2015 in Review: Well You Know What the Bible Says! . . .

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .” This was a constant refrain my brother and I heard as my Mum would rattle off a scripture verse relevent to whatever shenanigans we were getting into at that moment. While I appreciated the efforts of Sunday School teachers growing up, I found my Mum’s Biblical wisdom to be of far greater benefit as the Bible and faith were related to life as life unfolded. There is much that has unfolded, or perhaps we should say unravelled, this year so I thought I would borrow a page from my Mum’s book and rattle off a few “well you know what the Bible says!” insights related to some of the top stories from 2015. This will work best if you imagine “well you know what the Bible says!” said with a Belfast accent and considerable Irish passion. So here goes.

TOP STORY #5: A LIBERAL VICTORY IN CANADA

When the liberal party celebrated great success in our federal election this Fall I announced that Justin Trudeau did so well that even the leaves were turning red. Some people were thrilled by the victory, but some were unsure. I heard quite a number of people express their concern over the youthfulness of the new Prime Minister. “He is just so young!!!” I was thrilled to hear that for I am the same age.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

This was written in a time when there was little choice as to who the kings and rulers would be. How much more, then, should we be willing to pray for rulers of our choosing, even those we may not have voted for. But what about the youthfulness of our Prime Minister?

And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people. (1 Kings 3:7-9)

When told by God to make a request, the new king Solomon recognized his youthfulness and requested wisdom. I don’t know if Mr. Trudeau prays for wisdom, but there is nothing stopping us from praying that God will grant him such.

TOP STORY #4: THE ASHLEY MADISON HACK

Praise the Lord if you have not heard of Ashley Madison. Ashley Madison is a website designed to help people connect with other people who want to privately commit adultery. The hack is the assurance provided by some tech savvy types that there will be nothing private about it with thousands upon thousands of names released of people who signed up. There was a lot of explaining to do, unfortunately too often by Christians.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

14 You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)

That is really all that needs to be said. But the Bible says more with an entire chapter of Proverbs devoted to the topic. Consider these verses:

For at the window of my house
I looked out through my lattice,
7 and I saw among the simple ones,
I observed among the youths,
a young man without sense,
8 passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
9 in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness. (Proverbs 7:6-9)

Notice where the lack of wisdom is found in this young man “without sense”? He is “taking the road to her house,” he is heading straight into danger. Today you do not even need to leave your home to be “taking the road to her house.” That road can be found online, in the privacy of your own home. There is a need for great wisdom, in staying far away from such temptations as pornography or illicit online relationships. And there is a great need for integrity, for being the same person online as in person. We might add here the words of Jesus:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. ’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)

TOP STORY #3 THE MIDDLE EAST IS IN A MESS

This is not really news as The Middle East has been a mess for awhile now. But it seems to be getting messier. Part of the mess is the fact that there are so many different nations and peoples, all with different friends and enemies. Our friends are enemies of other friends and our enemies are friends with other enemies. As a top CIA official said recently to summarize in an interview (sorry I forget where): “Its complicated.” What to us might seem like a Facebook relationship status, to those on the ground, or those with loved ones on the ground in those lands, this is a horror story. There is no easy solution to this suffering. A defeat of ISIS in 2016 will not clear away the mess.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

These words of Jesus summarize the foreign policy of the Christian. We are to be fully involved in foreign missions, especially making it a matter of prayer. Pray for the Christians of and in the Middle East to be used of God in reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Also, we are to be fully involved in missions to “foreigners.” Pray for the Christians in Canada to be used of God in reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ right here in Canada. Crucifixion was a messy business but the way of the cross in love and forgiveness is the best method of cleaning up a big mess.

TOP STORY #2 THERE IS A WAR ON TERROR AND WE CANNOT AGREE ON THE NATURE OF THE ENEMY

American politics has a habit of bringing the war of terror into focus. Or of making it even more convoluted than it already is. ISIS has expanded its reach, both in reaching out to new recruits, but also in reaching out with terror. Meanwhile there is a debate as to the nature of ISIS and other groups like it. Some will deny that violent “jihad” has anything to do with Islam, while others say it has everything to do with Islam. Is it Islamic or not? Is Islam a religion of peace or a religion of violent jihad? What is the correct interpretation of Islam?

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

According to the Bible there is no correct interpretation of Islam. Islam demotes Jesus by describing him as merely a prophet. This is a denial of the central truth we celebrate at Christmas; the Incarnation, that Jesus is Emanuel, “God with us.” So for the Christian, finding the “correct interpretation” of Islam is a moot point. It is a false religion with no correct interpretation. While there is no correct interpretation, there are possible interpretations for its adherents, some of which are better for the peace of the world than others, none of which will lead a Muslim to peace with God. Only in Jesus does the justice of God and the mercy of God meet in love and grace. So what are we to do?

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)

This passage speaks of the time God’s people were stuck in exile and the best they could do was pray for the peoples among whom they lived to experience peace, so that they too could experience peace. With the global village of the 21st century, we are living among Muslims even when we think we are not. These are a people who are currently experiencing great division not only in the historic Shia/Sunni split, but now especially in the peaceful jihad/violent jihad split. In 2015 a great number of Muslims were killed by a great number of Muslims. As Christians we are to pray for the peace of the Muslim people, so that there can be greater peace on earth. But we ought also to be praying for peace with God for each Muslim:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

While we pray that Islam can be a religion of peace, we recognize that it will never be a religion of peace with God. Let us make 2016 a year of prayer!

TOP STORY #1 THERE IS REJOICING IN HEAVEN

In 2015 many, many, many, many people repented of their sin and turned to God, putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. These were people from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe, from free nations, from lands where converting can get you killed, from all languages and backgrounds and coming from all kinds of religions including none.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7)

2015 has been a crazy year in many respects. Nevertheless it has been a year of great rejoicing in heaven. May 2016 see even greater rejoicing in heaven, and much rejoicing on earth too!

My family and I wish you a Happy New Year and God Bless!

(All scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

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When Christmas Goes Off the Rails

Christmas always seems so picture perfect in the cards we give and receive, yet Christmas can go off the rails so quickly becoming more like Christmess. What are we to do when it seems the devil has his horrid hands in our lives during this most wonderful time of the year? Perhaps your Christmas is not shaping up to be the picture perfect scene worthy of a Christmas card.

Christmas is found in the book of Revelation and it has something to teach us about Christmas in the midst of a mess:

1 A great portent appeared in heaven:a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3 Then another portent appeared in heaven:a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days (Revelation 12:1-6 emphasis mine)

Granted it is only one verse, but there it is, the birth of Jesus, Christmas in Revelation. Did you notice anything about this Christmas? Looking at the verses before and after, this first Christmas is a messy one, with the evil one lurking and looking to destroy.

It will help us to consider what is happening in these verses and we can begin by considering the identity of the woman about to give birth. Notice that within a few verses we have a) a woman, b) agony in childbirth, and c) a serpent. Do you remember the last time we found these three things together in scripture? Yes, in Genesis 3 at the Fall. The Serpent tempts Eve and comes under a curse including this prophecy:

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15)

Eve succumbs to the temptation and also is cursed:

16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, . . .” (Genesis 3:16)

What we have in Genesis 12:1-4 is the history of the world from Eve great with potential to Mary great with child. In fact in chapter 12 of Revelation we have a snapshot of the history of the world from Eve to the situation today with a break to consider the victory of Jesus in verses 7-12. But how would this history lesson help the original readers of the book of Revelation who were facing great persecution in their day? And how can this history lesson help us today? It helped them, and helps us now, by taking us out from our troubles to see the big picture. And in looking at the big picture there are certain things we can learn:

First, the devil and his schemes are real, so expect a mess. According to Revelation 12 we should expect evil to be alive and well and we should expect to suffer the effects:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, . . . . Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:12,17)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? Do not be surprised, this is normal in a Fallen world.

Second, the devil’s nasty work is temporary. Thanks to the baby mentioned in verse 5, the evil one’s days are numbered. He has a “best before date,” or in this case a “worst before date”:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:12 emphasis mine)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? This too shall pass.

Third, the devil’s schemes cannot ruin the purposes and plans of God. In Revelation 12 we see an allusion to Herod’s plan to destroy the infant Jesus. We know that did not happen and the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all happened according to plan. Additionally, many verses in chapter 12 point to God’s protection of His people:

. . . and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished (Revelation 12:6) . . .the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished (Revelation 12:14) . . . the earth came to the help of the woman (Revelation 12:16). . .

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? God has a plan. We ought not assume His plan does not include our own death at some point. God’s plans go way bigger than that.

Fourth, the devil is already defeated. The devil is a deceiver, but he is also known in the Bible as an accuser. Indeed this is what the very term Satan means. Satan is spoken of in the Old Testament as standing in the court of God, ready to accuse. We might think of the first chapter of Job where Satan accuses Job of loving God only because life was good. Satan is portrayed as the one who can stand before God and say “look at this guy, or look at that woman, they are deserving of destruction.” And Satan could stand before God and say of you and I, “look what they did, look how undeserving they are.” And we give him plenty to talk about don’t we? Except he cannot do that, for he is not there. He has been thrown down:

7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:7-10)

Far from winning a hearing in the presence of God, Satan has been conquered. While the passage speaks of the angel Michael leading the fight, it is really speaking about Jesus and trust in Him:

11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. (Revelation 12:11)

Keeping all this in mind let us think of the Apostle Paul’s words:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? There is good news of great joy, for God has made possible a rescue from the greatest misery possible, eternal separation from God. In Jesus we have eternal life ahead with no dragons.

When the Christmas train goes off the rails, when it seems Satan has his evil hands all over your life, look at the big picture and remember that the final destination is Christ and His arms of love. Need a hug this Christmas? You are already in His embrace.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

Toward Good Leadership

There is something that has stood between joy and far too many people in far too many places far too often: Lousy leadership by lost leaders. They say that cream always rises to the top, but throughout the world, and throughout the history of the world, the cream seems to have been sitting out in the sun for days on end. Bad decisions by people of influence have plunged people into suffering and darkness. Because of dreadful leadership oppression has poured out on countless millions. We need world leaders who have a heart for the people, a capacity to bring real change, and who bring effective solutions to problems. Is there a leader who can rise to that challenge?

From the Gospel of Luke, enter an angel announcing a birth:

Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

From the Book of Revelation, enter another angel and another announcement:

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

Could these announcements point us to a leader who can rise to the challenge of good leadership? Let us consider three points:

Because this is a hurting world, we need a leader who knows how to be a shepherd. Rulers can rule indiscriminately, but shepherds do at least three things: they find lost sheep, they have compassion on hurting sheep, and they provide protection for threatened sheep. We have had enough opressive rulers in our world. We don’t need oppressors, we need shepherds. In Jesus we have a shepherd. Consider the following:

First, there is a connection between Jesus and David, the “shepherd-king.” Though David was originally a shepherd from Bethlehem, he became the favourite king of Israel. God promised David that one of his descendants would reign forever. That Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that shepherds from Bethlehem were invited to see Him, make plain that we are to make a connection between Jesus and David; the shepherd-king.

Second, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who “lays his life down for the sheep” (John 10:11). This is a very different kind of leadership than those rulers who take out as many sheep as it takes to remain in power.

Third, Jesus is the shepherd spoken of in Revelation 7:17:

“for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This is a shepherd leader who is also a sacrificial lamb. He leads from a place of love, giving his life for the sake of the sheep in contrast to many rulers who rule from a place of insecurity and fear.

Fourth, the birth of Jesus is mentioned in Revelation 12:5: “And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” The word for “rule” here is actually the word for “shepherd,” as in “he will shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron.” The 23rd Psalm is in view with “The LORD is my shepherd . . . your rod and your staff – they comfort me.” The rod and staff were used by shepherds to protect and guide the sheep.

Indeed, the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign as the Good-Shepherd-King forever and ever.

Because this is a darkening world we need a leader who has the capacity to bring sunny ways. As Canadians we cannot miss the reference to our new Prime Minister in that statement. No matter our political stripe, we should always hope that our current prime minister will be the best one yet. But whether or not sunny days may be ahead for Canada, Mr. Trudeau is limited in the world by one simple fact. He is only human. Even if we experience superb leadership here in Canada, Mr. Trudeau will have limited impact in other nations around the world, nations which are in greater need of good leadership than we are! Jesus has the capacity to bring sunny ways. Consider the following:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

Not only is Jesus described as light, but being involved in Creation, He is the Creator of light. That sounds like someone who has the capacity to bring about real change! While we look to political leaders to make promises, Jesus is far more able to keep His. Speaking of promises:

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:22-25)

While world leaders have often plunged their people into darkness, Jesus is the light of the world. Indeed the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign as the Light-of-the-World forever and ever.

Lastly, Because this is a broken world we need a leader who can fix problems with real solutions. What is the biggest problem the world faces today? Climate change? Terrorism? The announcement of the loud voices from Revelation 11 provides us with a clue: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord.” (Revelation 11:15) “Kingdoms” are not handed over as we might expect, but rather a singular “kingdom.” Satan is the “ruler of this world” as Jesus makes clear in John 14:30. The evil one has had plenty of practice in being the greatest threat to society beginning with Adam and Eve. The problems of this world have never been just Hitler, or Stalin, or Bin Laden, or Herod. The problems of this world have been the sin that infects and affects such people, not to mention people like you and me. The evil one has even tried to tempt Jesus:

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. ’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

The temptation was to take the world by force. Jesus would have succeeded in that venture where many have tried and failed. But there was a better way, the way of the cross. Rather than use violence and force to rule over all the kingdoms, Jesus suffered violence and force at the cross. His is the way of love. His kingdom is marked by love, not brute force. Indeed, the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and the King-of-love will reign forever and ever.

So will we ever have good leadership in our world? We already have a good leader in our world; Jesus. What we really need are good followers. We do not need to wait for the seventh trumpet to sound to know that Jesus is Lord, to live as His Kingdom people. The leaders of this world would do well to figure out how to follow the leader before leading the followers. So would we.

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.