Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas, 2015! (War is over)

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

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

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

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

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

When we do that, we have peace on earth.

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

Have we even tried?

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Friday, November 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A "selah" moment: 

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Paris attacks: remember the antidote to fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

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

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

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

As I point out in my book, A Very Convenient Truth, or, Jesus Told Us There'd Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program!, we're seeing events today that were foretold 2,000 years ago and more. Some of them could be attributed to climate change and some not. The whole end-times plan of God is to bring change of all sorts, so it's worthwhile to hit "pause" and see if we really want to be fighting these changes, or whether that will put us on the wrong side of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Day on the Farm

Victoria is the "bare" spot to the right; Sooke is towards the bottom left
My wife, Amelia, and I spent this past Sunday volunteering at the Sooke Farm and Food Garden
Tour. This is a semi-annual event, where the small, usually organic, agriculture operations in the Sooke Region (about 20 miles west of Victoria) throw open their gates and let the public in and learn as much as they can about growing food. (You can learn more about the tour and about Sooke's local farmers on the Sooke Food CHI website -- www.sookefoodchi.ca: CHI stands for "Community Health Initiative" and is pronounced "chee".)

We greeted people at the ALM Organic Farm, and handing out maps containing their "mission statement". That statement includes a commitment to "live lightly on the land."

Nearly 200 people visited ALM Organic Farm
on this blazing-hot Sunday
It reminded me of the Biblical commandments about land use: "replenish the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28), which I take to mean that we're not to take from the earth more than we're able to put back; and the Land Sabbath mandated in Leviticus -- that we're to work the land for six years, then not touch it for one year (and in that sixth year, the land will produce enough to carry you through to harvest time in the first year of the next seven-year cycle).

I saw that some portions of ALM farm were lying fallow, so I asked Marika, one of the workers, how much of the land they leave fallow and for how long. She replied that they try to leave 25% of the land fallow for two years, then work it for 5 while another portion rests. That doesn't just rest the land, you understand: it also reduces the demand for water, which has turned out to be a big deal here on the not-so-Wet Coast.

Through all that, I couldn't help thinking how close that was to the Land Sabbath, and that got me thinking some more: 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 Planet and Get With His Program!, I pose the question, How do we observe a land Sabbath in an urban environment?

One suggestion is to reduce one's food purchase -- and therefore, the demand on the land -- by one-seventh, thereby reducing the demand on the land by that much. But another way, that occurred to me as I greeted the people, is to patronize small farms like ALM and farmers' markets, whenever possible. These are people who understand the give-and-take nature of food production and supporting their operations and their practices will, by extension, be your way of ensuring the land gets regular rest.

Of course, not all places are handy to small farms or farmers' markets: these people have little choice but to purchase from the larger operations. But supporting the small farms where possible will reduce demand on the larger operations, which will, in turn, reduce their demands on the land and should also, theoretically, reduce prices.

I suggest doing this prayerfully, asking the Lord to bless the farmers you patronize. That way, you're doing it for the glory of the Lord (as opposed to doing it to show off how environmentally aware you are), and you're ensuring that the promise of the Land Sabbath will be fulfilled.

One final thing: do you notice how, in Genesis 1:28, "replenish the earth" comes before we subdue it? Making sure we can replenish what we take out of the land has to be topmost in our minds, coming before satisfying our needs.

The world's focus has been on climate change for nearly a quarter-century, but that focus is way too narrow for the changes we see around us. We need to be more mindful of the way we're treating Creation as a whole, but we also have to be aware that the changes we see are not a sign of man's destructiveness so much as they are a reminder that God is always on the move.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Environmental Change: The Pope Speaks - others react - but are we missing the point?

The Pope's encyclical on climate change is stirring up a lot of reaction today. Some of it is, sadly, predictable: oil companies are fixing to lobby the Vatican ... Protestants in the climate-change-denial movement are telling the Pontiff to stick to religion and leave science to the scientists ... one critic has accused the Pope of being motivated by "megalomania" in getting on the climate change bandwagon ...

But something is being lost in the rhetoric. We were told 2,000 years ago that this was going to happen. The environmental changes we're seeing now are a wakeup call, but not just "clean up our environmental act". Rather than try to “fight” climate change or reverse it, we have to re-focus on what the Bible tells us to do:
  • Remember the First Great Assignment – “Be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it” and that we are to “tend the garden and keep it” – in other words, clean up our environmental act
  • Push past the vitriolic “debate” over climate change, which is totally inspired by the enemy to keep people at one another’s throats, and get on with the job of healing the sick, cleansing lepers, casting out demons and leading people to Christ
  • Remember what God tells Solomon:
    • "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • Remember that, if we have committed sin by dropping the ball on the First Great Assignment (and we have!), Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross allows us to repent for that and change our ways. 
It’s a pity that Environmental advocates tend not to be Believers; the Bible contains not just the commandments but the formula for acting that is needed to respond to environmental changes. Things like the Land Sabbath, tithing and declaring the Word of God over a situation (like Elisha at the waters of Jericho) can all be applied to an environmental situation, but have they really been tried? And more to the point, look at how well not trying them has worked out.

Like Pilate, people trying to resolve environmental issues are crying out, “What is truth?” when, in fact, they’re staring the Truth right in the face. The solutions are right there, but for whatever reason, they don’t want to consider them.

It’s important to note that, while many environmental scientists assert that human activity causes climate change, I have yet to hear any of them say that any kind of human counter-activity will actually stop it. A few years ago, I asked that question of a prominent expert on climate change, and his response very neatly sidestepped that point. God’s Word, however, promises without reservation that turning to Him will save the planet.

If we allow this to fall into the realm of worldly science, we won't see the forest for the trees: there's too much room for debate as to the extent of the impact of human activity on climate change, or the extent of any action humans might do to mitigate it. The debate is too rancorous, too personal, too focused on "who's right" rather than "what's right" for it to be truly a God-centered discussion. We need to bring the discussion onto another turf with different rules, starting with the Word of God.

I go into detail on this in "A Very Convenient Truth -- or, Jesus Told Us There'd Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program!" It's an e-book, available in most online bookstores. It could give you a new perspective -- and new hope in the face of the Doomspeak that dominates the current discussion.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

How to Keep the Church Relevant - Suspicions Confirmed

A new report, cited by Premier Christian Radio in the UK, shows a link between church health and its involvement in social action. It confirms something I've suspected for a long time: there's been a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth over how to make the church "relevant" in the 21st Century, and the sight of Christians, walking out the Great Commission even when it's not convenient or comfortable, is a great way of solving that issue.

Somebody has to do it, after all, and if that "somebody" is glorifying Jesus in the process, that's what God wants -- both for the people being served and the non-believers, watching from the sidelines.

The name of the game is to provide Hope and point people towards Jesus and the Kingdom now and in eternity, by whatever means possible. It's one thing to run a soup kitchen; quite another to remind people that Jesus died for them, too, as you hand them the meal or the change of clothing or set them up with showers as we do at The Lord's Rain and Gospel Mission. It's one thing to say, "Next!"; and quite another to say, "you don't have to keep living like this, and Jesus has given you a way out". Not everyone will receive the message, but it's up to us to keep delivering it.

We have to remember, mind you, that Social Action does not necessarily mean "fighting for justice". Often, that's mistaken for revenge, and that's God's department. We need to remain in prayer, study the Word for the insights we need in how to approach a situation and, when in doubt, do it God's way.

A few things are worth noting from the rankings in the survey.
  • helping the homeless has moved from #22 in 2012 to #1 last year, in terms of having an effect on church growth;
  • caring for the elderly has gone from #8 to #3;
  • helping the jobless has gone from #19 to #11; and
  • relationship advice has moved from #27 to #12: could it be more people are looking to the church for answers?
What's also interesting is what isn't on the list. "Environmental Concerns" didn't even crack the top-16, and yet that's The First Great Assignment (see my book, A Very Convenient Truth). Also, there's no mention of churches' getting involved with substance abuse recovery -- another area where we should be involved, especially in urban ministry.

All in all, the survey gives some good insight for churches looking to keep themselves -- and Jesus -- top-of-mind. Get involved with people, don't get weary or discouraged ... and they'll get involved with you.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Why does the "Religious Right" continue to play into the enemy's hands?

The latest fuss du jour in US politics is a law that some states are trying to bring in that would allow, as I understand it, a business to refuse to serve certain types of people on the basis of "religious freedom". OK ... I'll pound this home with a mallet: it would allow businesses like florists and bakeries to refuse to cater gay weddings.

This, of course, has brought the predictable polemic on all sides of the equation, and sadly, it's one more notch on the enemy's rifle-butt. Because the "ambassadors of Christ" are once again allowing themselves to be portrayed as hate-mongers and people who quite possibly need Jesus are being driven away.

What did Jesus tell us to do?

Spread the Gospel.

Love one another -- even the ones who disagree with you and may well hate you.

Make disciples of all nations.

DON'T YOU SEE THE OPPORTUNITY? If someone walks into your business and they evidently hold a world-view different from yours as a Christian, YOU HAVE A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE! Take the job, and while you have them there, witness to them about the glory of Jesus, God's love, and the miracles He's done in your life. Tell them what a sinner you were until you met Jesus. Give them one of those "Power in your Pocket" versions of the Book of John. Exude love and welcome and, above all, NO JUDGMENT.

Maybe they'll walk out and not do business with some religious freakazoid. Maybe they'll nod politely and wait until you're finished. And maybe ... just maybe ... perhaps way off in the future ... they'll consider that Christian who didn't turn them away, but who cared enough to share his/her deeply held belief and the good news that was too good to keep to him/herself.

To my mind, that is the true nature of "religious freedom" -- not a defence, but a powerful weapon of attack: the bright light that darkness cannot overcome.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

It's Friday ... but Sunday's comin'!

Gotta share this ...

It's nicked from a weekly letter John Fischer sends to his member/partners, of which I am one, and it was nicked from a famous sermon by Tony Campolo, who based (not nicked) it on a sermon by an old black minister at Mount Carmel Baptist Church.

(If you don't read John's daily postings on "The Catch", I really recommend subscribing or at least having a look.

This is John's writing, as he paraphrases and gets to the meat of the message. Read this, and get ready to start jumpin'!

In celebration of our yet to be answered prayers and as we face into Friday … let’s listen to what the real black minister from the Mount Carmel Baptist Church has to say to you and me as we enter into the drama of God’s salvation. 

It is Friday, and you and I are acutely aware of the darkness of the cross and of all human suffering. But the power of God is pulling usthrough suffering into glory. We know in our bones that Friday is not the last word, not the last day.

The old, grey-haired black minister starts out softly and it is a simple sermon—with only one line. For half an hour he preaches that line over and over. For a half of an hour he stands us on our ear with just one line: “It’s Friday, but … Sunday’s comin’!” 

In a whisper he begins, “It’s Friday; it was Friday and my Jesus was dead on the tree. But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!

Picking up the volume just a bit, he says, “It was Friday. The cynics were lookin’ at the world and sayin’, ‘As things have been so they shall be. You can’t change anything in this world; you can’t change anything.’ But those cynics didn’t know it was only Friday….butSunday’s comin’!”

“It was Friday! he begins to bellow. And on Friday those forces that oppress the poor and make the poor to suffer were in control. But that was Friday! … Sunday’s comin’!”

Now the old preacher is shouting, “It was Friday, and on Friday Pilate thought he had washed his hands of a lot of trouble. The Pharisees were struttin’ around, laughin’ and pokin’ each other in the ribs. They thought they were back in charge of things, but they didn’t know it was only Friday! … Sunday’s comin’!”

As he ends his message, he just tips his head back and yells, “IT’S FRIDAY!” 

And all of us within this prayer ministry yell as one, “BUT SUNDAY’S COMIN’!”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

TransLink rant-2 -- Public health and the "idea" of TransLink

An excellent article in the Victoria Times-Colonist offers another reason to approve funding for transportation improvements in Metro Vancouver. I'd touched on the topic of public health in my previous post (see previous post), but this report (which doesn't mention TransLink at all) goes into it in great detail.

The award for Dumbest Comment So Far in the non-debate over the TransLink referendum goes to the chap who wrote a comment on Facebook that supporters of the "Yes" side should "prove to me that a No vote means No Transit Improvements". Well, I can't say there will be no transit improvements, but the things Metro Vancouver needs in order to maintain livability require a major cash infusion, otherwise, they would have been done by now and TransLink wouldn't have been in "Service Optimization Mode" for the past 4 years. 

Sadly, it appears that the "No" side is firmly entrenched in its view: that TransLink is evil in and of itself, is poorly managed and wastes money. Well, as I've mentioned before, Dominion Bond Rating Service would not give a AA bond rating, and bond-market managers would not invest over half a billion dollars in a poorly-managed organization. And you can look at BC Ferries and BC Hydro if you want real examples of wasting money. In the meantime, TransLink has been audited over and over, deficiencies identified and dealt with, and the belt has been tightened so much, the organization was suffering constriction of the spine when I left it just over 2 years ago.

Is TransLink evil? Far from it. The "idea" of TransLink is that, in a region as vast and varied as Metro Vancouver -- from the flatland of the Aldergrove to the mountains of the North Shore, with people needing to commute to and from Downtown Vancouver and more and more people staying within their sub-regions -- like the South of Fraser Area -- to live and work, public transportation needs to be integrated and mesh together. Major roads and bridges, pedestrian and cycling amenities, need to be part of that mix, too. The objective? To maintain livability -- so coveted by those who live there -- and to reduce mankind's impact on the environment, not just in the immediate area, but in surrounding regions and ultimately on the earth.

As I point out in my book, A Very Convenient Truth -- or, Jesus Told Us There'd Be Days Like These, so Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program!*, that is exactly the role God calls humans to perform. We are to be the caretakers, the custodians of His Creation, to "replenish the earth and subdue it" -- i.e. to enjoy what He has given us, but to make sure that our enjoyment does not overpower our ability to replenish.

The "idea" of TransLink is part of that calling. Maybe that's why it's come under such bizarre and often self-serving attack over the years.

*Available as an e-book through Chapters, Barnes & Noble, PaperPlus (in New Zealand), among others.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


(A slight departure today, from my usual themes in this blog.)

First, full disclosure: I’m no longer employed by TransLink – haven’t been for the past two years, 1 month, 2 days and 23 hours and 51 minutes, as of this writing (not that I’m keeping track). TransLink took care of me when I was let go, but aside from that and the fact they helped feed my children and a whole lot of people on the Downtown East Side during that time*; I still believe in what the organization stands for and I have a lot of friends there, who have been working really hard to maintain the region's transportation system -- and, by extension, its livability. Other than that, I have no skin in this game.

The Sunday before last, I had to take the first ferry to Victoria – leaving Tsawwassen at 7am – so I got up at 4:30, caught the Canada Line SkyTrain at 5:15 and made it to Bridgeport Station in plenty of time to catch the #620 Tsawwassen Ferry bus. Had I missed one train, there would have been another six to 10 minutes later.

Less than 10 years ago, when I had to visit my father in Victoria, I would have had to catch the 98 B-Line from Granville and Broadway in order to connect with the #620 in Richmond. If I missed that one trip of the 98 B-Line, I was hooped: at that time of the morning, the next 98 B-Line bus would be 15 to 20 minutes later, and I would have missed that connection in Richmond. There was another time when I waited in vain for the one bus from downtown that would have connected me with the #620 at Ladner Exchange, because that one trip had been cancelled – probably a mechanical problem; there was no spare bus available and no way of communicating the cancellation to customers.

My point? First, that TransLink service has expanded to the point where we take it for granted that public transit will get us to where we need to go, pretty much any time we need to go there; second, in the couple of years before I left TransLink, some of the services people were taking for granted were already getting clawed back, as the budget tightened: one should think, then, about what the region might look like if the referendum is defeated.

And that's something that's been lost in this debate over the upcoming referendum on transportation improvements for the region. People against the tax increase have been portraying it as a referendum on TransLink itself -- its governance structure, in particular -- as if a "no" vote will mean the organization will get blown to bits.

It won't. A "no" vote will mean needed transportation improvements for the region will not happen. End of discussion. The vaunted livability of our region is at stake, but the "no" side -- with a BIG assist from many commentators, chasing the low-hanging fruit -- has reduced the polemic to the sheep's chant in George Orwell's Animal Farm: "Four legs good! Two legs bad!"

Am I "blaming the media"? Well, you do the math: recently, a Vancouver Sun columnist wrote that “TransLink can’t get the message right” (in the headline) and then cited the fact that the Dominion Bond Rating Service had confirmed TransLink’s “AA” bond rating; the implication was that TransLink didn’t publicize a "good news" story that could have helped its cause.

In fact, the information was sent out from TransLink: in July 2012, I wrote and issued a news release about the DBRS bond rating; the release also noted that TransLink had raised a total of $500 million in long and ultra-long bond issues in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

As far as I remember, and a Google search appears to back that up, there was no pickup by the media, except for the web publication, VancityBuzz.

What’s more, DBRS itself issued a news release last fall, re-confirming that credit rating. Again, a Google search turned up no media pickup, even though newsrooms must get DBRS releases, because if a government – say, the government of British Columbia or the City of Vancouver – gets a downgrade from DBRS, the media are all over it like a fat kid on a Smartie.

But a "good news" story from TransLink, handed on a silver platter appeared to stall at assignment desks around Metro Vancouver.

One of the claims by the "no" side is that TransLink is fiscally irresponsible. I doubt that a bond-rating service would give high grades to a "fiscally irresponsible" agency or that bond-market investors would trust their clients' funds to one, either.

It's worth noting that the DBRS assessment also cited TransLink’s governance structure as one of the reasons for its positive assessment. Evidently, DBRS sees something positive about a billion-plus-dollar organization being run by an apolitical board whose mandate is to act in the best interests of the regional transportation system as a whole. You might want to read the description of what’s required of the directors.

The "no" forces have also been very keen to point out that public money is being used to promote the "yes" side in the referendum. Former Vancouver City Councillor Peter Ladner (my former editor at Monday Magazine, by the way) wrote a very eloquent rebuttal to that, which I'll quote here (with his permission):

"The mayors' council is using public money-- apparently $4 million. My response is if the overwhelming majority of elected officials at the regional and provincial level, all the medical health officers, all the planners and most municipal councils see a yes vote as vital for the region's economy, health, environment, livability and social equity, it's their responsibility to ensure a positive outcome. They didn't ask for a referendum. None of them like spending public money persuading people to pay more tax. But they're being forced to fight it. How could they justify not spending money on it if it's that important? Selling reasoned arguments is far more costly than tossing out juicy, glib, misleading sound bites to an overstretched media.

"As for the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, we have been spending only what money has been donated by organizations, corporations, individuals, unions, etc. Amounts still TBD as the funding is currently being raised." 

One more thing: this referendum is horribly unnecessary. The people of Metro Vancouver have already spoken and said what they wanted for a regional transportation network and how they were prepared to pay for it. In 2009, TransLink held extensive public consultation sessions, which included a table-top exercise in showing what services were available and what existing and potential funding options could be used. You can read about it on the TransLink website or, if you don't feel like reading the whole report, check out the column Gary Mason wrote in the Globe and Mail when talk of a referendum was bubbling up in 2013. 

Another canard gets shot out of the sky -- the one about TransLink’s “wish list”, it’s actually the people’s wish list, and we need to remember that.

More importantly, we need to think of traffic congestion, crowded buses and trains, at least one bridge that will no longer be safe to use, pollution (much of which gets blown into the Fraser Valley, affecting the health of the people there, not to mention much of our food supply).

Those are the real stakes. You have to wonder why anyone would try to divert people's attention from that.

*My earnings helped support the work of Gospel Mission (not Union Gospel), where I was assistant pastor for a while; my flexible work hours allowed me to deal with Mission business as it came up.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Murdered for an "old book"?

Lately, I've heard some interesting statements about the Bible.

One "big-time" pastor, for example, has referred to it as "a bunch of 2,000-year-old letters". Someone else -- a professing Christian -- referred to the Old Testament as "a book of Jewish stories" that was made obsolete when Jesus came.

This morning, I woke up with an image in my head: the grainy screen-grab of yet another video from IS. This one showed about 20 Coptic Christians, kneeling in front of a row of black-clad IS hoodlums, each hoodlum holding his knife at the ready.

Also today, there is a report that over 250 more Christians have been kidnapped by IS in Syria, and other news reports that an American missionary had been kidnapped in Nigeria.

In other words -- keeping this in focus -- thousands of people are dying for the sake of that "old book". But rather than get dragged into an argument with people, we need to remember what we're supposed to do, and that includes waiting for the Holy Spirit to give us the words we need if we have to defend our faith. Satan has been saying "Hath God said ...?" for thousands of years, and we can't allow ourselves the luxury of responding or else we'll be hopelessly side-tracked from the work we're supposed to do as Christians.

What this boils down to, in fact, is variations on the tired old theme the enemy has been using since the Garden, "hath God said ...?" The object is to sow doubt (Matt. 21:21) and make us lose our resolve to follow the Great Commission. If we can turn on one another and fight over what the Bible says or even whether it's the Word of God, so much the better.

After all, the outright promotion of atheism is one thing, but we're seeing cases in which people with lots of followers are being outed as lukewarm Christians, as Jesus chastises in Revelation 3:15-19.

But consider Nehemiah 6:9, with the enemies of the Jews trying to subvert the rebuilding of Jerusalem: "... all were trying to make us afraid, saying, 'Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.' Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands."

That's where we're at now: the enemy is trying to make us afraid and is confident that we'll be weakened as we continue to promote the Gospel in the face of the ongoing assault on the Word. But we can't overpower that ourselves: we need to call on God to strengthen our hands in this work.

And it's written that this resolve brings results: "And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it [that the wall had been rebuilt in 52 days], and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.(Emphasis mine.)

So we need to hang in there. Keep focused. Don't lose our resolve to spread the Gospel, heal the sick, bind the brokenhearted, love our enemies (especially love our enemies) and remember that the Word has always been and always will be. And part of the payoff is this: when we persevere and our own "wall building" project is complete, the naysayers, the lukewarm ones, will see that the work is done by our God, and -- who knows? -- they'll embrace the Truth, themselves.

We need to keep pressing forward, not listening to the barking cur of doubt, but praying with all supplication for the saints (Eph. 6:18), that is, both those who dismiss the Word of God and the people overseas being kidnapped, tortured and killed for its sake. We need to focus on spreading the Gospel, and most importantly, living the Gospel, so that people will see our good works and glorify God (Matt. 5:16).

Friday, January 16, 2015

Leaving room for God

That's an expression used in an HBO film about Albert Einstein that came out last year: the notion that in his calculations on the workings of the universe, Sir Isaac Newton allowed for the possibility that God was at work and that we can never come up with any exact answers. The film's premise was that Einstein actually did come up with a precise calculation and -- although it wasn't stated in as many words -- we didn't have to look to God for answers anymore.

The premise of 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!, is that, for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the current state of the environment, the Bible provides us with some definite solutions. In it, we can see how we've been sinning by our treatment of God's creation, can repent and be redeemed through Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross, and that if we turn back to God, He promises to heal the land. 

The book also posits that what we are seeing now has been prophesied as preceding Jesus' return, although that's not an excuse to sit back and "let things happen": we have a job to do -- which is also distinctly spelled out.

Sadly, so much of our world today refuses to "leave room for God". Indeed, I've heard some professing Christians state that Jesus made the Old Testament, where the specific instructions -- like tithing and the Land Sabbath -- can be found, irrelevant.

I don't agree with that, but that's a discussion for another time. I was reminded, however, of a statement by one scientist/explorer/naturalist who most definitely left room for God in his thinking: Thor Heyerdahl.

In 2000, Heyerdahl was speaking at a conference in Victoria, which I covered for the radio station where I was working at the time. The quote that stood out for me was, "science has even come up with its own interpretation of God: the 'Big Bang'."

Now, recall that Heyerdahl's entire life was devoted to drawing attention to the way we've been treating the Earth -- God's magnificent Creation that He entrusted us to manage and nurture. 

His inference was pretty clear to me: scientific theories try to replace God and make Him irrelevant, and we do that at our peril; because by declaring that the earth, the universe and all that's in them to be the result of a series of random events that just happened to come together in the right place at the right time, we're taking away the notion of accountability

It wasn't the only time Heyerdahl had raised the issue of accountability to God. In his memoir, In the Footsteps of Adam, Heyerdahl says, "there still had to be superhuman and supernatural powers to trigger such a conflagration, not least to create order out of ensuing chaos ... [and] the heat from the Big Bang would have been so extreme that an act of creation would have been required to make life on earth afterwards." 

Can we really, individually or collectively, hold ourselves accountable to humans like David Suzuki, or Al Gore, or accords drawn up in Rio, Copenhagen or Kyoto? I know I can't. But eventually, I'll have to face the Big Sir and answer for what I've done in my life, including the things I've done to use His handiwork beyond my ability to replenish it (Genesis 1:28).

The challenge, as I see it, is for people in the environmental movement, many of whom reject the Bible as the Word of God and unquestioningly refer to God-denying concepts like evolution and adaptation, to consider even the remote possibility that the solutions that they seek and the comfort that they desire about the state of our planet are handed to them on a silver platter in those 66 books.


A Very Convenient Truth is available as an e-book through most online bookstores, including Chapters/Indigo, Inktera and PaperPlus.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The right to speak: the responsibility to not offend

The Globe and Mail has been under fire in the past couple of days for its editorial explaining why it has refused to re-print the cartoons that apparently led to the massacre in Charlie Hebdo’s offices last week. Commenters both on the website and elsewhere have accused the Globe’s editors of being “cowardly” and knuckling under to bullies and terrorists. Some (and it’s interesting how many of these people hide behind pseudonyms on the internet) have stated, darkly, that they hope the Globe editors remember their own words if someone writes something offensive to Christians or Jews.

(Frankly, the Globe and Mail frequently prints articles and opinion pieces that Christians might find offensive, so perhaps this current controversy will give the editors pause to consider. But that’s not my point.)

First off, I don't think it’s cowardly to decline to re-print another publication’s material, after several of its employees got killed because of it: fanatics tend to be guilt-by-association types, and if the Globe had decided to re-publish those cartoons, anyone associated with the paper – even those who disagreed with that decision – might have become a target.

But almost lost in the name-calling was a very salient point: why bother offending someone for their beliefs? It’s been long established that caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed is offensive to Muslims, SO WHY DO IT?

Is this a freedom-of-speech issue? Yes, but only to a point. With freedom of speech comes responsibility: the responsibility to be truthful and the responsibility not to offend. That’s especially true when it comes to matters of one’s belief. I've had my beliefs attacked – some in subtle ways, that make me think that maybe I'm just hearing the other person wrong; some in not-so-subtle ways.

I've been asked, in an interview for a job in a radio newsroom, if my Christian beliefs would color my news judgment (I had been in and around broadcast journalism for over 35 years when I was asked that). I’ve heard someone close to me mutter “oh, shit” when I declared that I believe the Bible. And those are mild, compared to the offences other Christians suffer (being beheaded by fanatics, for example), but they still hurt. And we are not to inflict that same hurt on others.

Indeed, Christians legally have freedom of speech, but when we come to Christ, we willingly surrender that right. It’s like the old joke about the Model T Ford: “you can have any color you want, so long as it’s black”. As Christians, we can say whatever we want, so long as it’s from the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul tells us, twice, not to offend people. “Give none offence,” he says, “neither to the Jews, nor the Gentiles, nor the Church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32). Later, he says, “Giving no offence in anything, that the Ministry be not blamed.” (2 Corinthians 6:3)

Paul also reminds us, “That we henceforth be no more children … but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head – even Christ.” (Eph. 4:14-15 – emphasis added)

Or, as Jerry Savelle puts it, “If you can’t speak the Word of God, shut up!”

Does it really work to the general good to offend someone else? Or does it only serve to reinforce the comfort of hating someone else? And is this really a hill to die on for freedom of the press, when so many journalists in Latin America are murdered for reporting on drug cartels and corruption, and those deaths barely rate a sentence? And as the Guardian finely put it yesterday, why do the deaths of a dozen people at a magazine bring hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets, when the killing of thousands in Nigeria got little attention?

Truth tends to offend people, anyway, as Jesus, Paul, Peter, Stephen and a whole bunch of others can tell you first-hand. There’s no use in exacerbating it by getting personal and going out of your way to offend. This is why Jesus told us that, when we are called out for our faith in Him, not to worry about what we might say, but to wait for the Holy Spirit to do the talking through us and for us. That way, it doesn't turn into an argument over who’s right: it doesn’t get personal and people don’t get hurt.