Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Sheep and the Goats Revisited

"The poor you will always have with you" (Jesus; Mt.26:11)

Perhaps one of the world's greatest injustices is the plight of the poor, the hungry and the homeless. This is one thing in third-world countries where the vast majority of the population is poor, such as in Bolivia, where 70% of the population lives on the equivalent of $2 per day or less. Or even Haiti which is poorer still. It's quite another thing in well off rich nations where we are guilty of throwing away perfectly good food, all the while others go to bed hungry, assuming they even have a bed to go to.

According to one 2016 article, $160 Billion worth of good produce ends up in landfills each year. That translates to about 60-million tons of perfectly good food, or 50% of all produce in the USA ends up in the dump. Taken another way, one-third of all food combined is trashed! Shame on us!

None of us are stupid; lethargic and insensitive maybe, but not stupid. I don't have to mention what that volume of food could do for the poor, hungry and homeless in our communities. Then again, with such waste, maybe we are stupid. Hmm …

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him" (Romans 12:20)

In all fairness, I know that many retailers, at least where I live, do donate great amounts of produce, meat and other fresh foods to our local Interfaith Food Banks. There is nothing wrong with these foodstuffs; they're just approaching the "Best Before Date" that many of us shy away from. Kudos to them for that! I will happily support retailers with values and ethics like that.

As I reflected on this further, perhaps the real irony in all this is that we may actually need the poor, the hungry and the homeless at least as much as they need us, if not more so. How so? I'm glad you asked. Perhaps we need them to teach us how to care enough to give to the less fortunate instead of only wallowing in our self-centeredness.

I remember years ago in seminary, I happened to meet a young lady in an extended care hospital while there visiting someone else. A friendship was struck up, and though I was extremely busy during those years - married with young children, working full-time nights, and going to school full-time days - I managed to somehow find time each week for a visit with my new friend. Even when I was tired and exhausted, and wanting nothing more than to go home and get a few hours sleep, I regularly went to see this young lady. Why? Maybe I felt sorry for her, since she never seemed to have any visitors, maybe it was none other than the prompting of the Spirit of God leading me there, maybe it was something else or a combination of all. But once thing was certain, though I went hoping to be a blessing, inevitably I was the one who went home feeling blessed.

Yes. Maybe you and I need the poor and less fortunate even more than they need us.

Is there someone whose path crosses ours that is hungry? Thirsty? A stranger or someone who is sick or in prison who could use a visit? Is there someone who desperately needs some warm clothes? Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).

Yes. Maybe you and I need the less fortunate even more than they need us, if for no other reason, than to learn how to really follow Jesus. Anyways, that's just my humble musing. Peace.
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POSTSCRIPT: To get the fuller picture, I would encourage you to read the full context of the Sheep and the Goats parable in Matthew 25: 31-46. Do we identify better with the sheep or the goats? Hmm, I wonder.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

O God, We Grieve the Hatred

Copyright 2019 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Used by permission.
https://www.carolynshymns.com carolynshymns@gmail.com
"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."
(1 John 4:8)

My son shared this hymn with me which I thought both beautiful and timely. It comes on the heels of the recent New Zealand terrorist attack in which many Muslims were gunned down and killed as they worshiped and prayed.

Unfortunately there is a plethora of other global terrorist activities in our recent history as well. The media is currently also reporting of Nigerian Christians being massacred in great numbers by extremists. One doesn't need to look very hard to find it. Extremists spewing forth their hatred are alive and well; religious and non-religious alike sharing in this common depravity. Even in the name of Christianity we have historically let our propensity for pseudo-love (aka., hatred) show the world that we too desperately need a Saviour to change our hearts. Oh God, have mercy! Hatred is nothing new; mankind has known it since virtually the beginning of time. The second generation from Adam already knew it when Cain killed his brother Abel in cold blood (Genesis 4:8). Today man's inhumanity toward fellow man continues.

O God, We Grieve the Hatred!

So what do we do about it? Is there any hope for us? Why does it seem that God is silent? Will this circle of hate ever end? If we were betting on it, the odds would seem to be stacked against it. Yet hope remains because "God is love." None of this has escaped His notice either. We may not understand why He permits horrible things like this to happen, but that doesn't mean that God doesn't grieve over our inherited tendency towards hating each other. Even Jesus wept at the death of a friend (John 11:35). God does care.

Call me utopian if you will, but I think there has always been that flicker of light and hope in this dark world, and that light is none other than you and me made possible in Jesus. All it takes is for one person to let their light shine (Matthew 5:16), and then for another person to do likewise, and then another, and then another … well, you get the point. One little candle, doubled, and then doubled again, can soon set a whole forest on fire. One genuine act of love can work toward disarming hate by spreading to another and becoming two acts of love; then four, eight, sixteen, etc. Simplistic? Yes. Utopian? Maybe. Impossible? No. I guess the only question is, do we want it? Do we really want it? If so, then what are we waiting for? To borrow that overused cliché, "What Would Jesus Do?" Short answer: LOVE, despite the hate and regardless of like faith or not, LOVE one another.

Love begins with you and me. As John Lennon once sang, "War is Over (If You Want It)" By extension, hate is over, if we want it. Do we want it? Again, it all begins with you and me.

Something to think about. Peace.
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POSTSCRIPT: A very special "Thank You" to Carolyn Gillette for permission to share her beautiful and most timely hymn. You may want to visit Carolyn on Facebook.

As I pondered the question of where is God in all this, and why does He seem so silent, my dear wife, who also has the gift of a timely word, shared this song with me from one of our all-time favourite artists, Andrew Peterson. I leave you with this, my friends. May it be a blessing.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Do We Need a New Christian Worldview on Politics?

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." ~Groucho Marx
😆😆😆

I have a confession to make: I’ve been robbed … repeatedly. No, I didn’t go to the police and report it. Quite frankly, I doubt they could do anything about it, or even prevent it from happening yet again.

Just what was stolen? I’m glad you asked.

My peace was stolen … again and again.

There are a lot of things that can rob us of our peace, but one of the triggers for me personally is political rants, discussions and memes. I find myself easily angered over what we armchair politicians perceive to be injustices and stupidity by politicians and their ilk, who by obvious virtue of their disagreement with our own political savvy, are equally moronic. How easy it is to relish time in the cesspools of their faux pas! Yes, I am being a little facetious! 

Have you ever noticed that? Perhaps you wrestle with the same demons. As Christians, what do we do about it? Why do we allow ourselves to get so embroiled with the secular world and their choice of kings? Why do we allow our peace to be so absconded with by those who don’t know Jesus? Do we need a new Christian worldview regarding politics? Hmm, sometimes I think so.

Growing up in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, I was fortunate to have been able to do a significant amount of international traveling with my family. Some of the countries we visited were politically similar to our homeland, whereas others were vastly different, as when we crossed the infamous Berlin wall, several years before the collapse of communist East Germany. Why do I mention this? I do so to illustrate that we were travelers, aliens if you will, in a land not our own. As such we had no real voice in the political arenas of those countries, not that we wanted it in the first place, nor did we get ourselves too bogged down in the mire of those systems. Fact was, we had no vote or voice in the affairs of the land, and our time there was limited. Soon we would be home again with little more than memories of some wonderful times, regardless of the politics of those areas.

I think therein is a clue for a new Christian worldview of politics, and by default, peace. Peter speaks of the church, of God’s elect, as “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1), and again as “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). Is that still true today? Are Christians still “aliens” in a world really not their own? Are we just traveling through, “sojourners” to coin an old word, in earthly lands that ultimately we are not citizens in, much like my family’s international treks of many years ago? Or have Christians so bought into the secular world’s political mantras, that to listen to them carry on, you’d have to wonder where their allegiance really lies?  When Paul says, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), that’s not just in some future tense; it is equally true of today.

Let’s take this a step further. As Christians, if our allegiance lies with King Jesus, the one who said that he’s going to prepare a place for us and then come and take us to our true home to be with him (John 14: 2-3), then isn’t it fair to say that allegiance to worldly kings (political systems) is paramount to polytheism? Maybe that’s a little extreme, but extremeness is a great illustrator. The way my own personal peace has often been stolen from me when I allow myself to get wrapped up in the political debates around me, almost begs the question as to whether or not I’ve been worshiping at some foreign god’s altar. If so, then as a Christian, as a citizen of Heaven, it’s little wonder there’s no internal peace. The god (master) of politics is money, and Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). In other words, try to serve two masters, and it will cost you your personal peace. Besides, it’s tough to reconcile an angry spirit, regardless if the trigger is political or something else, with the love and forgiveness the Christian is called to in Christ Jesus.

So where does all this leave you and me today? I think it forces us into a decision, perhaps not too dissimilar to the choice Joshua placed on the Israelites of old when he said, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Choose your citizenship and focus your efforts in that kingdom. What it doesn’t mean is that we have license to somehow become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Being a part of the kingdom of Heaven means that we do have responsibilities to our neighbors and community. We do have a responsibility to feed and clothe the hungry and the poor, to visit the sick and imprisoned, for in doing so, Jesus says that we are really doing so for him. Conversely, failing to do so is failing to do so for him, and brings with it a curse and eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). This has nothing to do with earthly politics, but has everything to do with being a true citizen of Heaven.

Having said all that, there is one area that Christians are to be politically minded; we are called to pray for our leaders. Paul said, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2: 1-2). Jesus took it one step further when he called us to pray even for our enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Have you ever tried praying for a political leader, and especially one that you don’t agree with? Though I have prayed for them from time to time, I confess that I haven’t done so regularly enough. It’s not easy. How about praying for an enemy? Tough, isn’t it? However, if there is one thing that I’m certain of it is this: The more you pray for someone, even enemies, the easier it is and the less likely that they remain your enemy. 

Maybe you agree with my take on this, and maybe you disagree; I’m not here to argue the point or to try and sway you over. This is just my humble musing that I’ve been wrestling with for some time. In my quest for increased personal peace, I am choosing to stay quiet with my political opinions and views, and deliberately scroll past all such posts on social media. I deliberately choose to lean more towards being uninformed, if necessary, on the political scene as opposed to wrapped up in its idiocies. I may or may not choose to vote when an election is called. I am, after all, a stranger and an alien here; here for only a short time, and am looking forward to my Heavenly home, where my true citizenship lies. Maybe I’ll arrive there today, maybe tomorrow; perhaps next month. As such in my pilgrimage through this life, I choose not to waste energies chasing after the wind of earthly kings and their political agendas. I cannot help but believe that doing so could lead to missing the boat of focusing on what my King Jesus wants of me today, and that is to be concerned with the things he’s concerned with, which is usually vastly different than what the political systems of our world are focused on.

The bottom line is that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son …” (John 3:16). He did so for Liberals and Conservatives; he did so for Democrats and Republicans. He did so for Communists and Atheists and whatever other “ists” there may be. He did so for the politically minded and the non-politically minded. Dare we fight and condemn and belittle and curse those for whom Christ also died – Christian or not – simply because they think differently than you and me? Utopian? Maybe, but I think it behooves us to at very least pause and think more carefully on these things. Selah.

Peace and blessings to you and yours. 😊

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Jesus; Mt.22:21)
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POSTSCRIPT: Like most blog posts, there is so much more that can be said about the subject, and so many more Scriptures that we could look at. Perhaps there will be a sequel post or two to this subject. Are there counter arguments? No doubt there are. Still, as already mentioned, this is just my own humble musing.

Photo Sources: Unknown

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Bearded Gospel Men: A Book Review

beard noun: a hairy or bristly appendage or tuft
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While visiting our local Chapters recently, I stumbled across a little book with a title that just begged another look. Bearded Gospel Men: The Epic Quest For Manliness & Godliness, by Jared Brock and Aaron Alford.

Now, as a man who has personally been bearded most of his life, and who loves the gospel message, you would have to know that a title like that would definitely have my attention. While leafing through the book there in the bookstore aisle, I was further pleasantly surprised that it also clearly had a humorous bent to it with the inclusion of several beard-themed memes and witty one-liners. As a self-proclaimed humorist, I was instantly sold. Gospel, beard, humor; what an interesting trio to say the least!

"The beard covers a multitude of chins."

I rushed home with my newly found treasure and was instantly captivated by this book. It’s been a while since I accidentally tripped over a book that I then also had a hard time putting down again.

Bearded Gospel Men is laid out in 31 short and easy to read chapters, each one no more than four or five pages. The chapters concern various “bearded” men (and some un-bearded women) throughout the history of the church whose lives were powerful testimonies of Jesus and the gospel message. For yet further contemplation, each chapter concludes with three well thought out questions based on the chapter’s featured character, as well as a short prayer. Between the chapters the authors include various chapter-related short devotional thoughts. As the back cover of the book says, “31 days of humor, history, and the deeper meaning of the GODLY BEARD.”

"Train up a beard in the way it should grow and when it is old it shall not depart."

Fact is, God created men with the ability to grow beards. I have often joked that I wear my beard for religious purposes; if God gave me the ability to grow a beard, he must have intended me to be bearded. However, all jesting aside, Bearded Gospel Men is about more than just beards and humorous memes. For all of us, men and women, the follicular blessed and follicular challenged; it is first and foremost a call to godliness.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it, especially for church history buffs, humorists, and for my brothers who also proudly sport their God-given “facial foliage.”

One final word: If you're still in the mood for more beard stuff, you may also be interested in The Health Benefits of Beards? from my other blog. Peace.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Franciscan Benediction: A Hope for the New Year?

Happy New Year
Welcome 2019

Wow! Another new year full of hope and promise. What will it hold? More of the same? Something better? Hopefully not something worse. Here in my sixtieth year, with the big "R" of "retirement" starting to loom ever closer, I wonder about whether or not I can afford to start slowing down the career a bit. The joyous expectation of another grandchild on the near horizon will no doubt add a new blessing to the new year. With another new year we once again think and pray for our kids and their spouses, and their employment situations in these sometimes turbulent times. Likewise, with a recent serious illness of one of our close friends right before this past Christmas, we think of health for all our loved ones, both family and friends alike.

What will this new year hold?

While it's yet far too soon to know what the new year will hold, and in truth we cannot ever know what tomorrow holds, yet we can know Him who holds it. In other words, whatever 2019 holds for us, it is ultimately God alone who holds it and all its intricate details. Can we rest in that?

"Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city and spend a year there and carry on our business and make money. Yet you do not know [the least thing] about what may happen tomorrow. What is the nature of your life? You are [really] but a wisp of vapor (a puff of smoke, a mist) that is visable for a little while and then disappears [into thin air]. You ought instead to say, If the Lord is willing, we shall live and we shall do this or that [thing]. But as it is, you boast [falsely] in your presumption and your self conceit. All such boasting is wrong. So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin." (James 4: 13-17; Amplified)

So much for man-made resolutions. Maybe that is why they often fail; God is not necessarily in them. Sure, He may be, but He also may not be. Hmm. Yet despite the apparent dichotomy, I do want to resolve to try and do something in this new year. I would like to see 2019 become the year that I focus less on me and more on what God would like, and if it please Him, more of what He would like to do through me.

Years ago I came upon the following benediction (or blessing) attributed to Francis of Assisi. Recently I discovered it again when a friend shared it on social media. Perhaps therein lies our hope for the new year. May it speak to you as much as it did to me.
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May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live from deep within our hearts. 
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God's creations, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace. 
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. 
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in the world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done: to bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors who are poor.
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Happy New Year, friends. Praying that 2019 may be a blessing to you and yours. Peace.

For more on Francis of Assisi, please see these posts as well:

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Heaven: A Book Review

"My home is heaven. I'm just traveling through this world."
Billy Graham

Have you ever wondered what Heaven will be like? I’m sure that we all have a time or two. Perhaps that is why, upon the recommendation of a friend, I purchased a copy of "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn.

In its 500 pages, Alcorn argues for a more literal eschatology, as opposed to the perhaps more common, figurative views held by many Christians. Having said that, and though he uses a plethora of scripture quotations to back up his take on Heaven, he admits that these are just his views and that he may be wrong in some of his interpretations. Fair enough.

One of the terms he often uses in the book, that apparently he himself coined, is “Christoplatonism.” This comes from his belief that the church has borrowed ideas from Plato, an early western philosopher who essentially saw the physical world as a liability. The body, he thought, was little more than a prison for the soul. Alcorn believes that this platonic thinking has crept into the church, even though many scriptures point to a physical heaven in physical bodies. He delves into this argument in greater detail in the first of the book’s two appendices. In the second appendix Alcorn discusses literal versus figurative interpretation.

In the book Alcorn talks about two heavens, so to speak. When the Christian dies, his/her soul goes immediately to be with the Lord. I suspect that not too many of us would argue with that. However, the Bible also speaks of a “New Earth” into which we will one day be physically resurrected. This, says Alcorn, is a physical earth, which will be made up of physical inhabitants. Just as Christ was physically resurrected, we too can expect to be physically resurrected, and as such, our eternal heavenly home will be physical like it now is, minus the sin and corruption. Here is where the eschatology of many seems to get a little more cloudy, thanks in large part, believes Alcorn, to the church’s platonic influences. Thus his term, Christoplatonism.

Many of the book’s 46-chapters, divided into 12-sections and into 3-parts, seem almost a Q&A format (Question and Answer). In them Alcorn tries to answer some of the many questions he apparently has received over the years on the subject. The topics he covers in these 12-sections are:

  • Realizing our Destiny
  • Understanding the Present Heaven
  • Grasping Redemption’s Far Reach
  • Anticipating Resurrection
  • Seeing the Earth Restored
  • Celebrating Our Relationship With God
  • Ruling on the New Earth
  • What Will the Resurrected Earth Be Like?
  • What Will Our Lives Be Like
  • What Will Our Relationships Be Like?
  • What About Animals?
  • What Will We Do In Heaven?

All in all, I enjoyed reading Heaven. Did I agree with everything in it? No, my own theology caused me so say “Hmm” a few times. Still, it’s a good and interesting read. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s a great reminder of the eternal hope that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. This life is short and fleeting, and will soon be over; we all know that. Then what? “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn tries to answer that question and many more.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so in Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
(Hebrews 9: 27-28; ESV)

Ἀμήν, ἔρχου κύριε Ἰησοῦ 
(Revelation 22:20)

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Fresh Anointing

This was shared with me today and was both timely and a real blessing. May it be a blessing for you as well. Peace.
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May the Lord Himself pour out a fresh anointing on your life today.

May you suddenly have a heightened discernment about where to walk, what to say, and how to pray.

May the Lord fill you afresh with new insights from His Word.

May your taste for things that weaken you be replaced by a hunger for that which strengthens you.

May God open your eyes to the importance of your life and calling.

And may you find strength and courage with every faith-filled step you take.

You are mighty in God. Have a great day today!

Blessing Source: Susie Larson
Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons