Make Yourself Comfortable


103658921-gettyimages-109439900-530x298

It’s MESSIAH time again, as it is at this time every year. I usually begin listening to Handel’s monumental work in early December, and play it many times before Christmas. It has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I have most of it memorized. I never tire of it, and every year I determine to learn something new, something of value to my soul that will help me to grow closer to the Subject of the oratorio.

It didn’t take long this year. After the intense orchestral prelude, the tenor sings:

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” ~ Isaiah 40.1-2

That first word–“comfort”–hit me like a bus. It’s what I need this year. I began to think about comfort and Christmas, but especially about comfort and Christ.

Isaiah is speaking to Israel, but His words reach into the nation’s distant future, when her King will return to decimate her many enemies and establish theocracy as global governance with righteousness, justice, and peace. Given the state of God’s chosen people in Isaiah’s day (and ours) and the magnitude of their impending judgment, the promise of comfort would have come as a welcome reassurance to a believing Jew.

Comfort–real, lasting comfort–comes from God alone. Despite their best intentions, even the most dearly loved family members and most well-intentioned members of the Body cannot provide it without His help. Comfort is God’s domain.

Isaiah looks ahead to Israel’s restoration. Her geographical and political restoration have already occurred, as Isaiah and many of the other Old Testament prophets said it would millennia ago. Isaiah asks rhetorically,

“Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?” ~ Isaiah 66.8a

The unexpected answer is, “Yes!” On 13 May 1948, Israel did not exist. On 14 May, it did. At 4:16 PM on 14 May, Israel did not exist. At 4:17, it did. Regardless of what one thinks of the Jewish people, Israel is here to stay. God clearly stated in many Old Testament Scriptures that He would take them back to the land He gave them through their patriarch, Abraham. And there they are. He also promised that He would make them a righteous nation–one that would truly love and obey her Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah’s promise of comfort to Israel also comes with the promises of  peace and pardon–neither of which Israel enjoys now.

Still looking ahead to Israel’s final restoration, Isaiah writes,

“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.”     ~ Isaiah 49.13

And again,

“I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth, and you fear continually all the day because of the wrath of the oppressor, when he sets  himself to destroy?” ~ Isaiah 51.12,13

How can God offer comfort to His people? To anyone?

Paul of Tarsus, the Turkish Apostle, answers this question in his second canonical letter to the church in Corinth:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1.3,4

Jehovah God is the “God of all comfort,” and the Lord Jesus–God in Flesh, Immanuel, “God With Us”–spent the bulk of His ministry comforting the afflicted. He healed the sick, restored hearing to the deaf, made the lame to walk, raised the dead, fed the hungry, reassured the sorrowful, and cast demons out of people possessed. After His resurrection, when He was about to return to the Father, He told His disciples that He would give them another Comforter–another Helper–who would be with them forever:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”                       ~ John 14.16,17

Those who do not have the Holy Spirit, or do not even believe He exists–cannot know real comfort. The laws and trappings of religion, the traditions of families and cultures, even the ministrations of loved ones cannot approximate the comfort that comes from The Comforter.

Why is comfort on my mind this Christmas? This is the first Advent season in forty years that I have experienced without the marvelous woman I married in 1977. Only the “God of all comfort” has been able to treat the wound in my heart, which may seep for years to come. But His grace is more than sufficient, and the “comfort and joy” of which the familiar carol speaks has been our portion as we have celebrated this Christmas together without our beloved wife and mother.

But, as Paul says, comfort–like grief itself–is a stewardship. It is not something to simply receive. It is something to pass on to others who need it. Perhaps you need comfort this Christmas, as well. Seek it from the One Who can provide it because it His very nature. The Incarnation is not just about a Baby in a manger. It is more about a Saviour on a cross and a King on a throne.

Donna is not with us, but God is “with us,” and she is with Him. Together–she from there, we from here–we look forward to that glorious day in which the King of Kings and Lord of Lords will rule the earth with righteousness, justice, and peace.

Comfort and joy.

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

Shootin’ Hoops in the Windy City


This morning I feel compelled to commit an act of commentary.

I normally don’t use Facebook or my blog as a political soapbox, and I am not about to make it my habit to do so. But today I just can’t help myself.

About an hour ago I watched Robert Gibbs, the former Obama press secretary, reiterate the fact that the president inherited a horrible mess four years ago, that he has moved forward across the board to repair the damage, yaddayaddayadda.

Assuming that is so–that he inherited a big mess, and I won’t dispute it–the president has squandered his inheritance to an obscene degree. If he were to be re-elected, what he would be inheriting tomorrow morning would be exponentially worse than what he was saddled with four years ago. How would he explain that?

And what is he doing this morning? Shootin’ hoops in the Windy City.

Shootin’ hoops, because that’s his election day tradition. Shootin’ hoops. Something guys in New York and New Jersey would love to do today if they had the gas to drive to the gym. And if they could somehow turn the lights and heat on in the gym once they got there. Shootin’ hoops is something they would love to do if they didn’t have to spend the day figuring out how they were going to feed their kids. Or where they were going to spend the night. Or how they were going to stay warm. Or how they were going to clean up the devastation caused by the water and the wind.

While the Guy in Charge is shootin’ hoops in the Windy City.

How the World Got to Be the Way It Is, Part 3


Almost 2000 years ago, Jesus said He would come back. What’s taking Him so long?

As Peter predicts in 2 Peter 3, the scoffers in the last days–our days–will ask this question, among others. Though they may not ask it directly, their worldview includes the premise that the return of Christ is a ludicrous notion. (Remember, scoffers have an agenda–to live as they please without God holding them accountable for anything.) So to acknowledge Jesus is returning requires that they acknowledge He is alive–or He couldn’t return, right? To admit He is alive would be to admit He rose from the dead, which would mean He is who He said He is–eternal God in human flesh.

And that would ruin everything.

But scoffers go beyond ridiculing the return of Christ, Peter tells us in verse 4. They also claim that “…all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (As we’ll see, they don’t actually believe in creation, but this was the only reference point Peter had when he wrote these words.)

This is a stunning prophecy. Peter was not a scientist, but he foretold one of the most pivotal shifts in how the scientific community views the known universe. Here’s what one ready source, About.com, says concerning what has come to be called the theory of uniformitarianism:

In the mid-seventeenth century, biblical scholar and Archbishop James Ussher determined that the earth had been created in the year 4004 BCE. Just over a century later James Hutton, known as the father of geology, suggested that the earth was much older and that processes occurring in the present were the same processes that had operated in the past, and would be the processes that operate in the future.

This concept became known as uniformitarianism and can be summarized by the phrase “the present is the key to the past.” It was a direct rejection of the prevalent theory of the time, catastrophism, which held that only violent disasters could modify the surface of the earth. Today, we hold uniformitarianism to be true and know that great disasters such as earthquakes, asteroids, volcanoes, and floods are part of the regular cycle of the earth.

“We find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.” (James Hutton, 1785)

British scholar Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) popularized this theory in his important work, Principles of Geology, which was first published in 1830. In it he postulated that the present represents the cumulative effect of small changes over very long periods of time. Interestingly enough, one of the sites Lyell visited while formulating his ideas was the famous “fossil cliffs” at Joggins, Nova Scotia, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of Lyell’s disciples was Charles Darwin, the son of an Anglican clergyman. He studied medicine at Cambridge but then decided to pursue his passion as a naturalist. Darwin’s embracing  of Lyell’s uniformitarian model and his abandonment of whatever belief in God he may have once had were two of the most significant choices in his life. He is deemed to be one of the most influential scientists in history, and for good reason. He died an avowed atheist, and his theory of evolution by the “law” of natural selection, though it is now being questioned by many in the scientific community, has shaped modern thought perhaps more than any other single concept. Not only has it transformed public education in the West, but the ideologies–and their horrific implications–of men like Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler were also forged on the anvil of Darwinian evolution.

Marx’s 1873 German edition of Das Kapital contained the dedication,  “In deep appreciation – for Charles Darwin”. In a letter to his friend Ferdinand Lassalle, written in 1861, Marx wrote, “Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle…Despite all shortcomings, it is here that, for the first time, ‘teleology’ [the philosophical acknowledgement of final causes] in natural science is not only dealt a mortal blow but its rational meaning is empirically explained.” (emphasis mine)

In his biography of Adolf Hitler, Ian Kershaw makes frequent references to  Hitler’s belief in “Social Darwinism”. To me, it is more than coincidental that Darwin, in Chapter 6 of his Descent of Man (1871) would write:

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised (sic) races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world…”

In Psychiatrists: The Men Behind Hitlerwe read, “The names and writings of five historical figures emerge again and again in researching the historical antecedents of the Nazi movement in Germany–Malthus, Darwin, Nietzsche, Gobineau and Chamberlain…An examination of their writings yields some surprising clues to the Hitler enigma and the Nazi shame. One by one their ideologies have contributed to the mosaic of hate that Hitler and his accomplices embraced as a social and political philosophy. They were truly catalysts in a chemistry of hate.” (p. 9)

And no wonder. These authors go on to say, “Darwin’s own words reveal the perilous implications of expanding biological Darwinism to embrace Social Darwinism:

‘With the savages, the weak in body are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised (sic)  men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised (sic) society propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly-directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.’

Later Darwin wrote a letter to William Graham, a professor of Jurisprudence in Belfast: “Looking at the world at not so very distant date, what endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised (sic) races throughout the world.’ ” (p.14)

And Peter whispers, “I told you so.”

How the World Got to Be the Way It Is, Part 1


Do you ever wonder how the world got to be the way it is?

It’s still beautiful, but it’s bad. Real bad. And I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Count on it.

The Apostle Peter was an unschooled fisherman, but he was a prominent figure in the early days of Christianity and was used by God to pen some of the most profound words you will ever read. In fact, writing nearly two thousand years ago, Peter predicted that our world would become just the way it is. As we’ll see in the next few posts, he was dead on.

“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles…” (2 Pet 3.1,2  ESV)

Peter tells his readers there are two things they need to remember–the predictions of the prophets and the commandment of Christ as taught by the apostles. The first is a reference to the Old Testament and the second a reference to the New Testament, which is not even completed at the time Peter writes these words.

If you read 1 Pet 1.10-12 (the first letter to which Peter refers above) you will see that one of the reasons we should remember the predictions of the prophets is that they were intended for us. It’s amazing to think that a man like Isaiah, when writing about Christ in Isaiah 53, was not able to know about Whom he wrote–and that God would not tell him when he asked! Peter tells us that even the angels long to look into the things God has revealed to us. Astonishing.

A second reason for remembering the predictions of the prophets is seen in 2 Pet 1.16-21, where Peter tells his readers that even though he was an eyewitness to some astounding events–like Christ’s transfiguration–the Word of God is an even more reliable source than a first person account. This is because it is not just another book written by people, but a body of truth given to us by God Himself, penned by human authors who were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Then, there is “the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” Is Peter referring to a specific command? Probably not. More likely, he has in mind the entire body of truth taught by Christ and expanded upon in the writings of the apostles–of which he is one. He even refers to the letters of Paul in v. 15.

What’s the point of all this? It’s that in order to understand what’s going on today and why things are the way they are, we need to approach the current milieu from a biblical perspective, remembering what the prophets and apostles said.

Only then can we make sense of a world that makes no sense.

Image is from Shared Humanity

Nature Ain’t My Mama: Some Recent Thoughts on the Idolatry of Environmentalism


What? Environmentalism is idolatry? Are you nuts? That’s a scandalous statement! How could you say such a thing? Aren’t you concerned about the Tar Sands, the omnibus budget bill, climate change, single use grocery bags and leaving carbon footprints all over the planet?

The short answer? Yes and no.

The care of Planet Earth is a stewardship, and as stewards we have failed miserably. I suspect any environmentalist worth his organic sea salt would agree.

There ya go–I knew it! You’re one of those politically incorrect wackos who insists on using sexist language to spew their right-wing rhetoric! 

OK, just stop. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Drink a mug of warm soy milk and put your feet up. You’ll feel better in a few minutes.

In Romans 1, Paul makes a significant assertion about the theology of environmentalism.

Hah–I knew it! You’re one of those born-gain Bible people! Coulda told you that right from the get-go!

Well, you got me there. I am a committed Christian and I do believe what the Bible says. About everything. So you drink your milk assuming God doesn’t exist and I’ll write my piece assuming He does. Problem is, I don’t have to prove my point of view. You do–but you can’t. In fact, you’d actually have to be God to prove He doesn’t exist!

So, here’s what Paul says in Romans 1:16-25:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (ESV)

Did you get all that? What Paul is teaching here is that just by virtue of what He says about Himself in creation, every person on earth is without excuse before God. Nobody–including you–will be able to stand before Him and say, “But I had no idea you were out there!”

Uh-uh. That just won’t cut it with Him, and you know it. You have simply chosen to ignore it, so you “suppress the truth”, having “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” That’s called idolatry.

Here’s the difference between how we view the stewardship of the planet. A stewardship is something entrusted to us by someone else, right? A duty, a sum of money or maybe the family car. The important question is this: Who entrusted to us the care of Planet Earth?

Most environmentalists I’ve encountered or to whom I’ve listened feel an obligation either to Mother Nature herself (sic), to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to a political agenda or to their own consciences.

But the planet is not a moral agent–it’s a planet–and therefore it cannot impose any moral obligations. Future generations have not yet been born. Politicians care about your votes, not your grocery bags. So, if we replace the One who imposed that stewardship upon us with anyone or anything else, including ourselves, we have committed an act of idolatry–high treason against the Creator.

God is a conservationist, not an environmentalist. He’s not out to save the planet, but the people who live here. Though He originally designed the earth so it could last forever, it won’t. No matter how many trees we hug.

So, should we be better stewards of the earth? Of course we should. I won’t deny that for a minute. In fact, I could be mistaken for an environmentalist by a casual observer. But we have to remember by whom we have been entrusted with the earth’s care. Populating the planet and exercising dominion over the rest of the created order was God’s first charge to the first humans. But it wasn’t the last one or even the most important one.

Call me a fool, if you like. I’d rather be called a fool than be one. As a steward of the earth, I need to be more concerned with His Divine hand print than with my carbon footprint. More concerned about the people who live on the earth than about the earth itself. Otherwise, God says I am a fool.

And an idolator.

The image of the Mexico City landfill is, ironically enough, from the site of www.oilprice.com 

“Hello, Ma’am. I’m here to deliver the foot you ordered.”


This week, Ottawa–the clean, placid, charming capital of the planet’s second-largest nation–was plunged into the dark world of the macabre.

Someone sent an unusual parcel via the Unattached Parts Service (they drive the red trucks) to the headquarters of the Progressive Conservative Party on Albert Street. An employee there partially opened a bloody package containing a severed foot, and the police intercepted another parcel in the Canada Post distribution centre that featured a severed hand. It was addressed to the offices of the Liberal Party. In Montreal, officers discovered a dismembered torso in a suitcase next to some trash awaiting pick-up. Investigators said they were “seeking to ascertain whether or not the two were connected.” I don’t think I would have worded it quite that way, but I understand  what they meant.

My wife was on Albert Street when all the commotion was going on downtown. The area was taped off and crawling with police. (She does not recall seeing any red delivery truck.) Aside from being ghoulish and downright un-Canadian, this incident does remind me of one recorded in Judges 19.

Perhaps you remember it. A Levite, behaving in a decidedly un-Levitical fashion, took a trip into the hill country of Ephraim and found himself a concubine. She was unfaithful to him and returned home to Bethlehem, where she moved back into her father’s house. The Levite sought her out and tried to take her back. Her father, however, persuaded him to stay and eat and drink with him and spend the night. Five times he did this. At the end of the fifth day, when the Levite and his girl were ready to leave, her father tried to keep them there one more night. Impatient to be going, the Levite took the girl and his servants and went as far as Gibeah, a Benjamite city, where they planned to spend the night. They were warned by another expat from Ephraim not to sleep in the square. He took them to his house, but the perverted riff-raff from the town surrounded the place and demanded that he send out the Levite so they could commit immoral acts with him. The man refused, and when the violence outside escalated to a dangerous level, the Levite sent his concubine out to the men. They raped and abused her all night and left her for dead. In the morning she managed to crawl to the door of the Ephraimite’s house.

When the Levite found her there, he callously said, “Get up, let us be going.” (Jud 19.28) Not surprisingly, she was not quick to comply. He threw her over his donkey and trekked back to his home in the hills. She evidently died on the way. Once there, he got his cleaver–Levites were good with those–and hacked the poor girl’s body into twelve pieces “and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.”

This outrageous and provocative act incited a civil war. The amassed armies of Israel, bent on revenge in Gibeah, were attacked by the people of Benjamin, who defended the Gibeonites. Thousands died in the bloody conflict, and Gibeon and Benjamin were decimated when God delivered them into the hands of their other countrymen.

We’ll see what outrage this crime generates here in Canada. It’s ghoulish, but it’s not new.  The heart of man has not changed at all. It is still “deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17.9  ESV)

I don’t think I’ll be ordering fajitas for a while.