Monday, December 31, 2007

I don’t need Satan to tempt me, I can do it all by myself

Some people believe that God allows Satan to tempt them. If we are Christians, I believe God doesn’t allow Satan to tempt us, as He did in Job’s case, but protects us by the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ. But does Satan need to tempt us? As the bumper sticker says We seem to do a pretty good job of tempting ourselves. And for this reason, Christians are often no different than any other ‘Joe’ or ‘Joanna’ we may see on the street. But if we truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God and who God is, temptation shouldn’t be the problem we make it out to be.
1 Peter 5:8 says that Christians must “be self-controlled and alert [because] your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” This verse is a reason why Christians often do one of three things when they find themselves in trouble. They may cower in their fear, concluding that they are unable to do anything about the fact that Satan is stronger than they are, therefore they must accept defeat. They may attempt to take him on one-on-one, in their own strength, designing their own battle strategies because they believe that ‘Satan is not as big as the Bible says he is.’ They may conclude that, ‘no one else has had this problem before, so no one can help me with it.’ Or they may ignore the supernatural altogether and conclude: ‘I created this problem, so I must solve it myself.’
This last option is a good one when the problem is a spilt cup of coffee or a bulging waist line. Even when the problem involves people, other human beings can and should expect to play key roles in solving the problems they are Involved in creating. But everyone over the age of five can probably realize when a problem is too big for simply their own strength to fix. But millions of Christians believe ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13) so they say, ‘I can do it by myself, thank you very much.’
But has Christ given you, even a plural you, the strength all the time? Instead of relying on ourselves, our friends, or even our churches, I argue that when the problem is too big for human means (or even when it is not) we should rely first and foremost on our God.
Instead of Fighting, fleeing, or failing to notice that Satan is simply doing his job in our society, there are at least three proven strategies that work.
1. Believe that God is bigger than anything we may come up against.
Romans 8:31-35 says: So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. (The Message)
2. Cheer up because you are not alone in your struggles.
1 Peter 5:9-11 says: Keep your guard up. You're not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It's the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won't last forever. It won't be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. (The Message)
3. “Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
James 5:13-16 says: Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)
As we enter a new year, having faith in our God, taking heart in our current situation and praying for ourselves and our friends are three New Year’s resolutions I intend and hope to keep. The following is my prayer for my new year. Though I didn’t write it, I will gladly join in. Feel free to join me, wherever you may be reading this at the moment, having faith that God is listening to your prayer.

Heavenly Father,
we come before you
today to ask your forgiveness
and seek your direction and guidance.
We know your word says “Woe to those
who call evil good” but that is exactly
what we have done. We have lost
our spiritual equilibrium and
reversed our values.
We confess.

We have ridiculed the absolute faith of your Word and called it ‘pluralism’.
We have worshipped other gods and called it ‘multiculturalism’.
We have endorsed perversion and called it ‘alternate lifestyle’.
We have exploited the poor and called it ‘lottery’.
We have honored laziness and called it ‘welfare’,
we have killed our unborn and called it ‘choice’,
we have shot abortionists and called it ‘justifiable’.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it ‘building self-esteem’.
We have abused power and called it ‘politics’.
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ‘ambition’.
We’ve polluted the air with profanity & pornography & called it ‘freedom of expression’
We’ve ridiculed the tine-honored values of our forefathers and called it ‘enlightenment’.

Search us Oh God and know our hearts today.
Cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women
who have been sent to direct us
to the centre of your will.
I ask it in the name
of your Son, the
living Savior,
Jesus Christ,


Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one
Matthew 6:12-13

Prayer taken from: “Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God's Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy” by Ravi Zacharias

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Quiet Christ – Part 1

Salvation was the last thing on my mind. Day in and day out, the first and only things I thought about were to “kill or be killed, to plunder or be robbed, and revolt or submit, the forbidden ‘s’ word. My life was one of constant movement, running from the Pharisees, Sadducees (I prefer to call them the harass-ees) and the like. I was always the life of my angry, ranting ‘parties;’ always demanding revenge against Harod, Caesar, whoever, it didn’t matter to me. Nothing mattered to me, I didn’t matter to me!
Before I ended up here, in the filth and mire of death row, I was always running, yelling or both. Whether it was for my life or my death, I was not sure. Rioting in the day, when I could be seen, and robbing at night, my life had become what I did for a living, a riot. Peace, what is peace? It did not exist for me and I had no desire to find out if it could. Life wasn’t great, but it was what I had made it. And at least I wasn’t a tax collector, a leper or a woman; and there are lots of those. So, as I see it, I guess I was somewhere in the middle of Caesar’s hierarchy.
I’ve been here on death row for a week because of my latest rantings. Though they have put me away for a night and a day many times before, whether a few weeks for robbery, a few days for raising a ruckus downtown or a few hours for rape, I’ve always found my way out. Many friends of mine have received slaps on the wrist like these before, but I am the first to sleep here.
For a few days, I was proud of myself. “Matthias or Judas had never been here. If I would live to tell the story, they would be proud of me,” I thought. But I didn’t care. Instead of eating bread and wine I had stolen, locusts and drips of dirty water were now my regular diet. Sleeping in my own disgusting mess, on this cold, compacted slab of dirt in this pitch black dungeon was the pit I had dug for myself. I guess I better just lie in it.
It seemed like I had spent an eternity here before anyone yelled at me from the other side of the wall, until I recognized Matt’s voice, a friend whom I had robbed with on many occasions. The last time I heard from him, he had told me of someone who might just be my room mate.
Matt - Hey Rabby, are you in there?
Rabby – Yeah, wasting away as normal. I am getting used to the taste of locusts. Hey, can you throw me anything?
Matt – Just some day old bread, I’ll try to get it through your window, it’s pretty tiny though. Hey have you heard about this guy, Jesus?
Rabby – Oh, that guy. Lots of people are talking about him. I hear he’s gonna die with me soon. He’s just another criminal like me, another worthless, useless bag of scum with no reason to live. When he gets in here, heaven knows what I’ll do to him.
Matt – But he’s not quite like that. Yeah, he may be your room mate soon, but thousands of people follow him every day. I heard that he has healed people of leprosy, allowed the lame to walk, given sight back to the blind, raised the dead and even healed people from a distance!
As Matt continued to yell from the other side of the wall, I became intrigued as never before. Though Matt had finally thrown some bread through the window, I wasn’t hungry. I was too interested to eat. This man had been charged by the Harassees with a similar crime as mine and they hoped to given my sentence for doing the exact opposite of what I had done. Instead of robbing and murdering, this man had created more of what the people needed, like bread and wine and that sort of stuff. And instead of rioting, this man had offered peace. My attitude began to change.
Rabby – He has some kind of ‘in’ with people in high places, huh? Could he get any bread or wine in here? Gee, if my cell mate can do that, I wonder if he can pick these chains apart too.
Matt – Well apparently, he’s done it all. He’s quite a magician. I’ve heard that he’s walked on water, turned water into wine and he’s even fed the thousands who follow him with a shepherd boy’s lunch.
Rabby – Well, that will definitely keep them coming back for more.
Matt – But that’s just it. He says that we don’t have to come back for more bread or water. He says he is the manna and the well spring of life.
Rabby – If he can provide all that food, that’s quite a currier service he’s running.
Matt – And the clincher is the best part. All we need to do to get all this is believe.
Rabby – Believe what?
Matt – Believe that he is who he says he is.
Rabby – Well, who is he?
Matt – He says he’s the son of his father.
Rabby – Well, that makes sense, so am I.
Matt – But that’s why the Harassees want to kill him. He says his father is . . . Yahweh!
Rabby – Well, if he ever comes in here, I’ll ask him about it.
As Matt left and I slowly gnawed my way through the tough bread he had thrown through the window, I began to wonder. “Manna and wine of life . . . Healer, even from a distance. . . Son of Yahweh. . . Well, my life looks like it will end soon. He can’t give me what I really need because he’s out there and I’m in here. And even if he could give me life for a few days, it wouldn’t matter, because we will both be dead soon. But how can he give life anyway? He’s just like me, ‘the son of his father.’ He’s a nobody.

The Quiet Christ - Part 2

I will never forget the next night. As I heard another few hammer-whacks pounding nails into flesh and wood, and the agonizing cries that immediately followed, I began to see life, or rather death, from their point of view. It was just a matter of time when that would be me, and time was ticking. When I was free, I remember seeing their crosses on the roadside. It scares me half to death when I hear them groan.
It was now late Friday evening (at least I think it was Friday) and Jerusalem would soon celebrate the Passover. It would be my first Passover in prison. On most
evenings, people were in their homes getting ready for the coming meal, but tonight I could hear the faint murmur of a distant, angry mob shouting my name. My ears perked up. After a short hush, I heard the mob shout even louder, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” I guess tonight is my night to join those other criminals on the crosses outside, and my hope of having a new room mate, has run out.
But wait . . . the doors were opening . . . ‘who’s the new criminal?’ . . . But there was none. Just a couple of guards walking purposefully in my direction!
Guard – “Barabbas?”
Rabby – “Yeah, it’s my time isn’t it.”
Guard – “The crowds want you, so out with you.”
As they led me through the streets to the waiting crowd, protesting outside Pilate’s house, my knees shook and buckled as I expected the worst. But nothing came. This gruff form of mercy was something I had never felt before. Maybe I’ll get to see the city one last time before hanging from a cross.
But as I drew closer, I heard the crowd chanting joyfully, “Barabbas is free, and Jesus will die! Barabbas is free, and Jesus will die! Barabbas is free, and Jesus will die!”
Is this Jesus the same person Matt was talking about? The man who can heal from a distance?
As I looked up, I saw the man I thought was Jesus. Wearing a crown of thorns on his head, he had marks from his most recent scourging showing through the purple garment he was wearing, down to his bare feet. He was being led away by several guards who took turns mocking him, hitting him with their staffs on his thorny crown, chanting “hail, king of the Jews!” And this ‘king of the Jews’ would die instead of me? This didn’t make sense. Night time is usually the best time to rob people, but I would set my job aside for one night to watch this fascinating plot unfold.
Pilate decided that the crucifixion would take place on scull hill, a place where I had been many times to say my last good byes to some of my closest friends. And if I had time, I would have asked Judas and Matt to come along with me. But who knows, maybe they were in the crowd.
It took a good hour to make it to the top as Jesus, whom they referred to as ‘the Christ turned criminal’, who was carrying his cross, was in no rush to be nailed to it. I was somewhere in the middle; hearing jeers from Harassees and other men, weeping from women pleading for his release and hungry, tired children, who didn’t want to be there at all.
Though there was hardly any room for a passing lane, a man running towards us attempted to do just that. Late for dinner I suspect. But the Harassees denied him safe passage and demanded that he carry Jesus’ cross back up Skull hill, as he had collapsed under its weight and didn’t have the energy to rise without help. If there was anyone who deserved to carry a cross, this cross, it was me. I could feel a tear running down my cheek because I could not give him the help he needed. He was taking my place, after all.
I was shell-shocked at the recent events. Two hours ago, I was expecting to die at any time. Instead, I am here, watching a complete stranger take my place and die instead. I began to connect the stories Matt had told me the other day and those of crying women behind me. They seemed to make sense somehow. “If this man had done all these good things, why is this happening to him? If I had done all of these bad things, why is this happening to me?”

The Quiet Christ – Part 3

After he was nailed up, I sat down behind the Harassees with my two friends who were in the crowd after all. Those who had crucified him started to throw dice for the clothes of the three criminals on the three crosses. Jesus, the quiet one, was in the middle and most of the relentless attention, scoffing and mocking was directed at him. But he said nothing! If they hadn’t yet done enough to scorn this man, someone wrote a sign that labeled his crime: “King of the Jews”. Gee, that sounds familiar. I didn’t know Harod’s title was a crime? The Harassees said that we should just leave him alone, so Judas, Matt and I sat behind them, hoping to receive some of the warmth from the fire they had made.
If you haven’t seen a crucifixion, they are long, ugly and tiring. Like a prison sentence where the goal is simply to ‘do the time,’ the responsibility of a crucified man is both to ‘do the time’ and ‘bear the pain.’ I hate the idea of doing both.
In addition, though it was mid afternoon, this crucifixion took place in the dark. Soon after the Harassees lit their fire, the heavenly lights went out and the only source of light and warmth was those quickly quenching flames. Needless to say, with no light, nothing to do, and little to talk about, we all fell asleep.
Some time later, we awoke. The fire had long gone out, the game of dice had ended because of the darkness, and those Harassees had gone. Others had come to take their place, but only a few people still remained.
As we leaned against each other, talking, rubbing our hands together to keep warm, nodding in and out of sleep, none of us were thinking about work. We were all thinking about how an innocent man could receive a sentence he did not deserve. Judas, Matt or myself would have been ideal candidates, but this man? I know I am supposed to be a cold blooded, hardened criminal, but in spite of the cold around me, I began to sense warmth that I had never felt before, and somehow it seemed to come from this quiet one.
He remained that way for hours, refusing to answer the ridicules he received from all sides. But if someone mentioned something important, he did his best to answer their comments. For instance, at about two o’clock, one of the criminals asked:
Right criminal – “What are you doing here? I’m here for a good reason. I stole, killed, molested. But you? You just gave. Please remember me when you enter your kingdom. I’ll always remember you.”
Than I heard him speak for the first time.
Jesus – “Don’t worry. You’ll do more than remember me. You’ll be with me.”
How can he be so comforting when he is so uncomfortable? Does he know something that no one else knows? I guess he really must have friends in high places. And what was that about a ‘kingdom’? Really? You mean this title ‘King of the Jews” is more than just a cruel joke?
Though we continued to sit with our backs to each other, me watching the cross, and my friends watching the many passers by along the road, my friends began to be more and more interested whenever the quiet one spoke. The criminals, however, were constantly talking, making verbal jabs at each other, the passers by, and especially at him.
Right criminal - “Who do you think you are? If you are the Son of God, do something Godly. Dying on a cross certainly isn’t Godly!”
Left criminal - “So, you are the King of the Jews, are you. Well, I’m a Jew, and you are definitely not my king.”
Even the Harassees acted like children, making faces ridiculing this helpless man and chanting: “Nah, Nah Nah Boo Boo, you can’t catch me!”
But the quiet one was the man of the hour. He just took it. And some how he let their comments slide like water off a duck’s back. His mind was truly in another place, and nothing could be said or done to bring it back.
As time passed, the criminals became more and more anxious and, if you can believe it, he became more and more ‘comfortable’. The clincher for me was hearing him say
Jesus – “God, forgive them, they just don’t get it.”
Though I haven’t experienced it, I can imagine that time passes even more slowly when you are the one under pressure, or in this case, under pain. The next time he spoke, it was almost three, and he was obviously reaching the end of his endurance.
Jesus – “God! God!” he shouted, “Where are you? Why have you left me?”
And minutes later, he gave one last gasp, and said:
Jesus – “God, please take my spirit. It’s done!”
And with that, bowing his head, he died.
Immediately after his words, an earth quake that no one in Jerusalem has ever felt before or since shook the ground violently. The criminals on the crosses convulsed, while claps of thunder sounded and forks of lightening could be seen from one horizon to the other. I immediately leaned forward, bringing my knees to my chest burying my nails into my legs, closed my eyes as tight as I could, and shouted a prayer of some sort. I have no idea what I said. We were all crying out of fear.
Once the earth quake and the freak storm subsided, I heard someone close by say, “He surely must have been the son of God!”
Though you may have thought the earth quake was enough to kill them, the other criminals stayed alive until the guards broke their legs, bringing death to a quick completion. And until then, they had no one to poke fun at anymore.
Finally, the sky began to lighten. It was now just past three in the afternoon and I could make out the faces of my companions. Judas’ mouth gaped open as he stared at the dead man, still hanging from the middle cross.
Judas – “Wow, What a death! I’m glad we got to watch that one!”
Matt shrugged and began to walk away, “there will be more of those. I just hope it’s not my crucifixion people watch. If this man was Yahweh’s son, he surely could have done something to prevent it.”
Me? I was just perplexed. Speechless and in awe of this man who had more guts than I ever could. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from weeping, because of grief, thankfulness and exhaustion. I hadn’t cried in many years and though, on previous occasions, I would have worked hard not to be emotional in front of my friends, I had no concern about what they may think of me at this particular moment. It was just me and this man. He was my only thought. What could I possibly do to thank him? Even though I didn’t know him, how could I honor his memory?
These were some of the questions I asked myself over the next few days, months, and years. These were the questions I had about this man, “The quiet Christ”

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure (1847)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Core of the Matter

Several years ago while I studied at Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley, I spent the month of May in Fort Babine, British Columbia. Babine, a small, isolated First Nations reserve two hours outside of Smithers, is a community that rarely sleeps soundly. In the late afternoon, young men may be playing hockey in the gym while women watch; elders may be making moccasins to sell, or catching, drying or packing fresh moose-meat for the coming winter. As the night draws on, William may order a Pay-Per-View match of World Wrestling Entertainment, others might play video games, or watch movies. But while the clock ticks closer to midnight, bottles of alcohol inevitably begin to open, and instead of thinking about bed, the “party begins.”
Quinton (13) and Tashawnda (11) are two native children who were adopted by a single native, Christian woman named Violet. They slowly learn the virtues of the Christian life through the work of their mom, missionaries from Streetcorners Ministries in Smithers and a few students from TWU. For several years, I was one of those students who hoped to encourage them in their young faith.
When school ends at 3:00, Quinton and Tashawnda join their class mates in the slow but short walk back to their homes down the road. I have assisted Mr. and Mrs. Forbes, who have inevitably given homework that they inevitably dread. As I join them in their walk back home, I encourage them to complete it quickly so they may be able to watch the new DVD Violet just bought them, go fishing off the Babine Bridge or join their older friends in the gym later on for a game of hockey. But as I say this I equally understand that the chances of this happening are slim.
In the evening, the struggles continue. Tucking them in to bed, reading them Bible stories, eating an apple, and saying Good night at 11:00pm rather than 1:00am seems to be a good idea for kids who have been brought up well by well meaning parents. But when you have been raised in a place where kids fall asleep at one or two in the morning in front of the TV, reading of any kind may not occur at all outside of school, and a bag of chips is more readily available than a healthier piece of fruit. Needless to say, it takes a lot of work, if it is attempted, because even this tiny piece of wisdom, ‘go to bed early’ is rarely, seen as fun or a good idea. Therefore, wisdom like this is rarely enforced. Instead, it is most likely heard as a command that was made to be broken, given by an exasperated mother who would do anything just to get some peace.
So when the kids run home for lunch, I mention to Violet that I would like to tuck her kids into bed that night, read them a story, give them an apple (like my Dad did for me) and make it fun for them. Tashawnda has a friend over that night, and Quinton has decided to join his friends at the school, so at around 10:00, which soon becomes 10:30 Tashawnda and Kiesha are finally ready.
As I hoped and expected, they saw this as an exciting idea and ten minutes later, I gave them apples to eat while I read them “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstien, a book that takes only minutes to read, but a lifetime to practice. As I finish, I realize that the girls, who have pointed at the pictures and ask questions throughout, have eaten the apples down to the core and if they found them appetizing would probably eat the seeds as well. It was obvious to me that they had enjoyed a different way of spending an evening at home.
In Philippians 4:7-8, Paul gives pieces of wisdom that are more important than going to bed early, brushing your teeth, reading a bed time story or eating an apple. Here, he says we should think about things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.”
When we see others do things that are different, we can not help but become curious. As we examine their actions, we often wonder what it would be like to practice what they preach. I’m sure that in the afternoon Tashawnda and Kiesha were curious about what might happen instead of watching yet another movie late into the night. And after the light was switched off and “Good Night(s)” were exchanged, I couldn’t help wondering if my tiny act may affect these two girls in a small but substantial way. An early bedtime, an apple, a story and hearing the words “good night”, may not be what Paul is encouraging us to do in Philippians 4, but I think it’s a good start.

Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf[a] welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

Mark 9:36-37