Culture in Canuckistan: Shacking Up, Ontario Style


IMG_20150225_082749 This morning I spent an hour or so theogling on Trail 10, where I was also able to resurface the entire eastbound lane in one fell swoop (it was clearly not a government contract.)

When I reached the bank of the Ottawa River at Shirley’s Bay, I decided to satisfy my curiosity about ice fishing–a pastime which, despite our 24 years in Canada, I’ve never tried. (We lived in Nova Scotia for 19 years and I never learned to sail or went lobstering–the latter failure literally constituting a sin of omission.)

From the shore, it looked like this shack was occupied. But what appeared to be a Ski-Doo from 350 m away was actually the fisher’s discarded Christmas tree! So I skied three-quarters of a km extra and still don’t know how to ice fish.

Out in western Ontario, on Lake Nipigon, where our friends live and work, the commercial fishermen use jigger boards to shoot whitefish nets under the ice. Pretty ingenious, and very lucrative if you have a mind to commute 18 km each way out onto the lake every day…

The dots in the background of my photo are other shacks, none of which looked very inviting and all of which looked very far away.

I think everyone was home frying up yesterday’s yellow perch.

15 Teaching: The Scariest Line of Work


magellan23n-5-webThe American Psychological Association reports that each year, about 250,100 teachers are assaulted by students in the public school classrooms of America. A September, 2014 article in Britain’s The Guardian states that every day, an average of 878 students are expelled from school for classroom violence. Another Guardian headline reads, “Millions Paid Out to Teachers for Classroom Assaults and Accidents.” Just last month, the CBC reported that in Winnipeg , hundreds of assaults on both teachers and staff occurred in the city’s public schools in the last two years alone.

Public school classrooms, once the bastions of order and discipline, are out of control. Teaching is becoming a scary line of work.

But James, the younger brother of Jesus Christ–Who, as God in flesh was the World’s Greatest Teacher– points out an even more perilous aspect of teaching in James 3.1:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

The real hazard of teaching, James says, is not assault. It’s assessment–and not assessment not by parents or peers or school boards or HR committees. The real hazard of teaching is assessment by God.

While James is speaking primarily about teaching the Scriptures, the indictments for teaching falsehood will be countless in the Judgment. In Evolution vs. God, his masterful exposé of Darwinism in the university classroom, Ron Comfort repeatedly asks students why they believe in evolution.  Their answers are always, “I believe what the experts tell me,” or, “I believe my professors.” One of those professors actually says on camera, “Of course humans are fish.” This is a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline in one of America’s prestigious universities, and his students believe him! Shame on them, shame on him, and shame on their teachers–especially their parents–who neglected to instruct them in the art of critical thinking.

And while we’re talking about parents, allow me to point out that they are a child’s first teachers, and the ones who most profoundly influence his or her intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. Do you think God will judge parents for what they teach their children? No? Think again.

And we haven’t even mentioned the teachers of the soul. I recently heard it said that to understand a religion–any religion–one must simply examine a country in which its adherents constitute the majority. Interesting observation, don’t you think? In most of Europe, it’s either raw secular humanism or secular humanism tossed with either Roman Catholicism or liberal Protestantism just for good luck. In the Middle East, it’s Islam (and don’t forget Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic country.) In Haiti, it’s Roman Catholicism mixed with voodoo. In most of Latin America, it’s Roman Catholicism mixed with any other -ism the user deems appropriate. In Israel, it’s Judaism. In North America, it’s pluralistic, materialistic secular humanism and cultural Christianity. And look where it has gotten us. Globally, nations are descending into anarchy, brutality, tyranny, and chaos. And who do you think God will hold ultimately responsible?

Teachers.

Teachers in homes who tell their children there is no God, that the Bible is untrue, and that the world’s most important person is I . Teachers in universities who tell their students that humans are fish. Teachers in churches and mosques and synagogues and cathedrals–and even under trees–who teach people to trust gods that don’t exist or teach them that they can somehow please God on their own, by doing this and not doing that.

Think carefully about what James says here. Anyone who aspires to be a teacher–and most of us are teachers of something and someone just by default–must recognize that God will hold teachers accountable for what they teach.

This is especially true of those who teach the Scriptures. In 2 Timothy 2.15-18, Paul admonishes Timothy,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Peter’s indictment against First Century false teachers in 2 Peter 2.12,13a is spine-chilling:

But these [false teachers], like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing.

Teaching is a very scary line of work.

Image is from lipstickalley.

 

 

 

14 How to Work Your Way to Hell


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Which is worse–works without faith, or faith without works?

Yes.

Paul of Tarsus tells us a lot about works without faith–his own, for starters:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that comes from faith–

A lot of people practicing a lot of religions are just like Paul. They think they can work their way to heaven when they’re actually working their way to hell. Paul reminds us here in Philippians 3.4b-9 that neither his impressive pedigree, nor his religious affiliation, nor his sincere effort could ever produce what pleases God–perfect righteousness. Absolute holiness. The only thing He will accept as a visa into glory.

I recently read an article by a scientist–one of the world’s leading chemists–who makes molecules. Even if all of us could do that, and even if holiness could be measured in such a way, none of us has the capacity to offer God even one molecule of our own holiness.

At about the same time he wrote to the church at Philippi, Greece, Paul explained to the congregation at Ephesus, Turkey, that

…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (EPH 2.8-10)

When Adam fell, we all fell with him. Hard and flat. Sin is a leveler. The people in prison did not all commit the same crime, but they all view the world through the same vertical lines.

But James, Jesus’ little brother, looks at the faith-and-works continuum from another angle. In James 2.14-17, after his short treatise on the sin of partiality, he writes:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Twice, the writer of Hebrews mentions “dead works.” (HEB 6.1, 9.14) Now, James writes of “dead faith.” In the subsequent verses of Chapter 2, he mentions that even the demons believe in God–and tremble before Him!–so simply believing facts about God is not saving faith. James then cites two Old Testament characters whose faith was demonstrated by their works: Abraham, the Iraqi father of the Jewish nation was not content simply to tell God he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. He unsheathed his dagger and was about to plunge it into Isaac’s belly when God stopped him and provided a substitutionary ram. Rahab the whore did not stop at believing that God was conquering His enemies through the Israelites–she protected their spies, knowing the awesome power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

James concludes his discussion by writing,

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

On some occasion, James probably heard his Brother say that God is glorified when we prove we are His disciples by producing fruit. (JOH 15.8) He came to understand that principle clearly, as the second half of James 2 demonstrates: just as it is vain to think that my works–religious duty, outward devotion, social activism, neighbourly consideration–could possibly get me to heaven, so also is it vain to suppose I am truly a child of God while my life manifests nothing of my faith. As Jesus said, a fruit tree with no fruit is cut down and burned.

The terrible truth is that hell–a real, dreadful place mentioned far more often in Scripture than heaven–will be populated by people whose works were dead or people whose faith was dead.

Both roads lead to the same place.

13 A Thing for Bling


A gentleman comes to your door. He’s wearing a fine suit, a silk tie, spiffy Italian shoes and a Rolex. His cologne smells expensive, and he leaves a new luxury car purring in your laneway. He says a friend gave him your name and he’d like to get to know you.

5edc721b872ed444622a1986b310159fAnother guy comes to your house. He smells like a dumpster, he hasn’t shaved in days, and he’s wearing mismatched, ragged clothes that don’t fit him. He says the same thing, but in an accent you can’t place.

Which man are you more likely to invite in for tea and scones? If your answer makes you uncomfortable, keep reading.

We have a thing for bling. If people are well-off, we seem to want their friendship. Even King Solomon, who was well-offer than just about anyone who has ever lived, understood this tendency:

The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
but the rich has many friends.
(Proverbs 14:20 ESV)

Surprise, surprise. Not a lot has changed since 950 B.C.

Is it because rich people are nicer? Easier to get to know? More loyal? More compassionate and understanding? Treat our kids and pets better? No, it’s because they’re rich. And we want them as friends because it does our egos good to be seen with them, to drop their names, and possibly to be on hand to administer first aid in case they experience a fit of magnanimity.

Jesus’ little brother James watched the Saviour minister compassionately to the poor–He could easily relate to them, being poor Himself–and berate the wealthy Jews who were trusting on their riches to settle their accounts with God. He may have heard Jesus say, as Matthew, Mark, and John tell us He did, “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (JOH 12.8 ESV)

Many years later, James addresses the issue of favouritism in his letter–in fact, the first half of the second chapter deals with this issue alone.  In the first three verses, he paints a picture of a First Century gathering of believers attended by two visitors: an obviously wealthy man “wearing a gold ring and fine clothing” and “a poor man in shabby clothes.” (JAM 2.2 ESV) He tells his readers (vv. 4-9) that if they pay attention to the rich guy and give him the best seat in the house, but neglect the poor man and make him sit on the floor or off in a corner, they have done three things:

  1. They have made distinctions among themselves, becoming judges with evil thoughts.
  2. They have dishonoured the poor man.
  3. They have committed sin are are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Whew–that’s harsh. It’s also true.

James then asks his readers some pointed questions:

“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he promised to those who love him?”

“Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and drag you into court?”

“Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you are called?”

These are rhetorical questions aimed at First Century followers of Jesus in the midst of horrific persecution. The answer to each of them is, “Yes.” Is James saying there is something innately wrong with being rich–or with being poor, for that matter? Absolutely not, even though Jesus told his disciples, and maybe James himself, that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (MAR 10.25)

And that’s the point. If being rich isn’t any better than being poor, why should we show partiality to the rich? If being rich makes it harder to trust God and easier to mistreat people, why do I want to be that way?

James says the “royal law” (v. 8) is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we show partiality, we violate that law and become lawbreakers. He makes the point that the same God who commands us not to commit adultery also commands us not to murder. So if we do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, we are still lawbreakers. One need only commit one offense in the criminal code to become a criminal. In God’s eyes, showing favouritism to the rich at the expense of the poor is a criminal offense. I may not kill my neighbour or sleep with his wife, but if I don’t love him–especially if he is poor–I violate the law of God because my love for others reflects my love for Him.

James concludes this section with these sobering words:

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2.13 ESV)

Have a seat. I’ll plug in the kettle.

What Can I Do for You?


Business Handshake“What can I do for you?”

Have you ever heard that, say, in a store or a bank or a fast food outlet? The question is growing increasingly rare these days–at The World’s Largest Retailer, for instance, I think employees can be fired for uttering these words.

Mark 10 records two occasions, one shortly after the other, when Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Although His question is the same in both instances, the circumstances that prompt it are very different.

In the first case, Mark 10.36, Jesus’ disciples James and John have just declared, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Whew–that’s pretty cheeky, don’t you think? But Jesus humours them, and asks His question: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Their response is telling: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

James and John are opportunists. Jesus’ notoriety and authority have gone to their heads, and they want a share in both. They knew He has the ability to grant any request they make, so they try to elbow their way to the head of the line and demand positions of power in Jesus’ coming earthly kingdom. When Jesus says in verse 38, “You do not know what you are asking,” they insist they are able to “drink the same cup” He is about to drink–though they don’t fully understand what they are saying–and wait for Jesus to grant them their request.

He doesn’t. And when the rest of the disciples hear about it, they are indignant. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them all about servant leadership: “…Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” They eventually learn this, but it takes a while.

In the second case, Jesus is in Jericho. Matthew records that two blind beggars are sitting by the road as He passes by. Mark and Luke single out one of them, Bartimaeus, in their accounts. Mark tells us that when the beggar hears that Jesus of Nazareth is right in front of him, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of of David, have mercy on me!”

Again, Jesus responds: “What do you want me to do for you?”

The beggar, who was evidently born sighted, says, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” Jesus instantly heals him, telling him that his faith has made him well. Luke is more explicit in his record of what happens: “And immediately he recovered his sight and began following him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” (Luke 18.43)

Is faith the issue here? Not really. James, John, and Bartimaeus all know Jesus is able to do whatever they ask of him. It’s all about motivation. James and John want glory for themselves, and Bartimaeus gives the glory to God. James and John want to lead; Bartimaeus wants to follow.

Does the Good Shepherd want to help His sheep? Of course He does! Is He able to do whatever we ask of Him? Of course He is! But motivation is critical.

Jesus’ half-brother, James, writes to those first-century Jewish believers, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4.2b,3)

When we ask Jesus to help us, we must be careful about what we ask. And why.

Image is from salesjobinterviewtips.com

Is God Laughing at You?


Has anyone ever laughed at you?

Maybe you did something foolish–committed a social faux pas, like kissing someone the wrong way in a foreign country. Or perhaps you were trying out a new language and said something that ended up being acutely embarrassing. It could be that children made fun of you for your freckles or the size of your ears or your lack of skill at a certain activity. (In Canada we now have anti-bullying laws which, while they may be well-intentioned and may reflect our love for equity and justice, may also reduce our children’s ability to resist social bacteria.)

timthumb.phpWhatever the cause, the sound of derisive laughter, directed at you, can be painful. Haunting. Unforgettable. But if it were coming from heaven–if the Most High God were laughing at you–it would be terrifying.

Two nights ago, my wife and I attended an excellent performance of Handel’s timeless oratorio, “MESSIAH,” at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.  I have a deep love for this magnificent work, and every time I hear it, I am struck anew with the power of the text. This concert was no different.

I had spent the day (several days, actually) looking forward to this performance–an oasis of truth in a desert of foolishness; a towering summit of majesty erupting from the flatlands of the banal; a blossom of exquisite beauty thriving in a vacant lot of mindlessness. It did not disappoint. Even though most of the performers probably don’t know the One of whom they sing and play, for us, MESSIAH is not simply art. It is worship.

Last night, the baritone aria in PART II resonated with me. The psalmist asks,

     Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against His anointed, saying:

(And the chorus responds with the scornful, presumptuous words of the people):

     Let us break their bonds asunder and cast away their yokes from us.

Then comes the response from heaven:

     He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn: the Lord shall have them in derision.

Derisive laughter thundering down from heaven–what a frightening image of the futility of man’s thinking! God mocks the rich, the powerful, the arrogant, the highly esteemed with his laughter. He holds His enemies in contempt. He dismisses their strategies to make Him go away as absurd. He abhors the presumption of self-righteousness and the slavery of religion with a jealous fury.

This year ends in turmoil–perhaps more than most years do. Ideological and political skirmishes; the savagery of ruthless, lust-crazed thugs posing as religious zealots; natural disasters; the vicious murders of families and school children; the threat of economic collapse; the spread of disease and the reappearance of Bubonic plague; scandals in Parliaments and universities–and all of it ultimately caused by the refusal to believe in Immanuel, God With Us.

The words just before the Hallelujah Chorus are chilling:

     Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

A time is coming, and it may be soon, when God’s forbearance with sinful humanity will have run its course, and His wrath will be poured out on those who oppose Him. Despite their many chances to repent from their sin and accept His “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,” they will be destroyed by the God they sought to destroy; judged by the Creator they mocked; and abandoned by the Lover of their souls. And then “every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (PHI 2.10,11) Having chosen to live apart from God, they will get their wish and spend eternity in hell.

This might not sound very cheery if Christmas to you is about sugar plums and elves and jingle bells. God came to earth. The Creator became part of His creation. He lived a sinless life, died a gruesome death, and rose again to conquer both sin and death once and for all. Simply trusting in Him guarantees not only eternity in the unimaginable glory of His heaven, but also an abundant, joyful, satisfying life on earth–life with purpose.

God will laugh. Count on it. Just make sure He doesn’t laugh at you.

Image from www.k12moms.com

12 The Word and You


IMG_1610The Bible is not just another book.

It’s not like a novel, despite its gripping portrayal of the human condition, because it’s not fiction. Every word of it is true.

It’s not like an anthology of local history or folklore, despite its eastern origin and flavour, because its life-changing message is universal.

It’s not like a textbook, despite its profundity and breadth of knowledge, because it’s not allowed in our schools.

It’s not like some sacred texts, which were supposedly given in a non-existent tongue or can only be read in their original language, because it was written in the parlance of the original readers and is the most widely published, sold, and translated book in the history of writing.

It’s not like a coffee table book, because it didn’t come with pictures and it’s not meant for sitting around looking pretty.

So, what is one to do with this amazing book which is unlike any other?

In the last half of James 1, the “second son” mentions seven responses to the Word of God. The first two of these are in verse 18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

BELIEVE IT AND PROCLAIM IT

God gives new life through His Word, and that’s the only way He gives it. Regardless of what one might believe about the doctrine of election, no elect person will be in heaven who did not hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, [this from a man who spend years putting Christians to death] for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (ROM 1.16) If anyone knew of the power of the gospel, it was Paul. Unbelief is not passive. It is not a congenital condition that God overlooks because one has never heard. Unbelief is a choice, and one who has been exposed to the Word of God and continues to make that choice will face a greater condemnation.

As “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures”, those who have new life in Christ are to proclaim His Word to others so they will hear it and believe it as well. Just as the firstfruits represented what was still in the fields, so our lives as followers of Jesus represent the lives of the billions of people who need to hear the Good News.

LISTEN  TO IT

“Know this my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (JAM 1.19,20) James is not talking about how important it is be a good listener and not to interrupt–although that is important and something I struggle with myself. The context here seems to indicate that we are to be quick to hear the Word, and not to react to what we hear with objections and anger. We should “hear God out,” as it were. The Word, not our anger, produces righteousness.

RECEIVE IT

This is reiterated when James says in verse 21, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Rather than objecting with anger, we should accept with meekness. If the Word has the power to save our souls, it also has the power to make us what we should be. Through the miracles of illumination and regeneration, the Holy Spirit uses His Word to reach us and teach us, to save us and change us.

DO IT

But all of this is without value if we don’t do it. Hearing the Word without doing it is worse than pointless–it causes one to heap condemnation upon oneself, to sear one’s conscience, and to produce spiritual complacency. As we saw before, to read the Scriptures is to look in the mirror. To read it and do nothing is like looking in the mirror, being horrified at what we see, and then just walking away.

STICK WITH IT

Verse 25 says, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” Consistent obedience to God’s Word is hard going–sometimes it’s like swimming upstream in an icy river with a strong current. We can become weary and discouraged by our apparent lack of progress, but James assures us that perseverance pays off.

APPLY IT

James closes the chapter with his observation about religion. Growing up in a religious culture, he certainly noticed the difference between the way the people around him lived–even how he lived himself–and how his Brother lived. The problem with religion–any religion–is that it does not reflect reality. It misunderstands the nature and depth of humanity’s problem and seeks an inadequate solution that, in the end, is all bad news. James tells us that if we apply the Word, we will understand that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” has both a social and a moral component. One can’t exist without the other.

The “royal law” James will refer to in Chapter 2 is the one Jesus had in mind when He told the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.27: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” As one applies the Scriptures, one discovers it has both vertical and horizontal implications. True, selfless love for others is not possible apart from love for God; love for God is demonstrated by love for others and intentional rejection of the world’s practices and presuppositions.

What will you do with the Word of God today?