Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christians, Ducks and Free Speech

"I told him, 'no,' and the guy [in the bar] says to me, 'What are yuh: a lesbian?' And I say, 'what are you: the alternative?'"
-- unknown comedienne, ca. 1984

"Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man's nose begins." -- Zechariah Chafee, Jr., 1919*.

I have to confess, the only bits of "Duck Dynasty" that I've watched have been when my finger slips while flipping the TV dial to "House Hunters International". Nor have I read the GQ interview with patriarch Phil Robertson, but I am aware of the debate roiling over his sudden removal from the show, apparently to do with comments he made about homosexuality. Liberals are delighted; right-wingers are up in arms over what they believe is unequal application of the First Amendment (right to freedom of expression); and in holding Mr Robertson up as the standard for evangelical Christianity, these evangelicals confirm the feelings of many homosexuals, that "Christians hate us."

Aside from providing another battleground for the Religious Right versus the Godless Left, there's an interesting point that needs to be considered: do Christians really have freedom of speech?

Yes, the US Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms both guarantee freedom of expression, freedom of worship, etc., etc., although many would argue (not without reason) that freedom of expression only applies to those who espouse the prevailing groupthink of the times. But when we accept Christ, do we not give up our freedom of speech?

Consider this:

"Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth, but only such a word as is good for the edification according to the need of the moment, that it may minister grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and slander be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God in Christ also has forgiven you." -- Eph. 4:29-32 (NASB)

"... all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." -- John 13:35 (NASB)

So as followers and imitators of Christ, we don't have the same freedom that non-followers claim. We commit ourselves to speaking truth, but speaking it in love (Eph. 4:5) and, to quote Jerry Savelle, "if you can't speak the word of God, shut up!"

Take a look at any statements made by a professing Christian and ask, are they spoken in love? Do they edify the Body of Christ (1 Cor 14:26; Eph. 4:12)? Do they have the effect of expressing love towards the unsaved and promoting the Gospel, or drive them away, believing they're not welcome?

Our assignment from Jesus is to bring more people into the Kingdom, and we need to remember that Jesus didn't spend His time pointing out other people's sins. They didn't need anyone to remind them they were sinning: they needed someone to show them there was a way out. Jesus showed them that Way by loving them without condition. 

We also need to stop whining about whether we're being treated fairly by the world. Jesus warns us it comes with the territory (John 15:18-19). In other words, the world will hate us because we are His disciples; but check this out: the world hates us not because we say things against the current groupthink but simply because we love one another and love people without condition. 

Don't ask me to explain that one (how can you hate someone who simply loves others?), but here's where it gets sticky. There are other reasons why the world could hate someone. If you say hateful things, you'll also be hated by the world, because the world hates those who hate just as much as it hates those who love. In other words, if the things we say are not based in love, then we're not being hated for being Christians, we're being hated for being hateful fatheads. If we say those things while claiming to be an ambassador of Christ, we then become self-righteous, hateful fatheads.

And so, the Gospel does not get preached and people do not become disciples -- worse, all Christians are tarred with that same brush. Like the comedienne in the bar at the beginning of this piece, are we providing a viable alternative to what people see in the world? It's a question we need to ask ourselves every time we open our mouth.

So no, Christians don't have the right to freedom of speech. We give that up when we decide to follow Christ, and He has given us explicit instructions on how to talk and how to behave.

Jesus doesn't call us to judge, condemn or reject. All of those are easy. He calls us to love, receive and comfort, and leave judgment to the Father. That's hard, but God obviously feels we're up to the task.


* Inaccurately attributed to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Debating the obvious - "It is written ..." meets "It is logical ..."

Gotta give credit to Premier Christian Radio in the UK - they don't mind getting into some deep discussions about faith issues, and Justin Brierley's "Unbelievable" program is a great example. Intelligent design, same-sex marriage, Old Earth versus New Earth, all get a good airing on the program. Coming up on Saturday (Dec. 7), noted atheist Richard Dawkins will debate the existence of God. (If you want to listen to it, it starts at 2:30pm GMT, which is 6:30am Pacific time ... 9:30am Eastern ... and, of course, 11 in Newfoundland*.)

Dawkins, of course, not only denies the existence of God, but goes on the offensive against those who believe. In describing Our Father, he uses expressions like "pestilential, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." Sounds like he got his knuckles twapped a few times for making spitballs out of his hymnal during Morning Chapel at school. (I wonder how he'd fare against Native Indians who've gone through the infamous, church-run residential schools and still have faith in God and Jesus Christ.)

Of course, that's the sort of baiting language someone would use if they want to goad another person into a fight, and it's exactly why I'll be giving Saturday's debate a miss. I would completely fall into the flesh, wanting to outwit such a person with some deft, rapier-like strokes of my own verbal sword and find myself pulled down to the same level as the other person. As Noel Jones once said, "You could win an argument but lose a soul."

If, by some miracle, Mr Dawkins has a revelation of God while on-air and renounces everything he's said in the past and starts speaking in tongues, praising God, we'll hear about it soon enough. But debating the existence of God is exactly what we're not supposed to do.

(I explained my reasons a few years ago, when a similar debate took place at the University of British Columbia. The late Douglas Adams was considerably wittier in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when he showed how Man can win a logical argument against the God Himself, but "...  for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.")

I digress.

Even Jesus wouldn't let Himself get drawn into that discussion: during His 40 days in the wilderness, when the devil said, "if You are the Son of God ...", Jesus didn't even address that point; to do so would have allowed the possibility that He wasn't the Son of God, after all. He simply said, "it is written ..."

Noting that Jesus resisted the devil with the same tools at our own disposal, all we need to do is say, "It is written: 'In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth.'" That declares the truth and declares our faith, all in one go.

Then we can get back to what we're supposed to be doing: praying for the unbelievers, because they're God's children, too; making disciples of all nations; spreading the Gospel; being fruitful and multiplying the Kingdom; and doing all of the above in faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the greatest argument in favour of the existence of God that I can think of.

*a source of countless Great Canadian Jokes, Newfoundland's time zone is half an hour ahead of the Atlantic time zone. Some have suggested that it's because Newfoundland & Labrador joined Confederation over 40 years after the last of the mainland provinces (Saskatchewan in 1905) and therefore everything else runs later, but it's more likely due to its distance east of the mainland Atlantic coast.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

And this is why we pray for them ...

"AwRIGHT, boysngirls, catsnchicks! This next one's going out to those two GROOVY guys, Rob Ford and Stephen Harper! Doug and the Slugs: "TOO BAD!"

The lyrics started coming back to me in the past week, watching the situation at Toronto City Hall and on Parliament Hill. Two politicians who obviously thought they were invincible, being brought down by forces within. (I'm sure Allan Fotheringham, who wrote Look Ma ... No Hands! about the Progressive Conservative Party, would refer to the Tories' Internal Destruction Engine being at work again.) Stateside, a recent piece of punditry laid out the decline in popularity and influence currently being experienced by President Obama.

But while it's quite obviously fun to watch the mighty fall or to distance ourselves from leaders with declining popularity (during Richard Nixon's waning days in the White House, license plate frames were spotted on cars from Massachusetts reading, "DON'T BLAME US"*), as Christians, we're called to act counter to our base human nature and lift these people up to God.

Aside from the fact that we're commanded to do so -- as Paul writes, "... all ... prayers ... and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quit and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." (1 Tim. 2:1-2) -- there's another extremely important reason for doing this. Whether we like it or not, these people are in charge of our countries and our lives. The current public circuses notwithstanding, they still are tasked with making decisions that affect us, both directly and indirectly.

Obviously, they can't do it in their own power. Who can? That's why they need God on their side, and we need to call Him in.

There's a passage in "Too Bad" that goes, "All your money/Was just insulation"; but I'm certain I've heard a version where Doug sings, "Was the Bible/No more than insulation ...?": a suggestion that when one gets caught, one falls back on references to the Bible. Rob Ford claimed he's had a "Jesus moment" about his drug use. Stephen Harper is a church-goer and I know many Christians supported him initially because they felt he'd bring Godliness to Sussex Drive.

I can't judge either, although given the laundry list of people we're supposed to avoid that Paul spells out in 2 Timothy 3, one has to wonder whether these are the sort of people the PM has surrounded himself with. But I, too, had several "Jesus moments" when I started coming to grips with my own sins and misdeeds. Talking about a "Jesus moment" may seem like a cynical play of the holy "Get Out Of Jail Free" Card, but so many of us only have those moments when our backs are against the wall, so I'm in no position to judge the Toronto mayor.

So Point One: we have to suppress our desire to snicker and gossip about the situations surrounding Leaders Behaving Badly and recognize that they are in trouble and as they go, so go we.

Point Two: we're the ones who elected them (no - DON'T say, "I didn't vote for them!" - that's not the point), so we need to pray for wisdom and for truth to be revealed during election campaigns so that, when we go into the polling booth, we vote for the person God wants us to vote for.

Once they're elected, we have to keep praying that God will give them strength and the tools to do the job and that He'll take care of the things they can't. Remember that the ark God commanded Noah to build was only 150 feet long by 25 feet wide and 15 feet high. Somehow, 14 of every clean animal and 2 each of every unclean animal, plus 14 each of every species of birds had to come to Noah and be crammed into the boat. But that part wasn't Noah's job: it was God who made that happen. God lays out a situation that needs to be solved, but He doesn't give the humans involved any more than they can personally handle. He takes care of the rest. We need to apply that thinking to our politics.

I've long believed that God puts the people in power that He wants to be in power, and sometimes, it serves to expose a reality that we've ignored, whether wittingly or no. The trick, if you can call it that, is to seek God for the reasons, and if they don't become apparent, get to your knees and pray for those leaders.

Pray, for example, that Rob Ford's "Jesus moments" continue and that he comes through this a changed man and Toronto comes through stronger than before. Pray that the evil surrounding Stephen Harper is cleared away and the good that is in the man (and I believe there is plenty) will be revealed and will triumph. And pray that politicians of all stripes, whether in power or no, will shake off the current fleshly concern with beating the other side and remember that there is a country to lead and ultimately, it's God who assigned them to do it.

*Massachusetts was the one state that Nixon did not carry in the 1972 US Presidential election.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Green jobs and the confusion factor

An article in Tuesday's Vancouver Sun points out one of the side-effects of the hysteria/concern over environmental trauma: the danger of greenwashing the jobs created by a project. Beyond that, the article suggests that the very prospect of determining whether a job or an industry is "green" becomes an incredibly convoluted and confusing task. Is the output "green"? Is the process "green"? If one is and the other isn't, is it "net green"?

Sifting through the elements that make up an industry to measure their greenitude is worse than peeling an onion -- with the onion, at least your eyes get flushed clean -- as you look at all those pros and cons. It can leave you wondering, "what is truth?"

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!) looks at the confusion factor in the discussion over climate change (or environmental trauma). For example, James writes that confusion is the by-product of envy and self-seeking (James 3:16), the result of obfuscation for one's own advancement -- rather like the magician's mis-direct during a trick.

Confusion is one of the signs God is not being consulted on the question of the environment. As I write in AVCT:
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (I Cor. 14:3)
With all of this, many people, including myself, have been left crying, “What is truth?”
And that’s actually good news, because when that happens, we're on the verge of an answer. 
You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32) 
Jesus said ... I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, except through me. (John 14:6) 
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38) 
Poor Pilate. There he was, asking “what is truth?”, and it was staring him right in the face. 
We should remember that. When we are confused and our worldly efforts to try to sort things out prove fruitless, we need to go back to the basics.
Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” -- not half the time, nor three-quarters of the time, but 100% of the time. That means that the truth of environmental matters is found in His Word.  
Underlying all this is the inconvenient truth that there's not a whole lot of honesty going on when it comes to the environmental discussion and the god of this world has blinded people to the truth, when economics come into play. "We're warned about environmental destruction but hey - I've got to feed my family ... now, wait! Here's an industry that's providing 'green' jobs! Wonderful! We can have it both ways!" And people are so relieved at the prospect of being environmentally friendly and keeping a roof over their heads, they don't stop to consider the possibility that someone might be lying.

(Something else left out of that equation is the very real possibility that people in "dirty" industries who might be displaced as those industries fall out of favor may not have the skills to take the "green" jobs. Would new employers have the patience to re-train them when younger workers who might work for lower pay are already available?)

It's worth pointing out that the author of the Vancouver Sun piece was part of a research team at the University of Calgary that did this study on "green" jobs, and it also notes that some jobs in supposedly "dirty" industries like mining and oil and gas extraction are actually "greener" than the those that are generally accepted to be environmentally friendly. Ah, one might say, but this was done by a university in Alberta, where so much of the economy depends on resource extraction. So does that make the study's findings suspect?

And here we go again. I'd like to think that a university -- even one in Tulsa North -- would produce work that's beyond reproach, but then, the Climate Research Unit is also based at a university (East Anglia), and its research has been challenged (as, indeed, has been its method of responding to those who challenge it).

There's a chapter in my book called "Satan Stirs the Pot", where we look at the fact that the absence of the whole truth is an indication that God has not been part of the worldly discussion for a long time. The debate has descended into a struggle over "who's right" rather than "what's right". Lies, bullying, fear tactics, all overshadow the truth, and if truth is barred, so is God.

It's another good reason to take another good, long look at the situation of "climate change" and put it into the context of the Word of God. When we do that, we see that there are signs and warnings that He has given us through the ages -- a good 2,000 years ago, in fact: that climate change, along with earthquakes, wars, terrorism and other situations that don't quite fit the "global warming" paradigm ("global weirding", if you like) are part of a grander plan, and rather than fight against the signs, we need to come onside and learn how to seek His Will and live within that.

In other words, we need to admit that we don't know all the minutiae of "green" issues, and turn to the One who does know, because He made this whole thing.

He has a plan going down, and has had it since before the earth came into being. Sometimes, it doesn't look "good" to us, so our duty is to look beyond that and assume that if we stick to His program, we will come through.

John Lennon's "Life Is ..." -- revisited

There's a commercial for Bell that shows a guy walking along, blithely fiddling with his mobile device. All around him are images of fun things and entertainment -- games, TV shows, videos, etc. -- which are all available to him thanks to the wonders of Ma Bell. And when he's not playing with the device, he's busily texting, all while walking.

He's hip, he's cool, he's obviously blissed-out with his device; and I can't help thinking that what's missing is the car coming out of nowhere, slamming on the brakes and missing him by inches as he walks on, oblivious to the fact that he'd just stepped off the curb without checking the "Don't Walk" signal.

Or maybe, instead of the fun things and entertainment surrounding him, they could show images of war, terrorism, poverty, environmental destruction, etc.: things to which he is now oblivious because he's buried in his mobile device.

Most of three generations of people in the developed world are in danger of missing out on both hazards and beauty in the world around us because they're being duped into believing that escaping into a mobile device with its games and other diversions (not to mention other hi-tech toys from video games to computer-imbued glasses) is the be-all and end-all of existence.

Worse, as they miss out on life, they're also missing something else even more important. We're in a time when the signs Jesus told us about that would precede His return -- and before that, Armageddon -- are popping up all around us. Indeed, He says we need to be aware of what the signs mean, just as we know that the turning of the leaves means fall is approaching or gathering clouds means a storm. We're seeing more and more people who will not only miss the meaning of the signs, they'll miss the signs, themselves.

John Lennon famously defined "life" as "what happens while you're busy making other plans."

We could update that: "Life is what happens while you've got your nose stuck in your mobile device."


Friday, October 25, 2013

Problem Gambling: a Modest Proposal*

Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin has written some very cogent pieces lately about problem gambling in British Columbia. The columns have coincided with a report from the provincial health officer, which indicates the provincial government doesn't do enough to deal with problem gambling, even as revenues from gambling continue to rise.

As people consider what to do about the problem, I have a modest proposal.

The province, in cooperation with the banking industry, should provide low-interest loans to people who identify themselves as "problem gamblers". They could start with the self-exclusion lists that problem gamblers are expected to put themselves on, so that casinos will turn them away at the door (read Pete's column on one particular problem gambler to see how well that idea works). The term of these loans would not be set by months or even years, but "until I get on my feet again" or "until I get this problem licked".

This is a win-win-win situation. Problem gamblers get their fix. More revenue flows into the provincial coffers. The scheme could be declared a "charity" and banks can get a tax write-off. The gamblers no longer steal, lie and cheat to get money to play; loan sharks are driven out of business, thereby lowering the incidence of crime; BC businesses no longer have to worry that self-excluded gamblers will just cross the border to the casinos at Tulalip or Muckleshoot. There will no longer be concerns about jobs for casino workers or for entertainers whose livelihoods often depend on casino gigs.

Harm reduction, in other words.

Of course, if you have winners, you must have losers, too. The addicted gambler will still be addicted, spending precious hours at the casino, cutting out of work in order to "pull a few handles", leaving their families wondering when or if dad or mom will be coming home. And there's no guarantee that they won't continue to spend the milk money, the kids' college fund, or the company cash float on top of the loan money. But those are minor considerations, compared to the benefits of a continued revenue stream to the province, charities and health care programs, not to mention the ability of an entire sector of society to have a good time. After all, money and good times: that's what life's about, isn't it?

The provincial health officer is an ardent supporter of harm reduction for drug addicts: why should gamblers be treated any differently?

*"A Modest Proposal" was originally an essay by Jonathan Swift, who proposed that the solution to overpopulation in Ireland would be to export Irish children as meat. No, he wasn't serious (either).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Google's new Terms of Service - and an observation for our time

I must say, in this day of instant notoriety on social media, Google's new Terms of Service are comforting: it's good to know that it's possible to control who sees what I post (very helpful for people who might go off on a tirade that might considered ill-advised and that -- by Murphy's Law of Politics -- will inevitably surface during a future political campaign). It's also worth understanding that such control is possible, and taking care to make use of it.

But it's a sad commentary on our times, to see this notice as one of the three main points:  

Use your mobile devices safely

It’s just good common sense: Don’t use our services if you’re doing something that requires your full attention, like driving, and our services might distract you. And, of course, always follow the law while driving.

No kidding, Sherlock! What's sad about this is, years after the problem of driving while distracted by a mobile device was identified, and after the numerous cases since then that have caused death and serious injury, companies still have to remind people. I was intrigued when the owner's manual for my BlackBerry contained a similar warning, and included using it while walking as a potential hazard.
So true. Just yesterday, I had to do a Bobby Hull dipsy-doodle to get around a guy bearing down on me in a crosswalk, nose buried (figuratively) in his device. And how many times have we seen someone cross against a red light because they were engrossed in some badger-sputumly important text message or phone conversation? It`s funny in the opening sequence to the movie version of Guys and Dolls, when Frank Sinatra jaywalked while studying the Racing Form, cars screeching to a halt. But this is real life, and not everyone is a stunt driver, rehearsed and prepared to stop the car on the chalk marks when the star walks in front.
There's a deeper lesson here. This is real life, and we need our full attention to what's going on around us. We can't wander down the streets with our heads and minds diverted elsewhere. And if it's a text message or a phone call that's so important it can't wait another nanosecond, we need to give it our undivided attention, as well. But look at how many things are going on around us that we need to pay attention to -- like a 7.2 earthquake in the Philippines, bomb blasts at LAX, homelessness, drugs, corruption, or society spinning out of control like a border collie on a triple espresso. If we spend our lives escaping into the wonderful world of texts, games and phone calls, we're going to miss something big -- and then wonder why we didn't get the memo.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ahead of the curve

NB - since I initially posted this on Oct. 3, 2013, I delivered a sermon on the theme of God providing the solution before the problem had manifested. Moving ahead of the curve, in fact.

A brother from my church, Westpointe Christian Church, called me yesterday to discuss something I'd said during a sermon a couple of weeks ago. It had been a message about the "Ten Talents", in which a master leaves each of his servants in charge of a sum of money with the instructions, "occupy till I return." Two of the servants invest properly and get a large return: fivefold in one instance, tenfold in the other. The third servant simply buries the money and hands it back to the boss when he returns with no increase.

My friend was struck by the idea that the third servant was "wicked" because he had judged his boss for what he thought were unsavory dealings, while the other two simply followed the boss' example and did as they were told. "You've helped me more than you know," he said.

"Praise God," I replied -- and as I rang off, I realized just how much He was to be praised and not me; because I remembered how close I came to not preaching that message.

See, I only preach occasionally at Westpointe, so when sermon ideas come to me, I write them down and bank them for the times when I'm called on to speak. The week before, I had preached on Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego, in which the theme was, "Stand!" I mentioned the full armor of God, and as I did that, I thought, "maybe I should preach on that next week, instead of the '10 Talents'."

In fact, as Friday approached, I had two other options in mind rather than the 10 Talents. But on praying about it, I heard, "go with the 10 Talents". And so I did.

This is another instance of what I've come to learn is God providing the solution and then saying, "now, stand by for the problem." As humans, we tend to get into a jam and try to figure out what to do about it. Alternatively, we'll have a problem, realize we have the solution nearby, and then say, "lucky thing I had that handy." Nope. Not "luck" at all, but God, subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) making sure we're ready to deal with it.

300 block Carrall Street
Take, for example, Gospel Mission. It was established on Vancouver's Downtown East Side in 1929. At the time, the DTES was the commercial and entertainment centre of Vancouver. But not long afterwards, the Great Depression hit, and a "rescue mission" became more and more of a necessity. Sometime in the 40s, the Mission moved to its current location, next to Pigeon Park. This came just before the end of World War II, when many newly-de-mobbed soldiers came home to find they couldn't cope with the return to civilian life. It was around that time that the area's descent into "Skid Road" became more pronounced.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2007, when the Lord put it on our hearts to build a facility to provide showers for people in the area. He moved in miraculous ways to bring together the people, supplies and finances to make it happen, and when He told senior pastor Barry Babcook that the place had to open by the end of April, 2008, we had no way of knowing just why there was a time crunch.

Pigeon Park - the blue partial oval on the right
is the corner of the Gospel Mission building
But there was: the world economic situation started coming unravelled not long after The Lord's Rain opened. People started holding onto their money; corporations and foundations started dialing back their charitable contributions. Had it not opened on April 30, 2008, The Lord's Rain might have remained some roughed-in shower stalled and bare-bones sinks -- and in danger of being evicted.

(In fact, The Lord's Rain actually benefited from the worldwide economic crisis. The W. Garfield Weston Foundation -- set up by the family that owns Loblaw's and Superstore -- set up a special fund to deliver one-time grants to organizations to help them get through the tighter times and to encourage other philanthropic institutions to loosen their purse strings. The Foundation remembered Gospel Mission and donated $15,000.00, practically unannounced. So not only did the Lord have the facility set up before the tough times hit, He ensured there would be funding that went against the trend.)

The Lord's Rain was built and up and running
just before the worldwide economic crisis caused
people to sit on their wallets
It's taken nearly six years, but The Lord's Rain not only has the showers going steadily during its opening times, but people are finding respite from the street, rest, encouragement, fellowship and quite often a place to turn in an emergency. I also foresee that it will play a role in helping people to keep a cool head in the face of the current bogeyman called "Gentrification," which is a source of great fear for many people around the neighborhood.

Here again, God has provided the solution long before the problems started to manifest.

Sometimes, it's not so spectacular as a donation coming in before it's needed or people we've met in the past proving to have gifts that are suddenly sorely needed. Sometimes, it's subtle things, like the time I found that someone had donated a one-piece set of full-body Stanfield's woolen winter under-alls. Two days later, a woman came in who had spent the night on the street and was cold and tired. She lay down on a bench but was shivering badly. I remembered the Stanfield's, got it and wrapped her in it. She was asleep within minutes -- and yes, she kept the woolies.
Open for showers, coffee, respite from "the street".
The TV shows the evening services from the Mission
upstairs, so people with disabilities can take part.

"Lucky we had those"? No - just God's timing.

It's something worth keeping in mind: when we run into difficulty, God has probably already placed the solution within our reach: we just have to seek Him for it. We don't have to re-invent the wheel or look for some new approach. Like the two good and faithful servants, we have to be obedient, diligent and vigilant.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Climate change and another good reason to "fear not"

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!), I argue that the changes our environment is going through are all part of God's grand plan. Furthermore, that He's told us what He's going to do and that we're not to be afraid.

The fact that fear is so much a part of the climate change discussion should be a tipoff that Satan is trying to turn our attention away from God and what He has told us to do. We're made to be afraid of rising ocean levels and declining water supplies; of drought and famine; of extinction of species. But the Word of God tells us that's all going to happen but in the end, God and His People triumph. So rather than fear these things and try to "stop" them (as if), we need to live and work with them and re-focus on the assignment God has given us -- to spread the Gospel to as many people as possible and bring them into the Kingdom.

(We also need to re-focus on the First Great Assignment -- to be fruitful and multiply, have dominion over the earth, replenish it and subdue it (Genesis 1:26, 28), repent for the role we as humans have played in damaging Creation and re-think our actions towards it. Accepting that God is at work does not mean rolling over and waiting for the Rapture to come, but taking the right action according to His Word.)

In my studying this morning, I came across a key passage that not only reinforces these points, but is intended to calm any fears we have about the changes we see.

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create ....
-- Isaiah 65:17-18

In other words, God says, "I'm re-building everything so that you won't even remember what the old heavens and earth looked like; trust Me: you'll love it!"

It is reassuring, isn't it? Remember that moves of God are invariably preceded with or accompanied by the words "fear not". That's because, when God moves, it is so stomach-looseningly awesome that it's scary. Satan's constant task is to prevent us from looking beyond the fear factor. As children of God, our constant assignment is to do just that and look for God At Work: when we do, He always shows us, and we always rejoice.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dr King and the Risk of Obedience

The past month has been filled with speeches and articles commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It got me thinking about two incidents, a couple of days apart, when I was in New York in 2007.

As I explained in my presentation on The Lord's Rain, I had let God guide me on this trip, and one of the places He led me was to a little church in Brooklyn, Rivers of Living Water, which was not far from the Y where I was staying. I heard that there was a healing service on the Friday night, so I went down to have a look. As soon as I opened the door, I realized that blending in was not going to be possible: the congregation was all African-American. No matter: the service was what I had come for, so I sat down and prayed and watched.

Presently, one of the elders came over and said, "Will you take Communion with us, son?" The offer, along with her gentle tone, told me I was accepted. No - not "accepted": I was home.

Kenny in action: "Oh, I wish I could tell someone ..."
There followed an awesome evening of prayer and fellowship, and Apostle Kenny Black took me along to a "shut-in" -- an all-night prayer session at another church in Brooklyn, with about 100 people praying, speaking in tongues and calling on the Lord. Again, I was the only white person there, but it didn't matter: the Spirit was smashing down any racial barriers that might have existed and I was reminded of Kenneth Copeland's observation, that "there are only two races in God's eyes: those who know Him and those who don't". I finally tore myself away around 6 AM.

On Sunday, I went to the service. Pastor Evelyn -- Kenny's wife -- introduced me to the congregation and asked me to say a few words (I noted the "few"). Then Kenny got the whole congregation to "line up and show our brother some love". They all filed past, giving me hugs and handshakes and "God bless you"s. The warmth and love that effused from that crowd was palpable, and the Holy Spirit was present in all His glory.

A couple of days later, I was walking along a street in Manhattan, when I heard a tremendous commotion behind me. Car horns were honking, and someone was ranting unintelligibly at the world in general. I turned around and saw a 30-something black man, raving at everyone and no one, lurching out into the street, daring cars to run him over. Nobody obliged.

The Lord said to me, "go and pray for that man".

Immediately, I stopped in my tracks and said, "Lord, in Jesus' Name ..."

I got no further. "NO," He said. "I said to go and pray for him. Go to him and pray for him."

He had gone across the street and I lost sight of him, but when I saw a couple of women walking hurriedly out of a coffee shop down the block, looking over their shoulders with an air of disgust, I figured I'd found him. I was right. He came out a couple of minutes later, and I went up to him.

"Hey, bro'," I said. "You OK? Can I pray for you?"

I've led rather a sheltered life, so I wasn't really prepared for what followed. It was the closest thing to a racist tirade I'd ever been subjected to. I only remember a couple of direct quotes:

"You people been f**king up my people for the past 400 years."

"You can't pray for me 'cause you ain't got the love of Jesus in your heart."

"You got blue eyes."

I wanted to reply, "how can you see into my heart when you can't see past the color of my eyes?", but the Lord put a watch on my lips. Instead, I kept praying, calling on Jesus to heal him, and kept offering him my hand.

Finally, another fellow came along, who knew the first man. He stopped. They talked for a bit, then walked off together, as if I weren't there and as if nothing had happened. As I walked on, I said, "so what the heck was that all about?"

The Lord said, "you learned something, didn't you? And did you see how he calmed down when My Son's Name was mentioned?"

I hadn't thought of that, but then, I'd had a different expectation for the way things would turn out. I figured he'd receive the prayer, I'd maybe cast some demons out of him, then we'd go for coffee (my treat) and an hour or two of sweet fellowship before going our separate ways. Maybe exchange email addresses.

As you can see, that's not how it worked out. But the lesson of that encounter rings loud right now: the key ingredient is Jesus. 

It was Jesus who led the people of Rivers of Living Water to welcome me in as a brother, and it was Jesus who led me to cross the street to pray for a seriously troubled man; and it was Jesus who calmed down a situation that could have become ugly, left on its own.

Here's something to consider: I brought up Jesus, and the other fellow did, too; he might have been trying to deny that Jesus was in my heart, but His Name was there ... and when two or more are gathered in His Name ... thinking about Jesus' words, He doesn't actually say we all have to be in total agreement, but if we're gathered in His Name, He'll help us sort out the Truth that lies somewhere between Person X's position and Person Y's position.

An incident like that -- plus others, that I've read and heard about -- make me wonder if people have lost sight of what else Martin Luther King said in that famous speech, 50 years ago. "I have a dream", "let freedom ring" and "free at last" are long-remembered, as they should be: but he said more than that.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

"Let us not ... [drink] from the cup of bitterness and hatred." "We must ... [meet] physical force with soul force." Don't distrust all white people just because some have hated you.

Of those two incidents I described above, which would have made Dr King say, "that's what I'm talking about, and which do you think would make him shake his head at how far our society hasn't come in 50 years? Kenny Black and I are the same age, and had we been in DC at the March, Dr King could well have pointed to us as the black child and the white child he prayed would live together in peace and harmony.

On the other hand, wasn't the visceral reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman -- the screaming for blood and revenge (cloaked with the word "justice"), not to mention the reactionary finger-pointing about white people killed by black people -- deep draughts from that cup of bitterness and hatred? When radio host Don Imus made his "nappy-headed ho's" comment about the NCAA women's basketball champions a few years ago, there was an opportunity to extend grace and forgiveness; instead, people demanded Imus' head on a platter and had him run him off the airwaves (thereby denying him the opportunity to humble himself public and repent).

It makes you wonder whether people really listened to that speech, or just caught the highlights on the evening news?

Jesus calls us to love one another. Over and over again, He tells us that's the key to all the laws and prophets, and at the Last Supper, He gave that "new commandment" to His disciples. But obedience to that commandment is risky: when you love unconditionally, you put your heart on the line and make everyone else more important than you -- with God most important of all. And in return, the world might reject you; people might call you nasty names or ridicule you, largely out of envy because you've found a greater way. And amazingly, Jesus puts the onus on the wronged party -- the victim -- to love, to forgive, to take the higher ground and rise above the level of the attacker.

Like Jesus, Dr King called people to take that risk of obedience, even in the face of unspeakable atrocities, because the long-term reward for that obedience is greater than we could ever ask or think.

I know there's been hurt. I know the pain is deep-rooted. And I know that, when you're not the one who's been wronged, it's easy to say, "oh, lighten up" or "forgive". But I also know that the longer one dwells on the hurt and the injustice, the deeper its claws are set in one's being. Martin King's speech all those years ago was not a war cry, but an exhortation to break the cycle of pain and hatred; and while he didn't actually quote the Apostle Paul, his call on all people to rise to the higher plane of dignity and discipline was really to not be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Is there a message we need to see?

An unspeakable tragedy in Quebec. More reported leaks in oil pipelines. The BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Sudden massive and disastrous flooding in Southern Alberta. They all coincide with the current debate over two major oil-transportation proposals: the Northern Gateway project and the Keystone XL pipeline. (The connection with the flooding in Alberta is that some people have been blaming it -- rightly or wrongly -- on climate change related to oil-sands production in northern Alberta.)

On top of that, this morning's Vancouver Sun carries an article speculating on the possibility of oil being moved by rail as production exceeds pipeline capacity.

Through it all, I'm wondering if God isn't trying to send us a message.

I'm not talking about end-times Doomsday stuff. There's no question that much of the environmental upheaval we're seeing, whether man-made or beyond our control, has already been prophesied as part of God's plan. But rather than look at it as Divine judgment, we should look at these events as a warning from God that we need to "count the cost" when it comes to resource extraction.

It's important, too, to say that I am not suggesting that God wiped out scores of innocent people in Lac-Megantic in order to make a point. It's enough to say that our greed and desire for "oil at any price" is at the root of this tragedy. But the "message" I'm referring to is, we need to take a hard look at the basic concept of resource development and transportation.

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!, I point out that Jesus talks of counting the cost of anything we do and I suggest that that cost must include the effect our actions have on God's Creation. In Genesis, it's clear that our primary purpose is to be the caretakers of His Creation, to enjoy it, but also to ensure it's replenished and protected (Genesis 1:26, 2:15).

"... we have to include consideration of the impact we have on Creation as part of all things we do. But when we follow God’s way, this consideration – and the action that goes with it – takes a different form.

"'For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has [enough] to finish lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see [it] begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish it."'
-- Luke 14:28-30

"Counting the cost is not just a matter of bricks and mortar and the price of labor, but also the impact on God's creation. Nor is finishing the work (v.30) a matter of getting it to the ribbon-cutting: it’s ensuring that God’s creation remains protected and nurtured. Consider how many projects have become objects of scorn because they wound up damaging creation – damage that often could have been mitigated had someone sat down and counted the cost. 

"Again, though, just as an obsession with profit-and-loss is wrong, so, too, is obsession with environmental impact. It all has to be considered in toto, keeping the Word of God constantly before us.

"God’s will is no mystery: we have sixty-six books to show us what He wants and what He doesn't want. The beauty of His Word is that, if we look hard enough and meditate on it long enough, His Will becomes clear. Is the solution in line with His will, or does it involve compromising for the sake of a short-term goal, no matter how 'good' our intentions or goals may be?

"We also need to have the faith, like Elisha at the waters above Jericho: if it’s His will for us to proceed, He will provide the means to mitigate environmental damage.

"When God tells you to do something, He doesn't tell you to afford it: He tells you to do it.

"Solutions proposed by environmentalists may sound catchy and many of them can be appropriate for the particular circumstances, but we have to be careful not to take them wholesale and simply add “in Jesus' Name”. That's putting lipstick on a pig. We must avoid inward-looking thinking, like undue emphasis on our “carbon footprint” and remember that Jesus teaches us to look outward – and upward – in our thinking.

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. -- Matthew 6:33

"What could be simpler and more direct than that?"


Put a different way, we need to ask ourselves how badly we need that oil. How necessary is it to be free from the "dependency on foreign oil" that we keep hearing about? If oil -- or any resource -- is located in a place where it is virtually impossible to extract it without harming God's Creation, should we be trying to get at it at all? Should we not be finding alternatives?

But how would we run our cars, you ask? How would we heat our homes and fuel our industries? What about the jobs and economic activity tied to oil?

In what do we place our faith? Oil or God? The just shall live not by oil but by faith; it's said that in tough financial times, economy trumps ecology; but God trumps all, whether we like it or not.

It feels like God is screaming at us to take a step back and look at Him. I believe that, if we do, He will show us exactly how we're supposed to get at the oil and transport it, if we are supposed to have it at all.* If we're not, I believe we should leave it exactly where it is and trust that He will provide for us.

Sadly, in British Columbia, where so much debate over the oil pipeline and oil-port expansion is going on, the provincial government has been pushing a mantra about "growing the economy and creating jobs to provide for BC's families" -- a platform on which they were elected in May -- and that will likely drown out any discussion of alternatives -- including the God alternative.

*(Elsewhere in the book, I suggest that the relative ease with which oil is found and extracted in Arab countries is part of God's promise to Hagar that her son's seed will always be provided-for -- even though he will be constantly at war with the rest of the world. While the idea of not being dependent on Arab oil seems to be the right thing, it may set one at odds with that plan and promise of God.)

If there was ever a time to "trust in the Lord with all [our hearts] and lean not on [our] own understanding," it is now.

And that's the "message" we need to see.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


... with loaves and fishes thrown in

“Someone needs your skills,” a sister in Christ said to me a couple of months ago. I had been cashiered from the job I’d had for the previous seven years and was looking for new opportunities.

As the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses gave them a recap of the previous 40 years. That’s what the book of Deuteronomy is: a review of what God had done for them, in order to keep their faith focused. They would need it for the events to come, when they would face the nations that were about to be evicted from that Promised Land after living there for 400 years.

And now, as I head into a new chapter, I have to review how God has led me through that last 10 years or so of my life. Let’s pick it up in 2003, when I lost my job, my family and my home in the space of about 2 weeks.

When I say I “lost my family”, I mean my marriage broke up and I was cut off from my kids. This is not to curry sympathy: I was paying the price for actions in my past, and God was putting me through an intensive de-construction and re-construction. At any rate, I had no place to go and lived in my car for two weeks until my dad found out and practically ordered me to move into my late mother’s room.

There I was, about $150K in debt with only a couple of paper routes to bring in any sort of income. I’d received a severance package from my previous job, but much of that had gone into paying off the most pressing bills. The industry where I had been working – broadcasting —demands youth and good looks and a recent demo reel. I had none of that. (Well, maybe the good looks ...)

But I had Jesus. I had been influenced heavily by “prosperity Gospel” and teaching that I believe is called “Word-faith”. Many Christians are down on that, but applied properly and with a correct heart before God, those teachings are incontrovertible. I clung to that.

I tithed assiduously, read the Bible voraciously and spent a lot of time in prayer. I confessed to God that I was not strong enough to deal with this situation on my own. Like the man in that homily, “Footprints”, God carried me – and He really hasn’t stopped.

Fall of 2003, He made me cross paths with my former radio boss. His son had been general manager at a Christian TV station in Surrey, and (guess what?) I had told my former TV boss that I wanted to be a Christian talk-show host. I talked at length with the son, who – I learned later – had been fired from that station in a rather dubious way, but had the grace to speak well of it and tell me whom I should contact.

That station had an opening for a public-affairs producer and they hired me for it.

Three days after my hiring was confirmed, the job market was suddenly flooded. My old TV station laid off 17 people and several more were blown out at its sister station in Vancouver.

Despite getting praise for my work from upper management at the new TV station, the general manager suddenly informed me that the shows I was producing were looking “worse” than before. A couple of days after that, I was let go, with NO severance pay. As with the previous job, the circumstances seemed so odd – in the initial flush, I thought they were unfair – it could only be a case of God At Work.

As I drove away from the station, the Lord said to me, “I need you in the mainstream: it is better to be a Christian in broadcasting than in Christian broadcasting.”

There followed about six more weeks of prayer, study, paper routes and reaching out to possibly employers.

My estranged wife served me with papers demanding child support – apparently unaware that I was unemployed. Two days before the court hearing, I was hired by CKNW and I was able to tell the judge that I was able to pay.

Because of my job at CKNW and the fact that I was commuting by public transit from Surrey, I came into contact with the panhandlers, addicts and other types who inhabited Granville Mall at the time – the foreshadowing of the people on the Downtown East Side. I never had any spare change to give them, and one day, when I was feeling guilty about it, the Lord said to me, “these people don’t need money; they don’t need programs: they need Me. They need My Son. And you’re going to tell them.” 

Of course, I argued with God, saying, “but my testimony is too white-bread! I’ve never been a drug addict or an alcoholic or homeless ...” 

And God said, “but what did happen to you nearly killed you, right?” 


“And I got you out of it, right?” 


“That’s your message.”

And that led to the odyssey that took me to the Downtown East Side.

In the meantime, God continued to carry me to places I could never have thought of. He led me to a tiny apartment in the 12th-and-Burrard area, from which I could walk to work and save money. He put me in contact with other people who knew of other jobs I could do on the side. I had prayed for extra work so I could increase my income and He provided that, as well – although there was a heavy price: it was a second part-time job (the CKNW gig was part-time, as well, but there were lots of hours), and sometimes I would work two or three shifts in a row. But when I started to burn out and I told God in a prayer that others my age and younger were working less and earning more, He said, “this is what you prayed for. Re-work your prayer and see what happens.”

So I prayed for a higher income – so I could pay the bills, support my children and still move forward – and He promptly got me fired from CKNW.

The circumstances of the firing were so bizarre, it could only have been God at work. It gave me an opportunity to testify to the station’s HR guy, who had flown in from Edmonton to wield the axe. He had asked me if I was “OK to go home”. “Sure,” I said, “I still have an hour left on my bus ticket!” “No,” he said. “I mean, are you ... OK?” “Look,” I said, “if I didn’t have Jesus Christ in my life, I’d be a basket case. He’s brought me through worse things than this, and He’ll do it again.”

This time, there was severance, which got me through the next few weeks; there followed a short gig that got me through Christmas and paid well, and during that time I got a phone call from TransLink that put me into a significantly higher-paying job, where I stayed for the next seven years.

And when I talk about a higher-paying job, that also means higher tithing, and additional money left over to pay for Ministry work on the Downtown East Side – like buying groceries for meals.

I look at all this and shake my head: there is nothing I have done to deserve the favor of God, and I often think of the Psalm that says He has not rewarded us according to our deeds (Psalm 103:10). If He did, I probably would have been vaporized by a lightning bolt long ago.

Oh, yes: God also got me a car, after over a year of being car-less. It was hammered home to me that I would need a vehicle to help others get around and to transport items for the Mission. So in a total “faith project”, He helped me determine what would be the “perfect car” (a Toyota Matrix) and I set my sights on that. Through a series of circumstances that were also nothing but God at work, the money for the down payment materialized and the deal went through.

My position at TransLink also gave me a greater public profile, which drew more attention to the Ministry; it also helped me make more media contacts, and they have often helped publicize the ministry or something on the DTES, which has helped bridge the gap between that area and the “nicer” parts of the city.

God also blessed me with a wonderful wife, who supports and encourages me; a church where I’m able to bring my gifts to serve Him; and a lovely home in one of the best parts of town. He also blessed us with a condo in Maui – and the way that deal went through was also God At Work – and many others have been similarly blessed by it, both by being able to rent it at a reasonable price and by our simply giving it to people who need the getaway. And when we need to get away, we have a place to go.

My relationship (or lack of) with my children is still a thorn in my side, but I believe that is there to remind me of where I’ve been and how God has worked in my life; God will remove that thorn when He’s good and ready.

In the past year, things started to change at work, and I sensed that my time there was running out. So once again, I put it in the hands of the Lord. Again, there was a severance package, time to reflect and time to see what direction He wants me to go in.

So that’s my “Deuteronomy”, and I need it with less than a month left in the severance. It’s good to remember what He did for me, because I’m again facing a situation where the financial obligations are larger than the income that I can see, so once again, I have to rely on God to carry me.

“Someone needs your skills,” my friend said. Indeed, that “someone” has come along (although I can’t name the “someone” just yet), eager to get my experience into their operation. The hourly rate they can offer is only about a third of what I was making at TransLink. But I don’t believe that’s the point anymore. Last Sunday, Jon Boyd at Westpointe Christian Church preached on the importance of service – placing yourself below others to serve them. In other words, I believe I need to change my mindset from “what can Company X do for me?” to “what can I do for Company X?”, and leave it to God to take care of the things of the world. He always has, and He always will.

Besides, who is paying the kind of money that I was making at TransLink? Not many, in this world, and if I held out for it -- even if I said I was “standing in faith” that that “perfect job” would come along – I’d be on Skid Row before I knew it. It’s not about ME, it’s about HIM, and what He wants me to do is be ready to serve the one who hires me.

And for my own situation, I think of something I remember Creflo Dollar, jr., saying at a conference many years ago: My paycheque is not my Source. My job is not my Source. God is my Source!
Consider the loaves and fishes. The disciples looked at the amount of money they had and said, “we can’t feed all these people with this little money”. And Andrew looked at the child’s lunch – five loaves and two small fishes – and said, “what are they among so many?”

But Jesus thanked God and started handing out the food, and the leftovers filled twelve baskets.

So I thank God that there has always been provision – exactly as and when we’ve needed it. God will take the loaves and fishes I see in front of me now and multiply it so that no one who’s looking to me (including creditors and ministries) will “go hungry”.

He is my Source.

He will supply all my needs according to His riches in glory.

He knows what I need even before I ask Him.

He did it before, and He’s not doing it again: He’s never stopped.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Adélie penguins, BC lemons and Luke 21

A few years ago, maritime lawyer Joe Spears suggested that, if global warming continues to melt Arctic ice, that would open up the Northwest Passage and make for greater movement of goods by ship. At the time, I sneered at the proposition: here we have the earth (I reasoned) hurtling towards destruction, and Joe's talking about improved commercial shipping?

Of course, that was when I was still of the mindset that global warming/climate change was a Bad Thing. But the more I've thought about it -- or, more accurately, the more the Lord has shown me the things that are written in His Word -- the more I've realized that these events are part of His plan, and rather than curse Him for sending a Bad Thing, we are to draw closer to Him and react according to His instructions.

Rather than seeing Joe Spears' prediction as a callous response to a crisis, we should see it as a case of adapting to changing conditions.

And there have been other items in the news about effects of global warming/climate change that may not be Bad Things, after all. Adélie penguins, for example, are actually benefiting from increased habitat due to the receding ice in the Antarctic. The Vancouver Sun reported in May that some growers on Vancouver Island are able to grow lemons and other citrus crops, due to changes in climate.

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!, I point out that often, God's plan looks bad to us, simply because it can cause pain. But because His plan has been worked out from before the beginning of time, we need to focus not on the things that make us afraid but on what our instructions are -- spelled out for us in the Bible -- for responding to it.

In the Gospels, we read how Jesus forged ahead with the plan He'd been sent to execute, even though it ran against things people of the world thought were "good". When Peter protested that Jesus should not be persecuted and killed, Jesus called out Satan. At another point, "when Jesus perceived that [the people] were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone." (John 6:15) Wouldn't it have been "good" for Jesus to be declared King of the Jews? Wasn't that why the Messiah was supposed to come?

Yet, that would have kippered God's ongoing plan for our salvation today. If the people had had their way 2,000 years ago, where would we be now? Would we not still be wandering around in our sin, despairing that we had no way out -- assuming mankind would still exist?

As I write this, a report in Le Monde describes the very real threat in Micronesia from the effects of global warming. Livelihoods are in jeopardy, as are whole islands, from rising ocean levels. The article, however, points the blame squarely at industrialized countries and their "environmental irresponsibility". Clearly, there's a lot to fear.

But this is also an opportunity to reach out and help our fellow humans adapt to the changes. Pointing a finger at big bad industrialized countries, however soul-satisfying it might be, won't help anything. Just as we see the  way environmental change is benefiting Adélie penguins, potentially increasing commerce through the Northwest Passage and giving fruit growers on Vancouver Island a new cash crop, we need to look for ways to adapt to these new circumstances.

(It's worth noting that the blame is being fixed after the fact. The Word of God, however, also tells us what's going to happen, and enough of Its prophecies have already come to pass that we really need to take note.) Jesus says, "There will be signs in the sun, in the moon and in the stars; and on earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken." (Luke 21:25-26)

This is not a time for our hearts to fail us and for us to worry about what the future will bring (the "expectation of things coming"). Jesus tells us what happens next -- "the Son of Man [will come] in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27) -- and we need to be prepared.

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! is an ebook, available for US$3.99 through online bookstores like Chapters/Indigo or Barnes and Noble.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Meatless Monday - environmental and health benefits -- and it's Biblical!

Today's Vancouver Sun has an item on a concept that's getting some traction: Meatless Monday. Author Eleanor Boyle says the idea is being picked up in various jurisdictions around the world -- promoting the idea of going one day of the week without meat (although the City of Vancouver is only proclaiming one meatless day so far -- June 10).

(Eleanor has already milked gags like "steakholder engagement", so I'll spare you. Thank Heaven for small mercies.)

The concept is being pitched as a step towards solving some environmental and health problems. There are issues like land use and obesity that are connected with meat-eating, and while experts figure Canadians, Americans and Australians would have to cut their meat consumption in half to allow truly sustainable livestock production, the concept is a start. Kind of like an 8-hour fast or going without coffee for a week, it's a foot in the door and (egad!) one may even like it.

(We have friends on Vancouver Island who are vegetarians, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that the way they cook, you don't really notice that there's no meat.)

But there's another upside to Meatless Monday: it's Biblical.

I don't mean Religious -- as in the dictum that you can only eat fish on Friday -- I mean Biblical in that there's actually a commandment relating to it. It's called the Land Sabbath.

When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord.
Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit;
But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord: you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard.
What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine: for it is a year of rest for the land.
-- Lev. 25:2-5 (NKJV)

Later, the Lord states that, in the sixth year, the land will produce enough food to last through the seventh year and all the way up to harvest time in Year Eight -- the first year of the new cycle.

Talk about counter-intuitive: have "normal" harvests for five years, then production triples in the sixth year, and then you're supposed shut down production for a full year?

But the idea is to give the land rest for one-seventh of the time, just as we're supposed to devote one day out of seven to rest and the Lord. It's sustainability -- God's version.

But in our urban society, how do we observe the Land Sabbath, ourselves? Meatless Monday is one way to do it. Reduce our food consumption by one-seventh, and we're taking that much pressure off the land. Reduce demand, and there's more food to go around and less "demand" for production-increasing techniques, like growth hormones and genetic modification. 

Of course, God always gives us the choice of whether to follow His commandments or not -- but He makes it clear what the benefits are of obeying. So if people commit to following the Land Sabbath -- and Meatless Monday is a good way to start -- it is written that they'll reap rewards and blessings beyond anything they could have thought of. 

I discuss the Land Sabbath and other ways to look past fears of Global Warming or Climate Change and see how God expects us to behave in Chapter 7 of my book, A Very Convenient Truth -- or, Jesus Told Us There'd Be Days Like These, so Stop Worrying About The Environment And Get With His Program! 

Available as an e-book, US$3.99 at Chapters/Indigo, Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Stompin' Tom for the Hall?

I don't know if anyone's collecting Memories of Stompin' Tom Connors, but I have one. I have to confess, I was not a fan and after "Hockey Night", I can't recall any of his other songs, aside for one about bugs that I heard when I was in Nova Scotia in 1974. But there was something one couldn't help liking about his music and the things he wrote about: his love for the country was genuine and contagious.

I'll tell you this much: I'd love to write a song that practically everybody in an entire country knows and will sing at the drop of a hat, and that's the basis of my "Stompin' Tom Memory".

It was the 2006 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, and I was the French-language PA announcer. (I've spent the years since then, trying to convince Hockey Canada that I actually can speak French, and indeed, my ability in that has improved greatly, thanks in large part to my being the porte-parole for TransLink, as far as Radio-Canada was concerned. But I digress ...) In the Gold Medal Final, Canada absolutely shut down the Russians (including Evgeny Malkin), and bulled their way to a 5-0 win.

Of course, General Motors Place (as Rogers Arena was called at the time) was rocking, and during a play stoppage late in the game, the DJ, Dave Levinsohn, put on "Hockey Night". 18,000 fans clapped and sang along. The puck was dropped, and Dave killed the music, as he was required to. The singing continued, unabated, long after play had resumed. It was a very cool moment and got me thinking about the song itself: there are few songs in this country as recognizable and singable, and that make total strangers bond, as the "Hockey Song" -- and that's a legacy to which just about every songwriter aspires. 

In the outpouring that usually accompanies the passing of someone most people just plain liked, there's a movement afoot to honor Tom in the Hockey Hall of Fame. That might be a bit arch, but it got me thinking: maybe the Hall should have a section that showcases the ways hockey has been included in our culture. I remember back in the 70s, Hockey Night in Canada serialized a ghastly 1930s movie called "The King of Hockey" and that pretty much summed up the extent of hockey in the movies. But there's been a lot since then, and if I were to put the exhibit together (I CALL DIBS!), it would include:
  • Stompin' Tom (of course)
  • Dolores Claman, composer of the Hockey Night in Canada theme (now TSN's hockey theme -- don't start me on that one!)
  • Paul Newman and Slap Shot
  • Roch Carrier and "The Hockey Sweater"
OK, those are the obvious ones. I might add the movie "The Rocket/Le Rocket" to the list, if only for its terrific hockey action scenes, but sadly, it veered off into a theme of "look how rotten les maudits anglais are towards French-Canadians", and I don't know how relevant that theme is anymore -- and do we really need to be re-educated about that?

Anyway, there are others, like:
  • Tom Cochrane for "Big League" (a song about Brian Spencer)
  • The Tragically Hip for "Mission 50 Cap" (a song that makes reference to Bill Barilko and the Leafs)
  • Meryl Streep and Michael Moriarty in the TV Movie "The Deadliest Season" (how many people know that was Meryl's first lead role?)
  • Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie in "Away From Her" -- one of the residents in an extended-care home where Julie's character goes to live is a former Winnipeg Jets play-by-play announcer, and when they watch hockey on TV, they turn down the audio and let him call the action.
(Actually, Dolores Claman scores twice in the category of Iconic Compositions. Not only do 99 44/100% of Canadians know "dum-da-DUM-da-dum/dum-da-DUM-da-dum", but people from Ontario still know "A Place To Stand/A Place To Grow (Ontari-ari-ari-o)" -- even those who weren't even born when the song came out for the 1967 Centennial.)

Anyway, those are just the ones off the top of my head. With some more research, there may be other cultural references to hockey -- maybe Alex Colville or someone in the Group of 7 painted either a hockey scene or something with hockey in the background?

Might be worth some thought at the Hall.