Wednesday, June 3, 2015

On Seeing Skippy

      I watched the birth of my granddaughter "Skippy" on the screen of a smartphone yesterday. Actually, I read the birth of my granddaughter on the screen of a smartphone yesterday.  While Kathy, my eldest daughter, and her husband Steve were enduring the marathon of the miracle, my wife MariAnne and I and Kathy's dear friend Sarah were anxiously staggering the floor of the waiting room. It was a long and far more torturous event than I had imagined. I am thankful that compared to the old days when you waited restlessly for someone to come through the door announcing "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!", Steve was doing us a great kindness by sending us updates by text every half hour. I would then relay what I knew to my daughter, Lauren, in Honduras.
            After twenty-seven hours of the usual childbirth progression or, at times, the lack thereof, the texts took a rather serious and urgent twist. The baby's heart rate was dropping. There were signs of distress in the womb. They were prepping Kath for surgery. Suddenly the silences between the texts seemed interminable. We stared at our phones, praying and pacing. We prayed. We waited. I paced.
            I don't remember everything that Steve sent our way. However, there was one breakthrough text that I do remember very well: "I can hear Corrie crying!"  Suddenly, I could no longer see the screen on the phone anymore. For some reason, it was just too blurry. Corrie was crying. I knew Steve was crying. We bowed and blubbered a prayer of thanks.
            This morning, as I reflect upon Corrie's birth, there are two prayers that I have for myself. The first is that I might linger over God's texts to me with the same attentiveness as I did to the ones coming from Steve yesterday. Those of you who know me, know that I believe that the Bible is God's Word. Those who lazily try to critique it or dismiss it with careless unresearched criticisms have only served to confirm its veracity to me. Those who have over-zealously sought to punch holes in it because of a pre-commitment to a godless life have been instrumental in forming a deeper conviction in my mind and my heart that this Word is powerful and life-transforming. Our lives and our world would be a far more beautiful place if the righteousness and love that God produces by His Word working in our hearts and mind shaped everyone. So, may it begin with me. May I linger over God's Word with the eagerness of a Dad waiting for news about his daughter from her husband texting about her labour. May I pray with the psalmist, "Open my eyes, that I may behold, wondrous things from your law!" [1] or "Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways!"
            My second prayer is that I might look forward with greater eagerness to the day when I see Jesus face to face. We have been waiting for Corrie's arrival eagerly. When we walked into the Labour and Delivery Department and saw Steve holding Skippy, it really was thrilling. She was beautiful. Stebo was wiping tears away. We were wiping tears away. She was worth it all.
            There is a scene in the Bible where the Queen of Sheba visits King Solomon because she has heard of his great wisdom and his wealth. She is eager to see it with her own eyes and so she travels across desert and wilderness to meet him. When she finally seems him in person, she says this to him: "The report was true that I heard in my own land of you words and your wisdom, but I did not believe until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, He has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness." [2]
            The Lord our God has so loved the world that He has set His Son Jesus on the throne to rule forever like Solomon did over Israel. Jesus is said in the Bible to be the ultimate "son of David" (King Solomon was King David's son). By His kindness, I am one of those happy ones that the Queen of Sheba mentions above who has been serving in his courts. However, there is a day coming when we will see the fullness of His glory not in this broken world in which we presently abide. We will see Him in the new heaven and the new earth. On that day, our tears of joy will far surpass that of a new dad or a new mom seeing their baby for the first time. We will echo the Queen of Sheba when we say that what we saw of Christ in the Scriptures and have hear told us by others was not even the half of the glory of His wisdom and prosperity.
            It is a miracle to hold a beautiful newborn child. To see her little chubby cheeks and see her dark eyes and little lips and long fingers. It brings much joy, joy beyond expectation. What a small but wonderful picture of what it will be to see the reality one day of meeting the One who we have been waiting to see all our lives. God help me to read every text you have sent with eagerness, and look longingly for Your arrival.

[1] Psalm 119:18
[2] 1 Kings 10:6-9

Friday, May 1, 2015

With God in the Desert

"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with singing...
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped,
and the lame man shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy."
Isaiah 35

            This morning, I sat outside and read my Bible. It was early but the sky was already blue, the sun was shining, and it was warm. The European Starlings sang and chirped as they dashed about getting food for their little ones, occasionally stopping to rest at the top of the neighbour's orange tree. That tree is laden with oranges hanging like Christmas tree ornaments. That is about all that is reminiscent of Christmas. This is a snow-free zone where winter is forbidden. Despite my allergy to bee stings, I observed, with genuine pleasure, the busyness of bees gathering nectar from blossoms atop the cactus' (cacti?). What a wonder to me that bees are making honey from flowers here in the middle of the desert! A nest of blue herons began squawking as one of the adults returned with food for the hungry little ones waiting eagerly up high in the Sycamore trees. From my chair, I could see about forty palm trees surrounding one of the numerous little lakes that have been strategically placed throughout the city of Scottsdale, Arizona. Mallard ducks spread their wings and lower the landing gear of their webbed feet as they slide across the surface of the water where they will spend the day quacking and cruising with their compatriots. It takes a real conscious effort to remind yourself... this is the desert.
            This is one of the many lessons that the Lord has been teaching me. If people can make a dry, hot, barren land into a beautiful oasis, how much more can the Lord transform the dry places and moments of our lives into a place of flourishing and fruitfulness? If God is able to make life flourish in the midst of the deadness of the Arizona desert, is His hand too weak to produce life from the deadness of soul that we often feel when times are tough and journey seems endless?
            Not every morning in our lives is like this one that I am experiencing today. Not every stage of life is like the one that I have been enjoying lately. I am keenly aware that this is a unique and special moment for MariAnne and I.  I am deeply grateful to the Lord for this sabbatical that we been privileged to share. I rejoice in people like Nariman and Faith, Stan and Jean, Paul and Marcia, Jim and Jan, Gary and Lyndell, Mom and Dad, and others who have lovingly invited us to stay in their homes or vacation spots, to rest and study while we prepare for the next stage of ministry. When we set out on this little journey, we had no idea where it would take us. We really didn't know how we would make it work. However, we have learned that the Lord was already ahead of us. He was laying down the path. He was preparing people's hearts. He was arranging all the details. Most importantly, He was inviting us to spend time with Him away from the noise and busyness of everyday life.
            It seems rather apropos to me that our sabbatical seems to be nearing an end in the desert at the time when it is blooming. It is the Lord's way of reminding us that He specializes in bringing life out of death, flourishing out of wastelands, refreshment in places that are dry. It is not my intention to cling to the idea that the best thing about a sabbatical is the opportunity to escape life's challenges. Even in sabbaticals, that isn't completely possible. The best thing about these times is the presence of God: walking with Him, talking with Him, listening to Him, and leaning on Him. It is access to God that Jesus Christ opened up for us when He died on the cross for our sins. He took away the guilt that separated us from the joyous privilege of intimacy and accessibility with the God of the universe. He transformed our relationship from foe to family, from stranger and alien to follower and friend. The triune God of the universe is now my Father, my elder Brother, and my Helper.
            It is an enormous privilege to look to God and to trust Him to lead us forward. It is a comfort to be unconcerned about what the future holds so long as God goes with us. The joy of this life and the hope for our eternity is to know that fruitfulness and  flourishing is the certain gift that God brings to all who draw near and abide with Him through Jesus. As King David once sang, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever." (Psalm 16:11)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Baby Names

     In a few months, my daughter and son-in-law, Kathy and Steve, are expecting their first child. To say that we are all excited about this little one's arrival is an understatement. I can't wait to meet Skippy. Yep, you heard right: Skippy! Okay, maybe that is not the name that they have chosen for their daughter. However, it is the one that I have selected. Back when they were searching for a name, I called Kathy and told them that I had come up with one. It dawned on me as I was eating my toast and peanut butter at breakfast: Skippy! All I heard was an all too familiar groan on the other end of the line. I have been informed that as well thought out as my recommendation was, it would not be the baby's name.

            I love Skippy. Even before she is born, before she has accomplished the inevitable achievements that her rich family heritage guarantees, before the Nobel Prize and the Rhodes Scholarship, I love her. Okay, admittedly, Skippy is most likely a fitting name because she comes from a bunch of nuts! Truth is, in our family, she will be our pride and joy if she can bait her own hook and catch a limit of Walleye. We might as well be honest: Skippy is up against it. She is being born into a world that has gone mad. Evil abounds. She is being born into the lives of people who feel keenly their weaknesses. Her parents live in Toronto. (Don't take offense dear Toronto friends. It's just hard to teach a kid to catch Walleye in Don Mills.) Whether you feel the debate on a child's development is more nature than nurture, or nurture than nature, Skippy has some hurdles ahead.

            Did I tell you that I love Skippy?! I say this because I believe that the familial love that develops for a child during the forty weeks of pregnancy really does provide an important living metaphor for the incredible reality of God's love for His people. God's love for us precedes anything that we have ever done. In fact, the marvel of God's love is that God has loved us when He was fully aware of everything that would go wrong with humanity and how each of us would be a willing contributor to the sin and corruption that has long plagued our race. The hope of humanity is not in its ability to earn the love of God. It is in the fact that God is love and His love flows from His nature and His heart. His love is so great that it doesn't simply turn a grandfatherly blind eye to our obvious faults and flaws. He looks straight at our selfish choices, sinful acts, and hateful behaviours, and determines to deal justly with our guilt and yet, mercifully with our souls. This is no weak love filled with self-serving ambition. He doesn't love me so that He can feel better about Himself. He loves me because that is who He is.

            This, then, of course, is my hope. My hope is that if God loves me in spite of a thousand reasons why I am unlovable and if He freely chooses to do whatever it takes to save me from myself, from sin, and ultimately from the evil of the world, then the question is not: "What am I up against?" The question is this: "If God is for me, who or what can be against me?"

            Do you know what God has nick-named me? He has called me "Beloved". That's a bit more profound than "Skippy". In 1 John 3:1 the apostle John expresses the wonder of God's love for us: "See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God; and so we are!" Then, in the fourth chapter, John repeatedly calls his audience "Beloved". It is clear that he calls them this not simply because as an apostle, he cares about them. He calls us "Beloved" because God Himself has loved us with an incredibly forgiving and unfailing love. Listen to John's words: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God is manifested among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."[1] God's love is not due to our worthiness but a tribute to His. Linger over that miracle for awhile today, "Beloved". God loves us truly, deeply, and forever!

            I love Skippy. I can't wait to meet her. I am not worried about all the "jams" that she might get into (sorry, I couldn't resist that one!). My hope is in a Love that is greater than all our sins and struggles. There is a God who has loved Skippy's grandparents and parents long before they were born and gave His Son to save them. My prayer for her is that she might come to know and to trust this love early and for always. I am praying for her physical birth with excitement. I am praying for spiritual "birth" with even more passion. What a joy for her to wake up one day and hear with the ears of faith, the nickname her heavenly Father has given her: "Beloved." I want her to hear in her heart from the eternal God: "I love you, Skippy! I always have!" Please pray for her with me.

[1] 1 John 4:7-11

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why Destroying Christian Symbols Won't Work

            God wants His people to have strong encouragement. Particularly, when the mission of the church to spread the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus is met with aggressive hostility, God wants His people to know for certain that He has got this. His resolve remains unchanged. His plan will not fail. Our hope for the future is rock solid.

            The church, historically, has gone through extensive periods of hardship and opposition. Right from the get-go, it was understood that the way of Jesus was going to be radically counter to the patterns and priorities of every culture into which Christianity would be sent. We would not get a warm welcome. Our Christian mission began with these words of Jesus: "In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."[1] Jesus told his disciples quite frankly, "If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."[2]

            In the past few weeks, the media has been showing pictures of the radical Islamist group, ISIS, tearing down ancient Christian monuments in Iraq and Syria (monuments destroyed). Their agenda is to rid their "caliphate" of any vestiges of what they consider idolatry. I have friends who have lived and worked in Syria and I am sure that it pains them deeply to see the challenges that now face their Christian brethren who continue to live there. Of course, in their own way, secularists have been doing the same thing in the Western world for a few decades now. Any public symbols of the Christian faith have been progressively and systematically removed from the public square by the proponents of a religion-less secular philosophy.  Christian presence is increasingly unwelcome in institutions of higher education and in public discourse about morality and justice.

            The big mistake that is made in all of this, of course, is that promoting the destruction of the symbols of the Christian faith is akin to seeking to stop the effects of the sun by burning every painting of it that you can find. When you have destroyed every art gallery and melted down every brass sculpture of the brightest light in the heavens, you will still get up the next morning to its rising. The power of the Christian faith lies not in its symbols but in the risen and reigning Son of God. That Son reigns on behalf of His people. He lives and rules safe and secure in the heavens far beyond the reach of His enemies and far above every power on earth, philosophical, political, military, or religious.

            For any religion or any anti-Christian philosophy to attempt to destroy the church of Christ fully and finally, it would have to do several things. It would have to persuade God Himself to turn on His people and to break the covenant that He made with Abraham to bless Him, to make him a mighty nation and through His descendant, to bless all the nations of the earth. This is impossible because God cannot break His Word. He will not lie. The faulty notion that many people have is that the church is merely a human creation. It is, in fact, the handiwork of God Himself. It exists because of His will and by His doing and to the praise of the glory of His grace.

            Secondly, they would have to climb up to heaven and destroy Jesus who has been appointed by God to rule and to reign on behalf of all those who have put their faith in Him. That, of course, would be difficult for many reasons. First, you can't get there from here. Well, you can, but the only road to heaven is through death. Then, according to the Scriptures,  if you were to die, you would be judged by Jesus on the grounds of whether or not you put your faith in Him. That is one of His main post-resurrection responsibilities. The Bible declares that "it is appointed once for a person to die and then to face the judgment."[3] Also, if theoretically, you could get there, you would have to destroy the very One who has already triumphed over death. The Bible tells us that He has been raised to an indestructible life by God because of His perfect obedience, even obedience to death on a cross. In other words, He can't die. Therefore, you would simply be a pesky arrogant gnat buzzing around the One whom God has given all authority in heaven and in earth. So, you would be attacking almighty power and offending almighty God. It is not wise to tick God off and there is nothing that ticks God the Father off more than the dishonour of His Son.

            The only other thing, one might do is to try to persuade Jesus to abandon His position of authority on behalf of the church and to persuade Him to come work for His enemies. Aren't there more devout people who would show themselves far more worthy of such a King? Could someone persuade Jesus to leave His post? Satan made that offer before the crucifixion and He wouldn't take it then (see Matthew 4). Why would He abandon those for whom He was willing to die and whom He purchased with His blood on the cruel cross?  Some might argue that the church isn't worth it with all its flaws and failings. It is sinful. It is corrupt. It is weak and unwell. Why stick with a sickly bride? The answer is because He loves her and delights in her. Is it not clear how much that He loves His church in the very fact that He died to make her His own? Do we think that after He poured out His blood to make her white as snow that He would take lightly any criticisms and insults about her flaws? Just to utter the suggestion that He betray His bride would provoke a holy protective anger that we could not begin to imagine. Jesus loves His church and will never leave her nor forsake her.

            I write this for the encouragement of Christians as we see and continue to experience grave threats and increasing hostility. There is far more than I have written here that is meant to elevate our confidence in God's commitment to His church. God will not and cannot abandon the church to its enemies. Jesus will not leave His people or His post. The fuel for my reflection here came in part from Hebrews 6. There the Bible reads "So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."[4] God's purpose is unchangeable. God's desire is that we would take strong encouragement from the fact that He has made a promise and secured it through Jesus. Jesus is our anchor, our guarantee and He has entered heaven on our behalf. He ever lives to intercede for us.
            When the symbols of the history of Christianity fall all around us, and the enemies of the church roar and rattle their sabers, we must always remember, they can't bring the sun down from the sky and they won't bring the Son down from His throne. As long as Jesus Christ lives and reigns, and as long as God is One who never lies and always keeps His Word, His people are forever secure. Take strong confidence in this.

[1] John 16:33

[2] John 15:18-19

[3] Hebrews 9:27

[4] Hebrews 6:17-20

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Carpe Diem - Squeeze the Moment

(my early morning drive)
"Everyday, I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever." (Psalm145:2)

            As many of you know, my wife, MariAnne, and I have been on sabbatical and are in a period of seeking the Lord for our future. We are determined to live by faith and to trust the Lord for His direction and His provision. Learning to be obedient daily to the Lord outside of a "normal" routine continues to be a blessed discipline. One of my prayers has been to be alert and available so as to "seize the moment" to serve when God opens an opportunity for me to bless one person at a time. As you might expect, almost always, it works the other way around. God opens up opportunities to serve others and I end up leaving the conversation or meeting with my heart full of thanks. Who is serving who? Who is blessing who? Living attentively by the Spirit is like those "take your kids to work" days. God the Father is taking me, his son, to work with Him. I watch what He is doing all the time in the lives of people that normally remain unseen to me but never remain unseen to Him.

            Let me share you a couple of little stories of how the Lord has done this for me recently. Usually, when I settle into a new place, I try to find a coffee shop where I can read and write early in the morning. I am an early bird and I am happiest when the sun is rising. I rarely sleep past six a.m. Often, I can be found by 6:30 in a little coffee shop somewhere in the midst of a steady stream of bleary-eyed strangers moving about to start their days. One morning not too long ago, as I was doing my routine, a young man got up from his table and asked me about my Bible. He told me that it looked old. I told him the truth: I just drop it all the time. It is worn by abuse as much as use. I introduced myself and he told me that his name was Daniel. I asked him what he was reading. He had a couple books over on his table. He told me he had some books from Alcoholics Anonymous. He was working his way through the process but was finding it hard to read ahead until he had finished his current "step". I asked him his age and he said "Twenty-four." That was my age when I started my first job as a pastor. I asked him if he had a Bible and he said that he did. He offered up that he hadn't been to church in a while. I encouraged him to just do it and then talked about a Bible passage that he might like to read. He went back and sat down at his table. Then, he came back and asked me if I would pray with him. So, the coffee shop crowd did their thing as Daniel and I prayed for God's grace in our lives. I would appreciate it if you prayed for Daniel.

            On another occasion recently, I found myself in Los Angeles alone for dinner while MariAnne was in class for her doctoral program. We have friends there who asked if I wanted to join them for dinner. I don't know them too well yet but that is changing. I prayed to the Lord that our time would be enjoyable and that the conversation might be about more substantial things. I wanted to share kindly my love for Jesus. One of our friends is an atheist and the other is a follower of the Bahia religion. Well, I can only testify that it was a very enjoyable and God-led time. Not only did we talk about substantial things, but we spent two and a half hours chatting, laughing, discussing quite openly what we believed. The entire conversation was about religion, heaven and hell, evolution and intelligent design, the teaching of Jesus, Islam and American Christianity. I couldn't have created a conversation with as much honesty and warmth if I tried. I was able to share more thoroughly than I could have imagined what the difference was between "religion" and the truth of our common universal need for the forgiveness and heart transformation which only Jesus can offer. When MariAnne texted us saying "Where are you guys?", we realized how fast the time had gone. I felt that God had given me a deeper love for our friends and a fresh appreciation of the gracious gift of the power and the presence of His Spirit.

            One of the disciplines that I am praying to deepen in my life is the discipline of not just "Seizing the Moment" but "Squeezing the Moment". Right now, I am in the land of orange trees and you can get fresh squeezed orange juice everywhere. My prayer is to squeeze every drop of God's love and grace out of the freshest opportunities that God gives me each day. I don't want to miss an opportunity to see and to savour something of the joy and goodness of my God who is always at work even when I am not attentive. I want to say with the psalmist "Everyday, I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever." (Psalm145:2)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Paris and the Propaganda of Terror


      If there is anything that is clear, it is that Islamic extremists know how to use the media. In a few weeks, America's largest corporations will pay 4.5 million dollars for every thirty second commercial during the grand extravaganza called the Superbowl. A few weeks later, the Superbowl will be history and the news reports will return to the stories of violence, horror, and the increasing terrorist threat facing Europe, America, Africa, and well, most of the world. What the cruel fanatics know is that every time and every place that they manage to perpetrate some heinous act, they get free air time for hours, days, and weeks on the major news networks of the world. It is free for them. Well, it only costs blood. They pay for their airtime with the lives of people in coffee shops in Australia and grocery stores in Paris. They pay for it with the supposedly expendable lives of the dupes that they have brainwashed into believing that their acts of self-destructive violence somehow pleases their deity more than a kind, loving, and selfless life. Martyrdom is supposedly their free ticket into the eternal good books of their god.

            With this payment, they are given more air time than anyone else to send their message into the world. The "free" advertising has powerful effects everywhere. They announce to others who they are brainwashing that they are advancing their cause successfully. They glorify cold-blooded murderers and make heroes and martyrs out of them promising similar glory for any who would imitate them. They fill the world with the propaganda of fear. Everywhere you hear discussions about where they will strike next. Fear is powerful. It creates anger. It fuels cowardice. It alienates and creates suspicion. It is powerfully effective in creating hostility, building walls, and breaking down communication between strangers.

            It is for this reason, in this small way, that I want to make a few clear assertions. These assertions come out of the Scriptures and are designed to assault the hope-destroying fear mongering and the brainwashing manipulation of the extremists. I root my comments in Psalm 96:

1. God is beautiful and majestic.

Psalm 96:6 reads "Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary."

We need to realize that the only thing that beauty opposes is evil. All true beauty comes from God and the kind of inhumane cruelty that we witness in the latest news stories is what God opposes. God is just as we will see in a moment. Yet, even His justice is beautiful. It radically opposes, even in seed form, the pride, arrogance, hatred and violence that charades as religious devotion. When the ugliest forms of evil run rampant, we all share a collective sigh of relief when justice brings it to a quick end. It is a demonic lie that uses religion to distort the truth of God, His nature, and the beauty of His ways. In heaven, there is no celebration of bloodshed, except in the one singular great act of sacrificial love. In that true act of self-sacrifice, Jesus, the Son of God, died so that we would be forgiven for all our violence of heart and hand. From that, we learn that God's love is selfless and He is fatherly in that He pours Himself out for us. "In this is love," the apostle John writes, "not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins."[1] John also gives this beautiful exhortation which encourages us to seek on earth what already exists in heaven: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God." [2]


2. God Reigns

Psalm 96:10 reads "Say among the nations, 'The Lord reigns! Yes the world is established; it shall never be moved; He will judge the world with equity."

One of the messages that inadvertently comes through the extremist propaganda is that God and justice have left the building. We have this feeling that our days are numbered as human beings. All the nations cringe. We envision annihilation at the hand of some crazy with a nuclear bomb or we imagine life under these cruel religious extremists. If there is a God, how does He let happen what is happening and why doesn't He end it now?

There are clear biblical answers to why God doesn't just wrap things up now, but one of them is actually the mercy of God. God is giving, with incredible patience, the opportunity for humanity to turn from sin, to accept His sacrifice for us, and to share in a world made new. The apostle Peter explains that the reason God patiently tolerates human evil is that God is stunningly patient, willing to save people from all people groups from their own sin and wickedness.

What Psalm 96 commands people like me to do is to counter the fear-inducing propaganda of the religious extremists with these truths: God reigns. This is not a runaway train. God is at work in some of the humblest and unnoticed places of the world. The terrorists may be on the major news networks but that's because fear and evil sell more than grace and justice. God is here. He is at work. His love is working in the lives of millions who would rather give up their lives for their enemies than to slaughter their enemies in the name of a god.

Secondly, "the world is established." The promise of God at the end of the Bible is that He will make all things new. The notion that heaven is going to be an ethereal place of disembodied souls and spirits playing harps on clouds misses the true message of the Scriptures. Jesus rose bodily from the dead to indicate to us that heaven and eternity will be physical as well as spiritual. The earth is not going to disappear. It will be made new: new without pollution, hatred, evil, selfishness, death, and cancer. God has said this and He will do it. We, therefore, may have to do battle with injustice at the moment but not out of fear but confidence. The propaganda controls us with the lie that all progress is vain. This demonic lie is behind the terrorists burning of schools, and historical sites, and great works of art. The Christian faith promotes the pursuit of truth, and beauty, and progress because for all eternity we will be exploring the beauty of God and reflecting in ourselves His creative ingenuity without sin.

3. God is coming.

Psalm 96:11-13 "Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

let the sea roar and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the people in faithfulness."

In these verses, it is creation that rejoices. This created realm is waiting with hopeful anticipation for the day when God comes and makes all things new. In Romans 8, the apostle Paul writes that all creation groans with eager expectation of the day when God brings all human evil to an end and introduces the new heavenly humanity - saved, forgiven, cleansed, and transformed. This, too, ought to give us both hope and joy. At the end of the day, God will judge the earth. This doesn't simply mean that God will have a court date for all human beings. It means that God will forever be in charge, ruling the events of human existence. We will not be under corrupt Western rulers or vile religious extremists from distant land. We will be under the perpetual rule and reign of a just, loving, good, pure, creative, and generous faithful God. We ought to share a collective sigh of relief and recommit ourselves to living this way. God has offered to all humanity a way out of this mess. He is the way. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life." God has offered us freely what we need for acceptance with Him: forgiveness for past sins through Jesus' substitutionary sacrifice; righteousness as a gift through faith; power in His Spirit to live as He intended.

The answer to the constant propaganda of fear that dominates our news is to share this news with everyone that we know: God is beautiful and good. God still reigns. God is coming to make all things new. Let's replace the terror of evil with the hope of God in the good news of His salvation!

[1] 1 John 4:10

[2] 1 John 4:7

Friday, December 5, 2014

Technology - I Won't Let You Down

            In the summer of 2008, I attended a lecture on artificial intelligence and Christian faith at Cambridge University. At the C.S. Lewis Conference's annual Summer Institutes, Nigel Cameron of Washington's Center for Policy on Emerging Technology gave us a cursory glimpse of some of the fast-developing advancements in the field of A.I.  His primary purpose was to introduce and to explain a few of the real and challenging ethical dilemmas that these technologies were posing for researchers, academic institutions, and political bodies. For those of us who were on the outside looking in, it was almost a bit surreal. First, the technologies that were already being developed sounded like they were coming out of a sci-fi novel. It was hard to believe that we would see some of these things in our lifetime. However, we were told and we are now seeing that technology is advancing far faster than most of our imaginations. Second, and probably for the reason that the advancements seemed so futuristic to our ears, the ethical issues and the dangers attending these developments, also seemed incredible.

            Well, in the past few weeks, I have encountered a couple of things that have definitely confirmed the words of that lecture. First, one of Cambridge's most famous professors, Stephen Hawking gave a stark warning about where A.I. is headed in the not so distant future (Hawking on the end of the human race). He predicts the possibility of the end of humanity in a generation. For most people, the thought that machines can be given brains that will easily outsmart the human race sounds really far-fetched. However, it is not fiction. It is in the works.

            Second, I remember being encouraged by one possibility that was in development in Japan at that time. Honda was working on designing a wheel chair that you could control with your mind. I thought "Wouldn't that be great. People without mobility could just think where they wanted to go and they could get there." Then, a few weeks ago, I saw this video by the pop group, "OK Go" (I Won't Let You Down video).  

      The main star in the video was Honda's UniCub chair. It is controlled by your thoughts. You can see the technology demonstrated and explained in the first part of this behind the scenes interview.  I do hope that this does make life a great deal easier for people whose lives are severely restricted by disabilities. 

            It was a bit ironic for me that my discovery of this remarkable technological feat was in a music video that repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly sings the statement "I won't let you down." (If you didn't click on the video above, just go do it for one minute, and you will know what I mean.) If anything, technology has become the god of our age. We are enthralled with it. We are increasingly dependent upon it. We can't wait for the next Apple product announcement. We watch with amazement as pictures are beamed back from before unimaginable places in space. Maybe, we can find a new world, a new home, or many new unpolluted, war-free, uninhabited planet paradises somewhere out there. We hope in science for the discovery to cure all our diseases. Maybe, we can even end death itself so we freeze our bodies and hope for that day. It is as if our generation looks at these rapid advancements in technology and we sing the words of the old Christmas hymn: "The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight." We are banking on technology to come through for us.

            Well, I am hoping that the warnings of Dr. Hawking, and all the realities of our technological age might bring us to a necessary awakening, by the grace of God. Technology can be and is being used for good. However, it will not replace the need for a real Saviour. Technology, as we know, can be a tool for great evil. The greedy get richer. The violent get more dangerous. The technology itself may turn out to be the Enemy which brings it all to a quick and unavoidable end.

            To go back to OK Go's music video, the other line that keeps being repeated is this one: "Maybe you just need someone to trust? Maybe you just need someone to trust?" So, where do we end up with all this technological advancement? We end up back at the beginning. We need Someone who we really can trust. We need Someone bigger than technology to guide the hearts and minds of those who handle it all. We need Someone who really can give life and who won't turn on us when we trust in Him. We need Someone who loves us and, rather than destroying us, lays down His life for our healing, forgiving, and eternal future. We need Someone who really can make everything out of nothing and who will actually make everything new for our good.

            Technology is a tool but it isn't our Saviour. The only Saviour of the world is the Son of the Creator of the entire universe. He alone can change our hearts, heal our diseases, raise the dead, rule the world, and make it all brand new. The gospel John reads "In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."[1] The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight. Who do you trust?

[1] John 1:1-5