled that the driver was uninjured, reported ... "and the driver walked away from the crash!"



Is it possible he missed one BIG story?

Monday, December 24, 2007

The 12 Months of Christmas -- and other ramblings

1 - SENDING THE MESSAGE

Every so often, you come across something that "says it all" -- so brilliantly expressed, you just want to slap "forward" on it and fire it off to as many people that you know. This is one such thing, sent by a friend of mine the other day:

http://www.citizenlink.org/Stoplight/A000005834.cfm

This is truly a message one wants to spread around, and especially to let your local businesses know how you feel. So what I'm suggesting all my friends do, is circulate this link to the managers of as many malls and individual businesses as they can think of, let them know that this video expresses their views and their feelings about the de-Jesusization* of Christmas, and that they intend to "vote with their dollars" if the businesses don't smarten up.

BUT ... rather than send it now, when it's too late and could be easily dismissed as a bunch of religious reactionaries caught up in the emotion of the season, I say we bookmark the link and sit on it until October 1, 2008. Then we pounce. That gives them enough time to re-think their plans for the Christmas shopping season.

Mind you, we first need to contact the people at Citizen Link to ask them to keep the link active until then. We can email them at citizenlink@family.0rg.

For Canadians, by the way, 22.3 million of us (according to the 2001 Census) are Christians who are likely to celebrate Christmas (I left the Jehovah's Witnesses out of my calculations). There are 29.5 million Canadians. That's 76%.

Funny, how the fear of offending less than a quarter of the population is driving so many business decisions.

Incidentally, CNN this morning had a live report from Macy's in Herald Square, New York (the same Macy's where "Miracle on 34th Street" was set), about the number of retail businesses that are staying open 24 hours, because sales during the Christmas season are running 4% below expectations.

Am I the only one who sees a connection between the attempt to deny Jesus in Christmas and this lack of blessing on the businesses?

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2 - MORE GRINCH - LESS RUDOPLH (PLEASE)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is regarded as one of those "Christmas Classic" TV shows, and indeed, it is. It used to be one of those "staples" in my TV-watching at Christmastime, along with Alistair Sim's "Scrooge" and Charlie Brown. But you'll notice it's not on my Top 10 list over there on the left, and one of the reasons for that is the bizarre premise that, because of the heavy fog and bad weather, they would have to "cancel Christmas". Why Dasher didn't gore Santa right away and say, "no, it means we get to spend Christmas with our families, fatso!", is beyond me. One would hope that parents would have carefully explained to their children that Christmas goes ahead, with or without Santa Claus, but that message is still getting out there, without contradiction. Am I over-reacting? Probably.

Dr Seuss got it right: the whole idea of How The Grinch Stole Christmas was that removing the festival accoutrements of Christmas did not end the season, itself ... and that the spirit is much greater than any evil. We need more Grinch and less Rudolph.

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3 - GETTING DAVE'S GOAT

Since I tantalized you with the reference in my Christmas Favourites list on the left there, I'd wanted to include at least a link to Dave Barry's column about The Christmas Goat. But try as I might, I can't find it online, except through a website that uses it as a hook, then requires you to sign up for a 7-day free trial which makes you charge $29.95 to your credit card before you can actually read it. (The charge, they promise, is wiped off the credit card if you cancel your order before the 7-day trial period is over, but I have a deep distrust for credit cards on the Internet at present.) So if anyone finds it, please let me know. It's killingly funny, and all I can tell you it's from December 1991, and is not his more recent writings about the Julebykk in Gavle, Sweden (which is what you'll often find if you Google "Dave Barry Christmas Goat").

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4 - CHRISTMAS DINNER(S)

Those of us at Carrall Street Church (aka Gospel Mission) are holding our Christmas dinner today (Dec. 24). We'll probably get 40 people for turkey and ham and such, and the funny thing is, there are so many special dinners on the Downtown East Side at this time of year, it's possible for someone to have three or four turkey meals in two weeks or less! I think it's wonderful, especially considering the way these guys get kicked in the teeth by society the rest of the year!

We got a call Saturday morning from a young lady at Costco, saying she had "some" turkeys for us, and where could she bring them. I told her I'd meet her at the Mission at 11. Pastor Barry told me she'd said she had 8 turkeys, which was cool -- even though we already had our two turkeys for the Christmas Eve dinner -- but when I met Cherelle, she brought 16 turkeys! Young ones, mind you -- "only" about 10-15 lbs each -- but a LOT of turkeys! Tom -- one of our elders -- figures this should take us through Christmas 2009, no problem!

Seriously, turkey would be a welcome change at other times of the year, and staying in the freezer should keep them for quite a while. For our Saturday services, we generally serve a sort-of hamburger stew, which Amelia has perfected -- ground beef and mixed veg and cream of mushroom soup and kidney beans, served over rice.

Scary thought: what if she'd gotten us mixed up with Union Gospel Mission? I tried to reach her to verify that, but wasn't able to, and Barry assures me that Cherelle found us on the Internet, and knew the difference. So heaps of blessing on Costco, for that!

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5 - SCROOGE

One thing about Ebenezer Scrooge (which I'm sure Dickens meant but may have escaped the notice of his readers): he was no hypocrite, even in his pre-visitation days. There was a column in the Toronto Sun in which the writer described his encounter with a homeless man and how he bought the guy food and pitied him at this time of the year.

I couldn't help thinking: Where are you the other 364 days of the year (365 in 2008)? One volunteer at Union Gospel summed it up in an article over the weekend, by saying how important it is to hang in throughout the year, and not just show up at Christmastime. Right on.

Early in "A Christmas Carol", two businessmen come to Scrooge's office and try to get him to contribute to a Christmas charity, "because it is at this time of year that the need is most acutely felt". In a 1990s treatment, Scrooge would probably have feigned sticking two fingers down his throat: instead, he asks why the need would be more acutely felt at this time of year than at any other time.

Scrooge's point, as I see it, is that he won't be bullied or guilt-tripped into contributing to the needy simply because it's Christmastime. In the end, his epiphany is glorious because, in a way, he still doesn't treat Christmastime as different from any other time of year, but that's because he keeps Christmas all year 'round!

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6 - THE BEST RE-GIFT

Re-gifting is almost a joke now -- you know, passing along what someone's given to you to somebody else. The joke is based on the idea that the gift is fairly useless and it's getting passed along because the recipient is in a position where he/she has to give something to someone and either (a) doesn't have the time or (b) doesn't have the inclination to find something in particular for that third party.

In some ways, that's pretty cruel, but I can see where it isn't, too: if you're passing it along to someone who doesn't have anything; or if it occurs to you that the gift is much better suited to them, it's not a bad thing.

But now is a good time to remember the best re-gifting of all. Jesus was and is God's gift to us, from the very first day He drew breath on this planet. The Great Commission is that we are supposed to spread the Gospel -- the Good News of God -- and pass along the other blessings, like healing, cleansing, and telling people they're forgiven. In other words, re-gifting isn't just expected, it's REQUIRED.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Old-Fashioned Christmas


My teeth get set on edge at the way the world treats Christmas now -- "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" and so forth, while at the same time denying and in many cases suppressing the reason why we have a holiday in the first place.


(Indeed, it's only a matter of time before the pagans and wiccans start weaselling in, claiming that Christmas is really one of their holidays, that got made over by an overbearing church in medieval times. One of them already tried to pitch that lie in a local newspaper the other day -- you know, the "we were here first" BS, which is a sleight of hand to keep us from remembering that it is written ... In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) The same was in the beginning with God. John 1:1-2)


On the other hand, though, I never really thought I was old enough to have actually experienced what might be called an "old-fashioned Christmas", but the memory of that started coming back earlier this week at Stanley Park. It's called "Bright Nights", and it's a wondrous show of Christmas lights and displays: trees lit up from top to bottom, animated light shows, the miniature train, taking people on rides through a wonderland of even more displays; there are hundreds of Santa Clauses of varying shapes and sizes, "toyland magical" scenes. No Nativity scenes, but the high school band on hand played Christmas carols, and the gigantic "Joy To The World" installation kept the season in focus.



And it hit me: this is the Christmas I remember. Toys and wonder and lights and warmth on a cold night and Santa lurking just around the corner ... but the whole thing was seen through the lens of the One Whose birthday we're celebrating.


For that ... a heartfelt "Thank you" to the Vancouver Fire Department, the numerous schools that took part, and the Vancouver Park Board for bringing it all together! And Merry Christmas -- in keeping with the situation!

That's me on the right

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Declaration of War

“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, good will to all men'.”

I have this lovely Nativity scene at home, which, believe it or not, I picked up at Shoppers Drug Mart two years ago. The stable is made of real wood and covered in real moss, and it has ceramic figurines of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a shepherd, three wise men, an angel and a donkey and a cow. It's a very peaceful, quiet scene – all these people, doing reverence before the newborn Messiah.

But really, it was the beginning of war. And the declaration of war? Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all men.

The Bible is filled with statements which contradict the visible situation. In the beginning, there was darkness. God said, “Light Be!”, and there was light. God calls the things that are not as though they are. The fact that He sent us commandments to love one another, place Him first, don't steal, wives submit to your husbands, don't commit adultery and so forth, indicates that this was not the natural state of affairs with humans.

When the angels proclaimed GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOOD WILL TO ALL MEN, they were stating God's desire for us humans. He was not being glorified at the time – that would have to change – and although the angels said, “Peace on earth”, God was, in fact, on the warpath.

You can tell this by the reaction to Jesus' birth. When the wise men went to ask King Herod where the King of the Jews was born, Herod set out to kill Jesus. Herod knew full well Whom they were referring to: after all, he didn't say, “Oh, there must be some mistake: I'm the King of the Jews – see? Notice the fancy robes, the crown, the big palace. How can I help you?” Instead, he called his rabbis and advisors together and asked them where the prophecies said the Messiah would be born and when they said, “Bethlehem”, and the wise men gave him the slip, Herod sent in his soldiers to kill every baby boy born in Bethlehem – in fact, every one born in the past two years, just to be on the safe side.

Herod had grown up surrounded by teachings of the prophecies and the hope that God would send a Deliverer for his people, but when that hope actually showed up on his doorstep, his only inclination was to destroy him. The same thing happens with us.

When we are confronted with truth – something that calls us on our sins, on the evil in our lives, and forces us to re-think our lives, our priorities, our place in God – we have a violent reaction. We try to shoot the messenger. If someone points something out to us – even if it's done in the utmost love and caring – we'll call them self-righteous, fault-finding, judgmental, finger-pointing, you name it: the Herod within us goes on a rampage, to wipe out the representative of the truth.

It doesn't work, of course: remember that Herod managed to kill every baby boy in Bethlehem, except one: Jesus, who had been whisked off to Egypt because an angel had tipped off Joseph and Mary. That angel also warned the wise men to leave Bethlehem by a different route, and not tell Herod where they'd found Jesus.

But the truth is always protected, in God's mysterious way of doing things. Who would have thought to look for the Messiah in a stable? You'd have to have been following a star -- or watching for the sign the angel told the shepherds. Not only that, but the truth is always accompanied by the glory of God, so that means that, really, we have nothing to fear from accepting it. When we finally make that decision to declare our own war on Satan ... to choose to walk in truth and not lies ... WE ARE PROTECTED. God is right there at our side, with an army of warring angels standing by, and Jesus saying, “This one belongs to Me”. Sure, there's pain involved in determining to banish lies from your life, but there's pain in any war ... and this is a war that you can walk into confidently, knowing that you are guaranteed Victory.

Satan will throw anything at you to make you think you can't win. Doubt, worry, regret, guilt; he'll even try to make you think that because you can't change the past, you're stuck with it forever, which is the biggest lie of all.

And God said, You can't change the past, so don't bother trying. But turn to My Son and receive a new future.

When Jesus was born, God didn't just fire a shot across Satan's bow – He dropped the H-bomb. And you can do the same. Tackle the lies head-on, and then receive the glorious truth that every one of us can overcome the lies and the effects of those lies ... in Christ. As we confess our faults, as we allow the Lord to reveal our deficiencies to us through the Holy Spirit, we can lay all of those down at the Cross, thank Jesus for taking them off our shoulders and onto His, and receive our new life ... a new life where we don't make the same mistakes again ... and where we can move steadily forward, walking in God's ways and receiving the enormous blessings He's promised us. Good will toward men. That does not mean let's-all-pat-each-other-on-the-back-and-say-nice-things; it means God's will towards men. The angels re-affirmed that night, that God's desire is for His will to be done among us. And His will is nothing but good things – health, prosperity, freedom from want and worry. God's desire for us, too, is fellowship with Him.

It would be a pretty lonely and uninteresting time in Heaven if all who were saved were those who led perfect lives ... for one thing, nobody would make it. We all have to deal with sin and repent and be saved. For another, one of the things about being in heaven is that you're constantly praising God. What do you think praise is? Sure, it's “holy, holy, holy, only Thou art worthy ...”, but it's also every one of us, saying, “I was a rat ... a sinner ... a weasel ... I lied, I had a problem with drinking, with sexual temptation, I stole from people ... but praise God when I turned to Him, He pulled me out of that muck and made me new again! I was a sinner ... but when I accepted Christ, I'm not a sinner anymore!” God wants to hear all our stories ... and all the different ways He rescued us ... You are holy, You are mighty ... Your amazing grace saved a wretch like me ... Let's take another look at that declaration of war.

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOOD WILL TO ALL MEN.

Shouldn't the declaration of war say, “We're declaring war on Satan! Get ready to attack him on every front! Storm his spiritual beachhead and drop the H-Bomb!” Not with God. Why? Because God -- not we -- declared the war. He gave us our marching orders: spread the Gospel, glorify God, pursue peace. Let's not get obsessed with seeking Satan out and blowing him off the map. Focusing on choosing God's will and worshipping Him rather than attacking the devil is a very un-human thing to do: attacking the devil puts our focus on him and not on God. If we spend our time looking for demons behind every tree and worrying about what the next attack is going to be, then we're not seeking God first.

We have to get it into our heads and hearts that God has already dropped the H-bomb – 2000 years ago, between Bethlehem and Calvary – and we need to focus on the fact that the battle is already won. The more we focus on God and our Victory in Christ, the less Satan is a factor. He's going to try, but if we keep our eyes on God and move forward with what He wants for us, then our armor will cover us and Satan's fiery darts will fizzle before they ever get to us.

But this spiritual H-Bomb only works for those who choose to receive the Victory. Praise God, He has given us that choice. Every time someone receives Christ, another little H-Bomb goes off in Satan's camp. Every time someone turns to God and receives His will – Good will – in our own lives, Satan is forced to hand over all the things he robbed from them over the years. Every time someone says “yes” to Jesus, they are set free forever from the yoke of past sins and mistakes and get a brand new start with strength and blessing and power ... exceedingly, abundantly, more than they could ever ask or think.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

O Christmas Tree


I put up my Christmas tree the other night. It's the first tree I've had since 2002, and I wasted no time in getting the lights on and the decorations up. If you check out the posting below about the "Musical Rebels", you'll know there's been an estrangement with my kids over the past few years, so that's made Christmas a bit difficult. But thanks to the events of that weekend, I'm in the mood to celebrate, so the tree symbolizes that.

The Christmas tree symbolizes a lot of things, actually, and it's one of a number of symbols Satan has been trying to pervert in our celebration of the birth of our Lord.


Take Santa Claus. With the Christmercialization going on in our world today, you'd think Santa had supplanted Jesus as the reason for the season. In fact, some people take a cue from Dana Carvey's "Church Lady", who noted that "SANTA" and "SATAN" are anagrams. But I don't buy into that. After all, the true spirit that Santa Claus represents cannot exist satanically. When my children would ask, "Is Santa Claus real?", we’d always tell them, "The spirit he represents is real". It’s a spirit of selfless giving, of caring for children, and of believing for miracles.

But all of that exists not because Santa Claus – or the original Saint Nicholas – is a "good guy". Unless giving, is motivated by Christ – the anointing – it's invariably dictated by convenience. We’ll give so long as it’s convenient – or makes us look good. True selflessness in giving is motivated by "Christ in us": the same motivation which drags us out of bed at an unseemly hour to see someone, take someone someplace, or help in a disaster.

That motivation necessarily drives out Satan, and Satan cannot cast out Satan. So if Santa has been given a position in which he is the object of worship at this time of year, that’s our problem – not Santa’s. Same with the part of this legend that encourages parents to lie to their kids: how many children have had the trust they had in their parents shattered when they found out that all those cookie crumbs, footprints in ash in the carpet by the fireplace and "if you don't go to bed, Santa won't come", were all part of an elaborate lie?
Of course, we can change that. Santa Claus, indeed, should symbolize a mortal man whose life and deeds exemplify "Christ in us". That, I think, is really where Christian parents should go when their kids ask that inevitable question.

Another Christmas symbol under attack is the practice of saying "Merry Christmas". Some people take offense -- and get downright rude -- if someone tells them, "Merry Christmas". It’s deemed to be "exclusive" and therefore offensive to people who may not believe in Jesus. Instead, we’re encouraged to say, "Season’s Greetings" and "Happy Holidays", even though (a) aside from being the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, there’s nothing particularly special about this season over others that would require "greetings", and (b) what other "holiday", exactly, would there be which one would wish to be "happy"? So for the "inclusionists" out there, even saying those two alternatives is self-defeating.

(Some "official" functions are now referred to as "Winter Festivals", to eliminate Christian references. But the only religion I can think of which has a "Winter Festival" is paganism, so that name actually excludes a whole lot more faiths than just Christianity, thereby making it even more "exclusionary".)

But "Merry Christmas" should be for everybody, because Jesus came for everybody. If everyone were believers, He wouldn’t have needed to come to earth, right? So by saying "Merry Christmas", we’re actually wishing the blessing of the knowledge and salvation of Christ on everyone we meet, regardless – as it was with Jesus – of the current state of their faith or beliefs. (There was a time when I wasn’t really a Christian, and if it wasn’t for people wishing me "Merry Christmas", reminding me what the season was about, who’s to say whether I would have come around, myself?)

So let’s not allow our concern for other people’s opinions (John 12:42-43) to affect whether we say "Merry Christmas" as often as we want: it’s a blessing, not a secret-society password.

And then there’s the Christmas tree.

Some people sanctimoniously remind us that the tree was originally a pagan symbol, and co-opted by Christians to attract pagans to the faith. Some feel it, like Santa, has become an idol, supplanting God as an object of worship. But regardless of its origins, a symbol is what we make it and to me, the Christmas tree symbolizes what God did on that day, just over 2005 years ago.

Indeed, the Christmas tree is hardly alone as an "adopted" symbol. It's similar to St Patrick, using the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity. And the very first Canadian Christmas Carol, the hauntingly beautiful "Huron Carol", sings of the "Mighty Gitchi Manitou" sending angel choirs during the "moon of wintertime". (Or, for that matter, Larry Norman using rock 'n' roll to reach young people with the message of Jesus.)

Here's what the Christmas tree means to me. It's an evergreen: its colour never changes – just as God’s Word is eternal. (Isaiah used the image of a cedar -- an evergreen -- in Chapter 5 to describe the coming of the Messiah.) It stands, rooted to the spot, immobile, just as God Word stays planted and firm. We’re the ones who go traipsing off in all directions, following our whims and lusts of the world, and it's up to us to come back to the tree. In fact, in Ezekiel, the cedar tree is described as a place of protection (Eze. 17:23), just as we can take refuge in God’s love.

The tree reaches up to Heaven, and its branches reach out – which is what God did when He sent His son to be with us.

God couldn’t come to earth Himself. That would have done us no good: He had to take the form of a man, and stay on His own throne at the same time. And so with Jesus, He stretched forth His hand, reaching out to us. Throughout the Bible, the hand is a symbol of power, and when God stretches for His hand, you better hope it's for blessing. In the Old Testament, when God stretched for His hand, it was usually in anger. In Isaiah 5, the prophet spells out the things God intends to do to those who disobey Him, and four times (at least) he uses the sentence, "His hand is stretched out still".

But when He sent Jesus, God stretched forth His hand to bless us and empower us. And where does Jesus sit? On God's right hand. So in sending Jesus, God stretched for His right hand -- and that's as powerful as it gets.

Why do you suppose the first Apostles Jesus called were fishermen? "Come with me, and I will make you fishers of men," He told them. Simple: they understood the concept of what God was doing. Just as they stand in their own element – on land or in their boat, which represents their element – and cast their lines or their nets into another element, so, too, did God cast His net into our element (the world) while staying put in His (Heaven).

Jesus is the bait: He came to earth and showed us things that we could do with the power He brought us; we wanted that same power, and are drawn to Him, because He was and is the only way to achieve that power.
So in casting His net, God was stretching forth His hand.

Isaiah also prophesies, "The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: that I will break the Assyrian in My land, and upon My mountains tread him underfoot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. For the Lord of Hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? And His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" (Is. 14:24-27).


That passage is not only refers to the destruction of the Assyrians, but foretells the Messiah’s coming, where Isaiah writes that the purpose of lifting the yoke of the enemy and the enemy’s burden departing from the shoulders of God’s people is His purpose for the whole earth. Once again, there’s that hand, stretched out: a prophecy that God’s hand won’t always be stretched forth in wrath.


Interestingly, the expression, "stretching forth (the) hand" also turns up when God mocks mankind. As God tosses Adam and Eve out of Eden, He says, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken." (Gen. 3:22-23). God could stretch forth His hand, but Adam couldn’t.


But while the stretching out of the hand was invariably done in anger through the Old Testament, with the arrival of Jesus, it became a whole new ballgame. God stretched out His hand, but it was in love, and the same power God used to destroy in the Old Testament was now to be passed on to us in Christ.


The Greeks have a word for it: dunamis. It’s the same word which gives us "dynamite", "dynamic", "dynamo" and so forth, and it signifies an explosive power, a burst of energy with the force to change things, to alter situations, to turn whole lives around on a dime. That power brings miraculous healing, both physically and spiritually, and with that power, things that seem impossible to us become not just possible but probable with God (Matt. 19:26).

That power is only available to us through Jesus Christ. There are counterfeits, and plenty of belief systems which deny its very existence, but ask anyone who’s experienced the awesome "turnaround" which happens when they receive Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and when they put their lives into His hands.

Scientists say that we humans use only about 10% of our brain-power, and many muse about what we could do if we were able to unlock the other 90%. We actually use only a tiny fraction of the spiritual power God has given us in Christ, and are only starting to awaken to the possibility that we have phenomenally more power available to us. The enemy would prefer we didn’t know about that. That’s why he connived to steal the power God had initially given Adam. Adam didn’t understand what he had: the enemy did.


That power that Adam craved – the power from the fruit of the tree of life, including eternal life (Adam would probably have denied it to the hilt, but God knows all, and if He said the tree of life would have been the next thing Adam and Eve would have reached for, you could take that to the bank) – is back within our reach. But it’s not completely ours for the taking. We can only get it through Jesus – the result of God’s stretching forth His hand in a new attitude of love and reconciliation.


And that is what the Christmas tree symbolizes to me: God stretching forth His mighty hand in love and reconciliation and giving us the power to be what He wants us to be.




Baseball's Roid Rage

Yes, I write about baseball, too, friends, and even though I'm probably the 10,764,960th person to comment on the issue of drugs, here goes.

I'm reminded more than somewhat of the passage in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, where Gatsby tells Nick, the narrator, that Meyer Wolfsheim helped fix the 1919 World Series. Nick muses about the way that stunt had shattered confidence in something so many people had trusted and revered, and wondered what sort of man could do it.

Now, 88 years later, we have the 21st Century parallel: the thought that some of the most revered and pedestalled players in the Grand Old Game had been cheating -- cheating worse than Eddie Cicotte throwing pitches so soft, "you could read the label on 'em" and Shoeless Joe Jackson running up a .375 average but not delivering when it really mattered.

All of the players who seemed bound for the Hall of Fame should automatically be exempted. If Pete Rose can be barred for gambling on the side -- and not against his own team, if I understand correctly -- that should be absolute Square Zero for these guys. Barry Bonds? Mark McGwire? Forget it! If Roger Maris gets an asterisk because he hit his 61 homers in more games than Babe Ruth did, those guys should get Liquid Paper.

It's not just about the fans today. It's about the players today who don't cheat -- and Curt Shilling, for one, says they're still in the vast majority -- and the players in past years who didn't cheat and performed their feats without performance-enhancing drugs. It's for young people who need to see that there are consequences for doing the wrong thing, even if "everybody else is doing it".

And there's one other thing to consider: as we shrug and even say the occasional "wow" at a monster Barry Bonds homer, there's a nasty little thing that creeps in, and that's called rationalization. We start to suspect the true heroes of the past -- like Henry Aaron and Willie Mays and Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton and Gary Carter -- and mutter things like, "yeah, well, they probably did stuff in their day, too".

Says who? Performance-enhancing drugs weren't around then, and neither was the permissive attitude towards drugs in general. All we're doing is sullying one person's name to try to rationalize someone else's sin. And there's no justification for that.

We've all been suckers, played for the greed that comes with operations that run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and salaries that make up a large part of it. They want their superstar? They have to pay him. They want to pay him? They have to park bottoms in the seats. They want people in the seats? They have to put on a show. They want to put on a show? They need their superstars hitting home runs, because the myth is that homers attract fans. And in order for the superstar to keep hitting home runs and chasing records, that superstar has to Do What It Takes -- even if it means breaking the law, flouting the rules, cheating the system, and destroying the confidence of the fans.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Conspiracy of Felines

video




(I don't know who produced this video: a friend sent it to me ... and then another friend sent it ... so I just hope I'm not infringing on someone's copyright. If so, I'll take it down.)

But y'know, this clever little work was one of two things that confirmed for me what I'd suspected for quite a while: there is an International Cat Conspiracy.

See, the actions of the little cartoon cat are very close to those of my own, Peaches. Over the past year, Peaches has developed this custom of climbing up onto the bed and awakening me with one little claw, strategically placed on my nose. So when I saw the cartoon, I thought, "wow! Just like Peaches!" Although, when I mentioned that to another cat owner, she replied, "my cat does the same thing!" And she lives in New York. And a couple of others have shared the same thing, themselves, about their cats.

Does your cat have a penchant for vicious play? Join the lodge. My boss refers to his cats as switching to "blend-o-matic" when he plays with them. Last week, a co-worker and I compared battle scars when I noticed that her forearm had been shredded -- just like mine. And hers is a kitten (apparently, she had brought it home, therefore she was the one who had to play with it): imagine what it will be like when mature (like Peaches)!

(One of the myriad reasons why lions make very poor household pets.)


The other thing that convinced me of an International Cat Conspiracy was a column by the humorist Linda Cullen. In it, she described a conversation with her cat, in which the cat gave her tips on the proper way of cleaning oneself ... it involved raising the back leg just so and crossing it over the head, allowing a clear ...

Sorry -- too much information ...


Anyway, not long after that, I noticed Peaches was following the same technique -- and right in front of guests, too! Clearly, she and Linda's cat were in cahoots.

Peaches: staring into space, or communing telecattically?

So how do cats come up with their International Conspiracy? How can cats in three different locations in Metro Vancouver ... and cats in Vancouver and New York and wherever our cartoon was conceived ... get together? Simple. All those times you see a cat staring off into space, contemplating far horizons ... they're actually in communication with millions of cats around the world, all on that same plane of existence that helps them to know exactly when you're pulling the raw liver out of the freezer. They're making their decisions -- probably getting approval from the Supreme Cat* -- and plotting their next mass mind-melt on us humans.

Remember how cats used to go for balls of yarn? But who does knitting anymore? Catnip really has no effect on cats, whatsoever, but they've figured out that humans think it does, so they do all their gyrations around a catnip mousie for their own amusement and enjoyment -- not because of the herb, but because of all the idiot humans watching them, pointing and giggling.

You don't see dogs doing this. When have you seen a dog stare off into space like that? When have you seen a dog do something other dogs do? Dogs are the type who'd say, "I'm a rugged individualist: just like everybody else".

But cats are organized. Look at the way they respond to "Temptations". How else could it be that shaking the package to attract your own cat and call her in from outside will bring instant reaction from other cats -- even those that are inside? Evidently, the one which actually did the commercial told one of their sessions that the commercial promotes a particular image, and if other cats want to get a lot of attention, laughs and, oh yes, Temptations, they need to go nuts every time they hear the package rattle.

So they're plotting ... coming up with brilliant ideas to do things that (a) seem cute and (b) provide cat-owners with common ground for ... but (c) lay the groundwork for something BIG in the long run. I have no idea what it might be, but if they ever develop opposable thumbs, we're in DEEP trouble!



Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bravo to the musical rebels!

A lot of the erosion of "the true meaning of Christmas" has been like cutting yourself shaving: you feel the nick, you know it's going to bleed, and there's NOTHING you can do about it. When I was quite young, I remember hearing Stan Freberg's "Green Christma$" for the first time -- and when I did talk radio in the 90s, I played it in my last show before Christmas. Then there was Charlie Brown's weinachtsangst and Linus' Scriptural antidote, which, in fact, started me on the circuitous road into evangelism. Yet for all the sermons and PSAs and Christmas specials decrying the growth of commercialism and our diminishing awareness of "Whose birthday we're celebrating" (as Freberg's Cratchit put it), the situation has spiralled unabated, and the bleeding from the nick has come, as prophesied.

My office is adjacent to one of the biggest shopping malls in the west -- Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby, just outside Vancouver. With a lot of the Hallowe'en candy still in the wrapper (heck: still in the stores), "Christmas" music started blasting away on the sound system and the stars and lights and decorations went up to remind us that 'tis the season to get down on our knees and pay. My boss -- who's also a Stan Freberg fan -- did register a complaint with Starbucks, that they should at least wait until after Nov. 11, out of respect for our war dead. But since Jesus is about as politically incorrect as it gets these days, the music is actually 'mas music -- no Christ in it at all. Lots of "Winter Wonderland" and "Sleigh Ride" and "Jingle Bells" and "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and that insipid thing by Perry Como (I think) that tells us "he'll be comin' down the chimney down".

I do wonder about people who come to Canada from other cultures. Here they are in the midst of what's become two months of hype for what appears to be the sole purpose of getting people to spend money. What are these people celebrating?, they must be asking. Somehow, they figure, this celebration has become ingrained in the national psyche, but simply to spend money and have parties is a pretty flimsy reason to have a big celebration like this.

Of course, excising Jesus from Christmas is all a part of this obsession we have with "including" everybody and not offending anyone. But isn't it ironic that, in the name of "inclusivity", we're barring the one truly "inclusive" faith there is? There are no requirements for race, birth, financial situation or even to have lived a perfect, righteous life. You don't have to assume uncomfortable positions, chant bizarre lyrics, flog yourself or offer perfectly good food to a statue. All you have to do is believe, and you're in. Believe God ... believe Jesus ... and as you do that, you are accounted as righteous and God starts sanding down the rough edges. (As Kenneth Copeland puts it regarding race: there are only two races in God's eyes -- those who know Him and those who don't.)

Praise God, I saw a lovely example of swimming against the tide at Christmastime last Friday. My daughter sings in a youth choir drawn from students across her public school district.

Victoria prides itself on being "progressive", which means, as you can guess, that Christ doesn't get much of an airing in public forums. But somehow, this choir, which is sponsored by the public school district, does honest-to-God Christmas concerts, with songs about Jesus and the Saviour and Bethlehem. This show on Friday combined my daughter's choir with a men's choir, and it was magnificent! A beautiful sound, uplifting music, and a totally joyful evening!

Are they really "musical rebels"? I hope we haven't reached the point in our society, where spreading joy is regarded as an act of rebellion. I know Someone Who was very pleased: I closed my eyes at one point, and the Lord started showing me a vision of Jesus, with His arms spread out over the choirs -- and all of us in the church -- and absolutely beaming at the love and worship. The Lord is also telling me now that He will keep on lifting up and protecting and preserving that choir and blessing its leaders.

The concert had one major personal benefit for me: the slight gloom, which tends to settle over me every year at this time is gone, and banished forever! Yes, even preacher types get the blues around Christmas -- it had been the enemy's last point of attack, making full use of the estrangement between my kids and me since my marriage broke up. But that depression (which had not been helped by the endless barrage of christmercialization prior to Nov. 1) was GONE by the middle of the concert -- interestingly, during the first verse of "We Need A Little Christmas" from the musical Mame.

So Merry Christmas to all!