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?