Why Christians Should Care About Roe vs Wade

Abortion has been hotly debated for a few decades now and it doesn’t seem to be an issue that will be solved anytime soon. “Pro-choice” advocates believe abortion is a personal decision and should not be limited by the government or anyone else. The only social ‘problem’ might be that of too many laws restricting it.

In fact, it might be the freest and best way of eliminating unwanted pregnancies and in this way help to rid the world of many other ‘bigger’ issues such as unwanted or unloved children growing up in a world full of rejection, abuse, and pain, over population, hunger, joblessness, poverty, etc.

If that be the case then why should anyone have a problem with making the world a better place and stepping up to protect the rights of women?

Dr. J.C. Willke stated in his book, “If abortion is the killing of an innocent human being, then, without a doubt, abortion is the biggest social problem of all time, involving more loss of life than all of man’s wars put together.” – J.C. Willke, Handbook On Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes Pub. Co. Inc., 1979) pg 1.

That’s horrendous, and I would think deserving of a society’s full attention if true. But is it true? Is abortion the killing of innocent human lives? If it isn’t then it shouldn’t be a debate, and our focus needs to shift to the protection of women’s rights and to the betterment of our world.

When Is A Baby A Baby?  

The Scribner Bantam English Dictionary says that abortion is “the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Advocates claim that sentient life doesn’t begin until the baby is born, or at least not within the first 28 weeks. If true, then abortion shouldn’t be a debate. But how do ‘they’ know when life does or doesn’t begin? Who makes that determination? Is the fetus a living human being or is it just a piece of tissue, a protoplasm?

Ashley Montague, a geneticist and professor at Harvard and Rutgers, was never sympathetic to the prolife cause. Nevertheless, he affirmed undeniably, “The basic fact is simple: life begins not at birth, but conception.” Ashley Montague, Life Before Birth (New York: Signet Books, 1977), vi.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, internationally known obstetrician and gynecologist was a cofounder of what is now the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). He owned and operated what was at the time the largest abortion clinic in the western hemisphere. He was directly involved in over sixty thousand abortions.

Dr. Nathanson’s study of developments in the science of fetology and his use of ultrasound to observe the unborn child in the womb led him to the conclusion that he had made a horrible mistake. Resigning from his lucrative position, Nathanson wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that he was deeply troubled by his “increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.” Bernard N. Nathanson, “Deeper into Abortion,” New England Journal of Medicine 291 (1974): 1189Ð90).

In his film, “The Silent Scream,” Nathanson later stated,
“Modern technologies have convinced us that beyond question the unborn child is simply another human being, another member of the human community, indistinguishable in every way from any of us.” Dr. Nathanson wrote Aborting America to inform the public of the realities behind the abortion rights movement of which he had been a primary leader. Bernard Nathanson, Aborting America (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979).

At the time Dr. Nathanson was an atheist. His conclusions were not even remotely religious, but squarely based on the biological facts.

Dr. Landrum Shettles was for twenty-seven years attending obstetrician-gynecologist at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Shettles was a pioneer in sperm biology, fertility, and sterility. He is internationally famous for being the discoverer of male – and female – producing sperm. His intrauterine photographs of preborn children appear in over fifty medical textbooks.

Dr. Shettles states, “I oppose abortion. I do so, first, because I accept what is biologically manifest—that human life commences at the time of conception—and second, because I believe it is wrong to take innocent human life under any circumstances. My position is scientific, pragmatic, and humanitarian.” Shettles and Rorvik, Rites of Life, 103.

In Thomas A. Shannon’s book, Bioethics: Ethical Problems of Abortion, he quotes John Noonan as saying, “Once conceived, human life has about an 80% chance to reach the moment of birth and develop further.”

No other life has that potential, and yet the American federal government seems to think that other forms of life have more sanctity than that of a human being. They have made it illegal to touch an eagle’s egg, let alone abort it. Why? Because the simple fact that they know it was laid by an eagle indicates to them the fullest assurance that it will be an eagle. Yet the argument is made that human life, in early conception is not really a human and so doesn’t have the same protection granted ‘unborn’ eagles. See the irony?

What About Rape?

Aren’t some of the reasons that many women get abortions because of rape? First of all, a pregnancy resulting from rape is very uncommon. A study of one thousand rape victims who were treated medically right after the rape, had no pregnancies. In Slovakia, out of 86,000 consecutive abortions, only 22 were done for rape. In the US, a poll taken of physicians (who had together delivered 19,000 babies) showed that not one had delivered from a rape pregnancy.

Having said that, if a pregnancy does occur as they have been known to happen, what then? First and foremost, the mother to be needs all the love and support she can get and not any added guilt. We must remember however, that two wrongs do not make a right. One violent act does not condone another.

Dr. Willke shared a story about a woman who phoned into a talk show about abortion and rape. “You were talking about me. You see, I am the product of rape. An intruder forced his way into my parent’s house, tied up my father and with him watching, raped my mother. I was conceived that night. Everyone advised an abortion. The local doctors and hospital were willing. My father however, said, ‘Even though not mine that is a child, and I will not allow it to be killed.’ I don’t know how many times, as I lay secure in the loving arms of my husband, I have thanked God for my wonderful Christian father.” 

What About Unwanted Pregnancies? 

The argument is made that it’d be better to abort unwanted pregnancies, since most unwanted children end up being battered and abused later in life.

Dr. Edward Lenoski, former professor of Pediatrics at U.S.C. did a study of 674 battered children. His study showed that 91% were planned pregnancies and 90% of those were born into a two-parent home. – (Keith Green, The Questions Most People Ask About Abortions – Lindale: Pretty Good Printing, 1981. pg.  1).

This tends to show that the battered and abused children are not usually the ‘unwanted’ child. The unwanted child argument and the resulting abusive situations many children find themselves in are the evidence of other social and spiritual ills. So, using unwanted pregnancies and couching them in the ideal of saving future children from abuse is a red herring argument used to distract from other unhealthy societal and family dysfunctions.

What About A Woman’s Right To Choose?

I do agree that a woman must absolutely have the right to her own body – no argument there, however the problem with the “my body, my choice” argument is that the child is not a ‘part’ of her body as advocates of abortion would like you to believe.

“A woman’s appendix, obviously a part of her body, can be removed for sufficient reason. The cells of the appendix, however, carry the identical genetic code that is present in every other cell in the mother’s body. They are for this reason, undeniably part of her body. The single-celled fertilized ovum or later developing embryonic human being within her uterus cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered part of her body. This new living being has a genetic code that is totally different from the cells of the mother’s body and cannot ever be considered part of the mother’s body.” – J.C. Willke, Handbook On Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes Pub. Co. Inc., 1979) pg. 62

The thing is that everyone needs to support women’s rights. A woman has a right to her body but not to another, even to her unborn child who is a separate living being.

What Does The Bible Say On The Matter? 

Some Pro-choice advocates state that the Bible does not address abortion, so the decision should be the individuals. In fairness the word “abortion” doesn’t show up anywhere in scripture; however, the principles about the value of life are throughout scripture.

In fact, God said. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life.” – Exodus 21:22-23 “A life for a life.”

That’s pretty serious stuff, serious enough that God himself wrote it into law for the protection of the unborn. This law loudly declaring the life of the unborn child to be just as valuable as that of a grown man.

Still, some claim that pro-lifers don’t really care about the woman herself. The comment is made that unless you are willing to do whatever is needed to really help a woman who thinks she has no other option journey through her tough situation then you have no right to question her choices.

As Christians we absolutely need to care, help where we can, in any way we can (spiritually, physically & relationally). However, this argument is really a red herring. At the end of the day, whether pro-lifers “care” or not is irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant whether those opposed to mugging “care” about the people being robbed. We hopefully care about the one being robbed on the street but whether we care or not doesn’t have any bearing about the fact that robbery is against God’s moral law – as is abortion.

David expresses just how wonderful the act of human creation is, “For you formed my inward parts; you wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret. Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” – Psalm 139:13-16 

Since God is the Creator of human life, only he can determine who lives or dies. Human life is created by God for his purpose and his pleasure, and a disciple of Christ who wants to know Jesus intimately and follow his ways, needs to align his or her viewpoint with his no matter my opinion or experiences. Because God values human life we must as well, no matter the circumstance

In the end we must be advocates for those who cannot be heard, be a voice for the voiceless even while we compassionately minister to those who have been through the mental, social, physical, and spiritual anguish of aborting their child.

“Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.” – Proverbs 31:8 (CEB)

Reflections on the trucker convoy, freedom, and our true hope

Written by: David Hood
Pastor of Southeast City Church Ottawa ON

I want to start by saying that I get it. I get peoples’ frustration with the current state of things. We are all emotionally and mentally exhausted from two years of uncertainty, endless pivoting, confusing and mixed messaging, inconsistent and contradictory protocols, lies and over-promises, family divides and fractured friendships, loss of all kinds, dashed hopes, and a steady stream of doom and gloom news. We have all been through a collective trauma and, at a time when it feels like things should be looking up, they seem worse than ever. I get that people are upset and done, and the sentiment that ‘enough is enough’ resonates with me.

I also get that this movement has given a voice to people who have felt disempowered and scapegoated, namely the unvaccinated. Regardless of your views on vaccine mandates, I think we can all agree that people who are vaccine-hesitant should not all be made to feel inherently selfish and uncaring or labelled as racists and misogynists with “unacceptable views.” The hateful rhetoric I have witnessed is shameful. Hear me, I am pro-vaccination (I have articulated why elsewhere). I think some people are anti-vaccine for reasons that are misinformed, misguided, and dangerous. I can’t support that. However, we can’t generalize an entire group of people, and we certainly shouldn’t dehumanize anyone, ever.

I also get that there is a lot about this protest that feels right and beautiful. Most people who have reported positively from downtown make special mention of the hugging, singing, dancing, and camaraderie. They talk about togetherness and being able to see people’s faces. These things are deeply moving because we’ve missed them desperately. For many, I suspect going downtown is a cathartic release regardless of the aims or objectives of the protest.

All of this to say, I get it. I get why people are getting caught up in this moment and are defensive of it. And I get that there are real concerns about government overreach, a two-tiered society, and creeping totalitarianism. I’m not here to say that there aren’t legitimate concerns and frustrations or that every aspect of what is happening is bad, but I do have some pastoral and missional concerns. Many are not exclusive to the convoy, but the events of the last three weeks give me an occasion to share them.

1) I am concerned about what people mean by the word “freedom.” As a Christian, I can’t get behind the type of freedom that says, “I should be able to live my life however I want regardless of how it affects other people.” That’s not the way of Jesus. I have not been masking nor did I get vaccinated and boosted because I am personally afraid of COVID. I know my chances of getting severely ill are low. I do it because people around me are vulnerable, or are in close contact with vulnerable people, and that is enough. Not wearing a mask only benefits me, it doesn’t benefit them. Who should I care more about? If I were vulnerable, how would I want to be treated by others? Many of the negative stories coming out of downtown are from people who walked through the crowds with masks. They were mocked for complying; labelled as slaves. There is a nobody-can-tell-me-what-to-do and I’ll-do-whatever-I-want pride that has been exhibited throughout this pandemic, and by some in this protest, that really bothers me, and I think it should bother other Christians. Christianity does not support hyper-individualism and absolute autonomy. Regardless of what our legal “rights” might be, there is a higher calling.

Also, do we want a better society or just our “personal freedom”? You can advocate for restrictions and mandates to be lifted, but don’t stop there. The pandemic was a gift in that we clearly saw inequities that have been there for years. I am concerned, and sense with this moment, that most people are only interested in advocating for their “personal freedom”, and if they get that they’re good. Protest over.

Lastly, while political freedom is good (I would much rather live in Canada than North Korea!), it is not true freedom. True freedom is living the way we were meant to with the One we were created for, and that freedom is only found in Jesus Christ. That freedom requires no laws, no judges, and no governments to uphold it. It is upheld by God in heaven and it exists regardless of earthly circumstances. We can have all of the political freedoms on Earth and still be slaves. We can have absolutely zero political freedoms and still be the freest we’ve ever been.

2) I am concerned about how undiscerning Christians have been in their alignment with this movement. There is enough that feels off about what’s happening that I think Christians should be careful how they engage. I am not saying don’t engage. I am saying exercise caution. Christians who decide to protest or support the protest should be very clear about what goals they agree with and are advocating for (i.e. ending vaccine mandates), and who they’re associating with. They should be equally clear about what their goals are not (i.e. the overthrow of the government and sedition), and who they are not associating with (i.e. White supremacists, insurrectionists, Qanon, etc…).

We need to be wise. I’ve seen some Christians condemn the whole movement as a cover for white nationalism, which is false and unnecessarily inflammatory, divisive, and dismissive; I’ve seen others act like the Holy Spirit has fallen on downtown Ottawa and this whole thing is sacred, blessed by God. Neither is true. There is stuff we can support, but there is stuff we need to distance ourselves from and even condemn! 

3) I am concerned about the tone, posture, and language Christians are using with those who disagree with them. We cannot support those waving “f&*% Trudeau” banners in protest, nor those waving “go home inbreds” banners in counter-protest. Christians need to rise above this toxicity. We need to be better people than our leaders are being, and that many of our fellow citizens and neighbours are being. We are to be salt and light. Whatever you think of Trudeau, he is our Prime Minister and we must honour him. We must pray for him, and not imprecatory psalms but prayers for his good (1 Timothy 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Whatever you think of those who disagree with you, they are image bearers and people for whom Christ died. Many are our brothers and sisters in the family of God. Remember Jesus’ words, however you would want to be treated, treat people that way!

4) I am concerned about how Christians who support this protest have been dismissive about how it negatively affects their fellow Ottawans. Many people are experiencing this protest as an occupation. They can’t sleep. They don’t feel they can go out. They can’t get to work. Their commute to work or anywhere has doubled or tripled. Their place of business had to close…again. They’ve been harassed. Their yards have been urinated in and defecated on. They are subjected to a constant barrage of noise pollution and diesel fumes. Just recently, The Alliance to End Homelessness posted a letter detailing how this protest has harmed the homeless. There are hospitals downtown for people who are palliative or in rehab. Shelters for women fleeing domestic violence. Daycares for kids with autism and auditory sensitivities. We need to stop dismissing, belittling, or justifying how people are being negatively impacted. How would you want to be treated if you lived or worked or were hospitalized downtown? If you were a senior? Disabled? Homeless? Sensitive to auditory stimuli? Christians, more than anybody else, should care how their actions affect others and try to actively do good for everybody, not just their own group.

5) Lastly, I am concerned about how political aspirations are getting conflated with the Kingdom of God. There are Christians who act like this convoy is fulfilling some kind of Biblical prophecy. I’ve seen memes of trucks parting the Red Sea with a crowned lion (presumably Jesus?) leading the way, and people likening the truck horns blasting to the blasts of the trumpets that toppled Jericho. Trudeau is not Pharaoh, Canadians are not the people of Israel, and the truckers are not Moses leading us in a new exodus out of COVID slavery to the Promised Land of a mask-free Canada. The vaccine is not the mark of the beast and getting vaccinated is not bowing the knee to Baal. The truckers are not the answer to God’s call in Isaiah, who will go for us. Spiritualizing this protest needs to stop. The drawing of lines in the sand also needs to stop. I know that the unvaccinated are tired of the dehumanizing language that has been applied to them by our leaders and others, but I am also tired of people who see compliance with provincial and public health orders as unfaithfulness to Jesus; who see vaccines as a test of faith. It needs to stop on both sides. These things should not be tests of fellowship.

We need to hear afresh the words of Jesus: My Kingdom is not of this world, otherwise my disciples would fight (John 18:36). Or Paul’s words: our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12). Fighting for a restriction-free Canada or for western political freedoms is not the mission of the Church.

Our mission does not need a particular political leader or party in place, or a Charter of Rights and Freedoms to defend it. Our mission moves forward whether we live in a democracy, under communism, fascism, or an Islamic theocracy. Our mission has thrived in the unlikeliest of places: Iran, China, Afghanistan, Nigeria. Our mission is to love God with our whole being, love our neighbours as ourselves (even our enemies), love each other as Christ loved us, go and do for others what you want them to do for you, preach repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name, and make disciples of Jesus.

For many onlookers, this is not what Christianity is about. For many, Christianity is nothing more than a spiritualized conservative political movement. Its aims are purely political. It is a religion of this world. Evangelicalism has become synonymous with the right, Trump, the January 6 riots, the trucker convoy, anti-restrictions, anti-vax, conspiracy theories, Qanon, etc… For many at this moment, Christianity is synonymous with “my rights above all else”. This muddies the waters of our witness significantly and none of it furthers the mission. 

I am not saying have nothing to do with this protest, but don’t conflate its aspirations with the gospel. Our hope is not in the liberals or conservatives or NDP or Green, Trudeau or Bergen or Poilievre. Our hope is not in the lifting of restrictions and mandates. Our hope is in Jesus. If all of the truckers’ demands are met most people will still be lost and no better off eternally because they don’t have Jesus. How much of our time and mental and emotional energy has been going towards that cause? How many of our conversations and how much of our social media feed proclaims Jesus, the suffering saviour, nailed to a cross, dying to extend life, forgiveness, grace, and mercy to His enemies. This is the Jesus our world needs. We need to get back to this.

We’re not in Kansas Anymore – Reflections on the Passage of Bill C-4

PAUL CARTER  |  DECEMBER 8, 2021 (From an article written for the Gospel Coalition)

On Tuesday, December 7th the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-4, effectively banning the practice known as conversion therapy. The bill had been introduced to the House of Commons on November 29th and was approved on December 1st without further debate or study. It received Royal Assent today and will become the law of the land in 30 days.

The vast majority of Christians are opposed to the sort of coercive practices that many associate with conversion therapy; however, the language of Bill C-4 as passed is exceedingly broad and may have the effect of criminalizing religious conversation and teaching with respect to the Biblical perspective on human sexuality and gender.

The proposed changes to the Criminal Code by Bill C-4 are summarized as follows:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to, among other things, create the following offences:

(a)?causing another person to undergo conversion therapy;

(b)?doing anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside Canada;

(c)?promoting or advertising conversion therapy; and

(d)?receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.

It also amends the Criminal Code to authorize courts to order that advertisements for conversion therapy be disposed of or deleted.[1]

This new bill thus expands the provisions of the original proposal from protecting minors to protecting persons in general. It seeks to criminalize any act of “causing another person to undergo conversion therapy”. It does not matter that the person consented to or even sought out the therapy in question.

Again, if conversion therapy were to be defined as “using coercive means or methods to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation/behaviour” then most Christians would heartily endorse this bill. The definition proposed, however, is exceedingly broad:

Definition of conversion therapy

320.?101?In sections 320.?102 to 320.?104, conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to

(a)?change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual;

(b)?change a person’s gender identity to cisgender;

(c)?change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth;

(d)?repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;

(e)?repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity; or

(f)?repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.

For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration or development of an integrated personal identity — such as a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s gender transition — and that is not based on an assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is to be preferred over another.[2]

The Bible does not make a distinction between biological sex and gender, so it is unclear from this definition if preaching a sermon on Genesis 1:27 would now place a pastor outside the boundaries of Canadian law:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV)

Of further concern is the provision that “conversion therapy” be identified with efforts to “repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour”. The Bible clearly identifies heterosexual marriage as the proper context for sexual behaviour and expression and urges all others outside that estate to exercise self-control. Is a Bible Study on the fruit of the Spirit, as taught in Galatians 5, now to be considered outside the law?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23 ESV)

One suspects that the government intends to see such questions answered in the courts.

What is clear is that the government has privileged a very particular metaphysical view – a view at odds with medical science and nearly every religious tradition on planet earth. Their view is plainly stated in the preamble to the bill that passed without dissent and to loud applause on December 7th:

Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to the persons who are subjected to it;

Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to society because, among other things, it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions;

And whereas, in light of those harms, it is important to discourage and denounce the provision of conversion therapy in order to protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians;

Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:

The idea that gender equates to biological sex would have been taken for granted by every generation of Canadians prior to this one. To enshrine the spirit of the age as the law of the land is an act of hubris. To refer to the beliefs once held universally and still held broadly by many Canadians, as “myths” and “stereotypes” is an act of blatant intolerance. The net result will be legal exposure and authorized harassment of pastors and churches.

Where Does This Go From Here?

As mentioned above, having received Royal Assent, Bill C-4 will become the law of the land within 30 days. At some point thereafter it will likely end up before the courts subject to a constitutional challenge. Given the robust provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to religious belief and expression, it may be expected that the language and breadth of the bill will be found to exceed what is permitted by law.

Christians should be praying for and working towards a better version of this legislation with the ultimate goal of protecting all people from abusive and coercive practices while at the same time protecting the rights of parents and pastors to read, teach and commend what the Bible has to say about sex and gender.

How Should Canadian Christians Respond?

There are two extremes that ought to be avoided.

Firstly, Christians should avoid over reaction. We mustn’t even appear to be in favour of abusive and coercive practices. Christians do not resort to strong arm tactics. We speak, we love, we model, we commend, we pray. That is our playbook. Conversion therapy should never have been a tool in anyone’s toolbox in the first place. We must avoid over stating our concerns and we must avoid even the appearance of indifference toward people who have suffered under these treatments. We must be narrow and specific with respect to our concerns with Bill C-4.

Secondly, we must avoid trimming our sails. I’ve already heard pastors talking about no longer making their sermons available online and no longer broadcasting worship services. This would place the elderly, the sick and the stranger outside the sound of the Gospel! There may be a place for an offline training event; there may be wisdom in providing some “closed door counsel” to the congregation as to how to engage on these matters, but the Gospel must remain public. If we must suffer for preaching the whole counsel of God, then so be it.

Jesus told us that dangerous days were to be assumed and expected.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 ESV)

It’s time for us to take that counsel seriously.

Let us be wise as serpents. Let us not rant and rave in the Public Square. Let us not take the bait on every offered hook. Let us be measured and disciplined in the statement of our concerns.

And let us be innocent as doves. Let us not abandon our call to preach. Let us not turn our backs on the vulnerable and the abused. Let us be humble and restrained in our public protestations.

And if we should suffer for preaching and speaking the truth in love, then let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is our reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before us.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Pastor Paul Carter


To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can find his personal blog, Semper Reformanda, by clicking here.

[1] https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/44-1/bill/C-4/first-reading

[2] https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/44-1/bill/C-4/first-reading

War on Christmas?

The question that comes up every year at this time is whether or not there is a war on Christmas. Before we get to that question, let me share with you a part of the Christmas story that I love. It’s when the angels came to announce Jesus’ birth.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:8-14

Here we see good news of great joy being presented to the common person in the land. Great news guys, the long-awaited Saviour is finally here. You could almost feel the rush of excitement that would have filled the hearts of these shepherds who then went to meet their baby king.

This is a wonderful and very appropriate message for the season – Good news of Great Joy for all people. It’s Good news of Great joy even for the whole year because of what it means. There should be happiness in our hearts, dancing in the streets and joy in all our homes. So isn’t it interesting that instead of doing what the shepherds did, focusing on the Good news of Great joy, there are many today who view this season as a time for war instead.

Here’s what I mean. I’ve observed that many have been caught in the throes of a war on semantics. We are seeing and hearing more “Happy Holidays” and less “Merry Christmases.” The “Christmas tree” has turned into being a “Holiday tree.”One television ad plays regularly with carollers singing: “We Wish You A Happy Holiday” to the tune of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

You can certainly see why a general mood of fighting back could prevail. I have seen numerous emails floating around with pictures of Christmas trees lamenting the secularization of Christmas. The underlying tone of these messages so far has been one of anger and partisanship, as if to say: “They can’t take our Christmas away from us!” 

It’s an interesting situation and one we need to consider seriously. If this is a battle, on what level do we fight it? If someone wishes us “Happy Holidays,” do we respond with a hearty “Merry Christmas,” thus striking a blow for the kingdom of God? But I wonder why we expect those who don’t know Jesus personally nor believe he is the son of God, why is it that we almost demand them to celebrate Christmas anyways? It’s not their holiday after all.

Here’s the thing, the message that the shepherds received was about a baby being born, not a holiday to be birthed. The good news is about Christ, not the fact about whether we call the holiday Christmas or not. I am not in any way saying that we should ban the holiday or even to change the name, but I don’t even think Jesus cares very much about what we or anyone else call an evergreen with lights on it in December.

The fact is that there is and has been a war against God himself ever since Adam sinned in the garden. The attempt from the world to, in the very least ignore the Christmas title and at the very worst attempt to get rid of the Christmas holiday, is really an example of the rejection of Jesus’ gospel message of hope to a lost world. That is why Jesus came – to end the war and to redeem lost mankind. Look at Luke 1:35…

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy.” – Luke 1:35

What’s in a name? It was William Shakespeare who popularized this question. The line is found in Act 2 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is wishing Romeo would change his name and so renounce his family who had been in opposition to their romance. She tries to convince him by asking, “Tis but thy name that is my enemy; O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”Juliet got it wrong, because a name is important, and can’t be just taken off like a piece of clothing.

In the Christmas story we see a baby who is born being called ‘Holy’. That is a significant part of the story and here’s one of the reasons why. Holy means pure, good, without any defect or deficiency or blemish. God is both sovereign and holy. Sin is incompatible with God’s nature. The penalty for rejecting God’s sovereignty is separation from God, separation meaning both spiritual death and physical death.

The tragic story of man’s disobedience is told in Genesis chapter three. Immediately after Adam & Eve disobeyed God’s command they both realized they were guilty. Adam and Eve tried to cover their guilt and shame from God, but they chose a poor cover up, a bunch of leaves that only covered a portion of their bodies.

Their sin was still exposed & God, being Holy, can’t look on sin. So, God chose skins to completely cover Adam and Eve. “And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” – Genesis 3:21. The coats of skin that God provided for Adam and Eve represented the righteousness they needed so that they could be in God’s holy presence.

The animal sacrificed was usually a lamb that had no blemishes or obvious imperfections & was an innocent substitute, an innocent victim. The problem was that this was all temporary and had to be repeated over and over again. What was needed was a perfect, lasting sacrifice because no matter how unblemished the lamb was; it was never going to be perfect enough and was certainly not everlasting or holy.

Finally, God steps in and provides his own perfect sacrifice to cover our sins once and for all and provide us his righteousness. And we are introduced to this thru a little baby named Jesus who is called Holy. The only one who could be pure, good, without any defect or deficiency or blemish. Now when this baby grows into manhood and gives his life in sacrifice, because he is holy, perfect, without blemish, we can be clothed with his perfect righteousness.

What’s in a name? In this case it’s the Saviour of the world. That’s the good news of great joy the shepherds received. Not a declaration of a new holiday with turkey and trees covered in lights.

I don’t know if you ever thought about Christmas in that light before. We usually think of it in such a light sense, after all it’s about a little baby and a jolly happy man in a red suit and we always talk about peace on earth and the fact that it’s Good News, Great Joy! But is that the meaning of the Christmas season? What was the purpose of the Angels’ message to the shepherds?

Just the other day I put myself in a very dangerous position by climbing up and down ladders onto rooftops, reaching and stretching for boxes in high up shelves in the garage. All this dangerous activity for what? Christmas is coming and Debbie had a list which I had to check twice just to make sure that I did everything on it. Today if you come by my home you will see three Christmas trees in the house, decorations both upstairs and downstairs and stockings hung over the fireplace. But is that what Christmas is about?

We have this wonderful picture of a baby in a manger, feathery snowflakes, and soft lights all aglow over the fields, and complete Peace on earth as we all join hands around the cosmic tree singing Silent Night, not unlike the Who’s of Whosville. Not that I’m saying that that is a bad picture of Christmas, rather what I’m saying is that Jesus didn’t come into this world to make us peaceful citizens, he came to save us from sure death and the way he was to do this was by coming with a definiteness of purpose – his death for us. That is what the message the angels’ shared with the shepherds is truly about – death. More accurately it’s about Jesus coming to die. Good news of great Joy? Death?

There was no other way to save us. He had to die, that was the only plan. You see, I was, am and always will be unacceptable to God. I came into this world a sinner, I am a sinner today and on the day that I die I will be a sinner. Out of my heart has, can and will come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.

Except for one amazing fact: The Lamb of God came to earth as a little baby boy, grew up to die, and took away my sins. I’m guilty of breaking the whole law when I break one, but now there is no condemnation for me, because I’m a follower of Christ Jesus. I am a sinner and a saint at exactly the same time because of the redemption that came through Jesus. That came that very first Christmas day 2000 years ago. It’s not about the deer on the lawn, rather it’s about the Lamb on the tree.

Here’s how you keep Christ in Christmas: you celebrate him as Lord of your life and ruler of your heart, and you love even those who want to take Christmas out of the Holiday equation. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). He came to forgive sins – mine, yours, everybody’s.

Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Let’s not let religious pride get in the way of the core message of the gospel. It’s never been us againstthem; it’s us forthem. We mustn’t forget that Jesus came to die for the very people who are trying to secularize our country.

In our zeal to keep Christ in Christmas, let’s be careful not to go to war against the very people who need him the most – those who don’t know him – which would only serve to alienate them from a relationship with ourselves and with Jesus. People are more likely to be set on the road to salvation by loving, caring believers who are secure in the hope of the real Christ living in their lives, and whose faith is brighter than any Christmas tree

That after all is the message given to the shepherds, and to us – Good News of Great Joy!

Can The Church Affirm Homosexuality?

No matter where we turn in the culture today, the issues of homosexuality and “gender identity” are being hotly debated. The “homosexual rights” ideology continues to seek legitimization and approval – not just tolerance – of homosexual behaviour, resulting in rapidly changing societal mores and values. This deeply impacts us in our day-to-day relationships with family and with fellow church members, neighbours and co-workers.

Even from within the church itself there is a theology that has been emerging for decades to legitimize homosexuality through a revisionist gay theology as a biblically based, better way forward.

To someone who holds to a high view of scripture, the answer seems obvious. Homosexuality is a sin – end of debate. That may have worked a generation ago, but today there is a concerted effort to fundamentally change your mind. What we are seeing, and have seen for quite some time now, is an attempt to usher in an uncritical acceptance and promotion of homosexuality into the wider culture, and much is being centered on churches and synagogues.

That’s because, homosexual activists and their allies know that the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic found in the Bible is the last bastion of defense holding back the widespread embrace of homosexuality throughout the western culture.

They know that if you and I can be convinced that homosexual behaviour is no longer sinful in God’s eyes, that it is in fact is a better way to live, then the battle to fully implement their political and social goals will be won and a new standard can be accepted as the culturally good standard.

But questions need to be asked. What if the historical Biblical standard along with the historical cultural standard are still the best ways? What if any other way of approaching sexuality, whether it be homosexuality, or intimate heterosexual relationships outside of a committed marriage relationship, is not the better way? What if the standard of sex within a committed marriage relationship between a husband and wife is not even a better way, but the best way?

Before I get into what I believe is the best way, allow me to address two other ways and what I see as obvious dilemmas they hold.

Addressing the Cultural Way

The modern understanding of finding self is a recent approach to identity. We are to look within at our desires – especially our sexual ones – and then determine (Freud) or create (Foucault) who we are, not allowing anyone else to validate or define us or make us feel guilty. We are then to demand that the world affirm our expression of ourselves. The result is that anyone who questions our self-view is by definition attacking us, doing violence, questioning our very existence, and ultimately denying us support. But should we believe and accept this understanding of identity?

In most of the non-western world, identity is communal. You don’t get to define yourself -identity is understood from within the community, and self-esteem comes more from duty to God, family, and others rather than from satisfying desires and self-interest.

But when the psychiatrist says: “You decide who you are – no one else can!” he or she is at that moment imposing a very individualistic, western way of understanding identity on the individual as if that is the only approach possible. It is “western” because it was grounded in the Enlightenment & Freud, & framed to be a new form of social liberation vs oppression, and based on Foucault’s account of language and power. And as noted, non-westernized cultures are far less individualistic and do not think this way.

The Obvious Dilemma of the Cultural Way

The obvious dilemma however is that you cannot discover a ‘real you’ by looking at your changing and contradictory inner feelings. You will always need a standard of values by which you can sift your inner drives & determine which ones characterize your ‘true’ & ‘false’ selves. Christians believe the Bible gives us that standard to determine our de-humanizing desires and our right, humanizing ones.

The other dilemma that needs to be addressed is that the modern identity is highly performative. In other words, you must realize your inner dreams and desires or constantly perform your suffering. This leads to fragility and a need for constant re-affirmation. No wonder any criticism at all is crushing or feels “controlling”. No wonder dialogue is hard, if not impossible to come by when differing views are presented. We live in a culture of rage. Don’t believe me? Post something on social media that speaks up against the cultural norms and prepare for the modern version of hate mail.

The reason that the Christian receives so much criticism when proposing the biblical sex ethic is that most people in the culture today assume the modern approach to self-identity as a given – it is assumed as self-evident to all when clearly it is not.

That’s why it’s important to keep reminding yourself that even though your identity may have been hijacked by a very individualistic, western way of understanding identity. It is not the only approach possible. The Christians’ deepest identity, is in Christ, who loves and accepts us counter-conditionally, despite all our flaws. That means then that Christian identity is received, not achieved. And that takes enormous pressure off of us to perform and earn our affirmations.

Addressing the ‘Revisionist’ Way

As a Christian who holds to a high view of scripture, I believe that sexuality is God’s idea, not culture’s idea. That means that we should learn from God what it is, a man and a woman created in beautifully complementary ways so that they form one flesh. And to try to do it another way is a distortion and a dysfunction of the way God made it.

However, there are some who would say that scripture doesn’t say what I believe it to say, and that I need to catch up to a better understanding of scripture. Are they right?

Gay strategists Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, in their landmark homosexual public relations manual published in 1989, boldly encouraged gays “to muddy the moral waters, that is, to undercut the rationalizations that ‘justify’ religious bigotry and to jam some of its psychic rewards.” They go on to specify that this entails “raising serious theological objections to conservative biblical teachings.”

Further, gays are called to “undermine the moral authourity of homo-hating churches…by portraying such institutions as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the times and with the latest findings of psychology.” (Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear & Hatred of Gays in the 90’s, Penguin Books USA, New York, 1989, p. 179).

This campaign of misinformation is often referred to as “revisionist gay theology,” and it’s presently playing out in denomination after denomination with increasing conflict. This didn’t just start in the twenty-first century. It actually began to take place within the church, in the mid-twentieth century, with a systematic questioning of clear scriptural teaching on homosexual behaviour – recalling the serpent’s question to Eve in Genesis 3, “Did God really say…?”

Specifically, the intended effect of revisionist gay theology is to disengage the church from the wider cultural debate about homosexuality by redefining it as God-ordained and morally permissible. And just like the serpent’s temptation to Eve in the Garden, leaders in the “gay-Christian” movement are tempting us with the question: “Did God really say that homosexuality is a sin?”

But wasn’t the word ‘homosexual’ only addd to the bible in 1946? 

A claim that I hear of more and more being presented, is that the Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 6:9, for homosexuality, “Arsenokoitai”, was not originally translated to mean “homosexual” until 1946 when it was added in the RSV translation of the time.

The claim is that the word ‘Arsenokoitai’ is not actually referring to monogamous, loving, committed homosexual relationships. Paul’s intent, they claim, wasn’t to deny the beauty of “loving, faithful” same-sex relationships but only denying those relationships involving abuse, coercion, temple prostitution or unfaithfulness.

The sentiment is that it’s the conservative individual’s prejudice against homosexuals that leads them to misread biblical texts about homosexuality. So, then scriptures used that supposedly condemn homosexual behaviour are simply mistranslated, or taken out of context to bolster a conservative, outdated claim that doesn’t apply to our present world and in fact is hurtful to current society as it fosters hatred, bigotry, and is essentially anti-freedom.

An argument being used is that the passage in Leviticus 18:22 that says in English, “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination,” is not translated as homosexual, but rather translated in the pre-1986 German version to say, “Man shall not lie with ‘young boys’ as he does with a woman, for it is an abomination.” Leviticus 20:13 says the same thing in the pre-1986 German version, “Young boys.” And then in 1 Corinthians, instead of homosexuals, the pre-1986 German translation says, “Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Even Martin Luther’s original German translation from 1534 of the same passage uses the word knabenschander. Knaben is boy, schander is molester. This word “boy molesters” for the most part carried through the next several centuries of German Bible translations. Interestingly, Knabenschander is also found in 1 Timothy 1:10.

So then why is the same word (in Greek Arsenokoitai) translated as ‘boy molester’ in both the older English and German translations, changed to ‘homosexual’ in the English in 1946 and the German in 1986? Is it simply to reflect the church’s fear of the sexual revolution and to somehow regain control of the bedroom?

The Obvious Dilemma of The ‘Revisionist’ Way

Revisionist gay theology has an obvious dilemma in that it visibly violates God’s intentional design for gender and sexuality by saying that women don’t need men and men don’t need women. That comes out of a humanistic ideology that places human feelings and desires above biblical truth, leading people to believe lies.

So, instead of the conservative individuals prejudice against homosexuals that leads to misreading biblical texts about homosexuality, it’s more often those having a personal interest in the promotion of gay revisionist theology, that twist the plain teaching of Scripture to support and justify their behaviour.

That’s why we can’t base our arguments as heavily as some might wish on English or German translations, because that is exactly what they are – translations. So, to either bolster an argument or to refute one, it’s always best to go back to the language these versions were translated from if at all possible, and it is possible in this case. For the New Testament passages we of course must go to the Greek.

The Greek word Arsenokoitai is a compound word: arseno is the word for “a male,” and koitai is the word for “mat” or “bed.” Put the two halves together, and the word means “a male bed” – that is, a person who makes use of a “male-only bed” or a “bed for males.”

The word meaning “bed” carries a sexual connotation in this context – the Greek koitai is the source of our English word coitus (“sexual intercourse”). The conclusion is that the word arsenokoitai is referring to homosexuals – men who are in bed with other men, engaging in same-gender sexual activity. The fact that the English word ‘homosexual’ wasn’t specifically used until 1946 only indicates the English translations were keeping up with the changing language, not battling the changing morality.

This argument is further bolstered in that the notion that some homosexual relationships are accepted, is not even hinted at in the passages that are translated from Arsenokoitai. The men’s commitment level or the presence of “love” is not even addressed. Further, the idea that the condemned same-sex activity is linked to economic exploitation or abuse is also a forced reading with no textual basis.

When we read that homosexuality in Leviticus, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy is mentioned in the wider context of sexual, immoral, and prohibited behaviours, all of which elaborate on the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” we can’t help but understand it as a clear prohibition of sex outside of a male-female marriage.

In an attempt to make homosexual behaviour compatible with Christianity, you can’t just redefine the ‘Greek’ word. The lie of the enemy, “did God really say” … can’t work here.

A Better Way

 In Genesis 1 we see God’s plan in everything. We continually see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together. For example, heaven and earth, sea and land, God and humanity, light and dark. It is part of the brilliance, wonder and the glorious dance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes which generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships. As N.T. Wright points out, the creation and uniting of male and female at the end of Genesis 2 is the climax of all this.

That means that male and female have unique, non-interchangeable glories – they each see and do things that the other cannot. Sex was created by God to be a way to mingle these strengths and glories within a life-long covenant of marriage. Marriage is the most intense (though not the only) place where this reunion of male and female takes place in human life. Male and female reshape, learn from, and work together.

That’s why, in one of the great ironies of our western modern culture, when we celebrate diversity in so many other cultural sectors, we have truncated the better way, actual the best way in the ultimate unity-in-diversity – inter-gendered sexual union within the covenant of marriage.

But without understanding this vision, the sexual prohibitions in scripture just don’t make sense. But it’s because of this vision that helps one understand that homosexuality does not come close to meeting the need for this rich diversity of perspective and gendered humanity in sexual relationships. Same-sex relationships not only cannot provide this for each spouse, they can’t provide children with a deep connection to each half of humanity through a parent of each gender.

How Do We Respond To The Changing Culture?

It’s one thing to know what I believe, but it’s an entirely different thing to live out what I believe. When it comes to a response to the changing culture, specifically homosexuality, our response must be biblical and it must be saturated in love.

Someone might object, “But we are loving. We hate the sin but love the sinner.” I have news for you: the world isn’t feeling the love. According to recent research, when the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians want to describe the church, they call it “anti-homosexual.” We might understand what we mean by the “hate the sin but love the sinner” comment, but the phrase is highly despised in the LBGTQ community.

The problem isn’t our stance on homosexuality. We oppose this lifestyle because the Bible opposes it. We are right to be concerned when society drives at breakneck speed into a dense fog, with no apparent regard for what the future may hold. Our message may be right, but we are not as loving as we think we are. Why? Because we don’t express an essential element of love, we don’t “serve one another humbly in love” – Galatians 5:13 We need to do better at being known for humble love.

For one, we must humble ourselves for wrongly assuming that those who support a gay lifestyle do so out of disdain for morality. There are other reasons (maybe even good reasons) why people support gay rights, such as concern for the mental health of those struggling with same sex attraction, some of those struggles ending in suicide.

Many people support gay rights because they value authenticity. They reason that those who see themselves as gay should have the right to act consistent with their self-understanding. Some support gay rights as an act of resistance against what they see as untoward government intrusion. If we’re humble, we’ll be aware that those on the other side of this issue may have motives we can affirm.

We must humble ourselves, second, for how we’ve reacted. Some of us have lived by a double standard, condemning others’ sins but neglecting our own. We’ve not been good listeners, considering ourselves righteous for refusing to engage with those who differ from us. We’ve called our response “righteous indignation,” when it may have been only “fear of the other.” And when some of our own have honestly shared their same sex attraction, we have tended to treat them like enemies, not family. If we’re humble, we’ll admit we’ve responded poorly.

True love is not only humble, it serves others. If we were going overseas to work as a missionary, we would be very conscious that we were there to serve, not to be served. We would bend over backward to avoid offense. Among those already offended, we would bend even further.

The church must become a community that provides a loving environment for these who struggle with their sexuality and gender. After all, if “God’s kindness is intended to lead [us] to repentance.” – Romans 2:4, perhaps he wants to accomplish the same result from our kindness with others.

Please don’t mis-hear me. Telling the whole truth is needed now more than ever. But by only sharing part of the Bible’s message, we’ve made matters worse. We must not shy away from speaking of God’s disapproval of gay sex, even if this makes some unhappy. While at the same time, and with equal conviction, speak of the freedom to live above our natural state, to discover a better way. And back up our words with our example, lives of humble service that express the love of Jesus, because that is the world’s best hope and that is the best way.

Is God A Narcissist?

Why would God want us to praise and worship him? After all, a person who demands praise is a pompous big-headed narcissist aren’t they? On top of that isn’t God completely self-sufficient? If that be true then he certainly doesn’t need our praise and worship. So then why are there so many bible verses telling us that we are supposed to praise God?

“O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” – Psalm 107:8

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.” – Psalm 150:6

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:13-14

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:46-47

These are only a sampling of many verses that tell us to praise our God. But the question many might ask is why? Why praise him? I’m so glad you asked.

One reason is that praise gives credit where credit is due. Even more to the point, God deserves our praise. I’m sure we’d all agree that it is right and good to praise someone who is worthy of praise. We know this intuitively and so we almost automatically praise people for all sorts of accomplishments.

We even praise the people we love who might not be known for any great achievements, such as a child for just being your child, or for graduating kindergarten or for simply mowing the lawn. And of course, for others we admire in our lives such as a teacher or preacher or parent, we instinctively know that it’d not be right or good to withhold praise from them.

So, I think that it’s safe to say that we all understand the concept of praise being due certain people.

In fact, imagine that you wrote an incredibly beautiful poem and won a prestigious award for your writing; but when the time came for the award ceremony, they gave the prize for your poem to the wrong author! You, and every one of your family and friends, would immediately know that wasn’t just, right, or good, because you were the only one worthy of that particular praise moment.

So, In the same way, God – as the only being perfect in goodness, justice, love, etc. – is worthy of our praise. We do then, in fact, owe him praise. And when we don’t give it to him it isn’t just, right, or good. He wants us to praise him because it is right and good for us to do so. And so, since God wants us to always do right and good things, he’d of course want us to praise him.

But more than praise being right and good (and also because of its being right and good), praising God showcases what and who we value. When we praise God, it communicates to our deepest soul, and to God, that we value him above all things, and this ultimately brings us joy and enhances our relationship with him.

We see this in human relationships as well – think of a man with his wife. It brings a man who loves his wife, great joy to value her and praise her.

Here’s how C.S. Lewis puts it in Reflections on the Psalms”:

I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise… The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game… I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ’Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.

Lastly, we need to remember that God created us for his pleasure (just as we create delightful things for our pleasure). Praising God – acknowledging his goodness, love, perfection, and all the incredible things he has done for us – brings him pleasure. If you have children, you know what a wonderful thing it is to have them praise you. I know for myself, that I love getting spontaneous texts from my children that say things like, “Hey dad, I love you.” Or, “You’re my favourite dad, just thought you should know.” They are praising me as their father, albeit with a bit of subtle humour at times. But humour or not, it enhances the relationship.

But we can also know the pain of having children selfishly take you for granted and ignore you. When that happens, your relationship is strained. In the same way, the right response from us toward God is praise because he deserves it. When we act out our love and acknowledgment of him in this way, we fulfill our purpose; and when we are rightly fulfilling our purpose, we have the best possible joy – God is pleased, our relationship with him is enhanced, and he has rightly received what he deserves.

Luckily, this is not a difficult command to follow, because when we know Jesus intimately, we can’t help but to truly love him, and our praise naturally flows from that love.

Ultimately, we’ll be praising God for eternity, so we might as well begin practicing today. Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” – Revelation 5:13

Four Lies Of Legalism

Can you remember a time when you felt fear – deep, mind numbing, body shaking, thought blinding fear? Perhaps you experienced a terrible thunderstorm, the wind so loud you wondered if the roof on your house would stay on. Maybe you had to drive through a blizzard or a torrential rain storm and you were praying all the while you were on the highway that you wouldn’t crash. Quite possibly you witnessed a fight or were threatened in some way. Perhaps you feared for the life of a loved one and for hours you didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

Being afraid isn’t our favourite place to be and so when we feel like we’re in unsafe situations we look for things to hold onto, things that’ll bring order to the chaos, things that’ll anchor us and give us the assurance that we’ll be safe.

This feeling fearful or unsafe thing isn’t limited to the physical world. We can feel fear, emotionally, socially, and mentally, and every time we feel fearful in those situations we seek safe places – anchors. Sometimes those safe places are good places to be, but often they are not. That’s why some people try to hold on to unhealthy ‘anchors’ such as drugs, abusive relationships, alcoholism, or some other ‘vice’ in a deluded attempt to alleviate a fear in the moment. The problem is that it doesn’t stop the fear. In fact, it only exasperates the fears already being faced.

We Christians may not admit it, but we often do the same thing as it pertains to our walk of faith. There’s a tendency to believe that it’s the extra ‘things’, the rules and regulations in our ‘religiosity’ that we need in order to be safe, to anchor us. So, we set up traditions and rules with a spiritual skin wrapped all over it and then call it religion.

In Colossians, Paul refers to four lies about traditions and regulations that 90% of us Christians admit to having held onto at some point in our faith journey (the other 10% lied about not going there). The thing is that they don’t add a lick to our spiritual identities and most certainly do not make us ever feel sufficiently safe in our eternal futures. Legalistic rules filled with tradition or perceived biblical rules, that end up just becoming cheap substitutes for what should be the goal of our lives as Christians – To glorify God in and through our lives and to enjoy being in his amazing presence forever.

What could be these 4 lies then that Paul speaks to?

Lie # 1 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you an acceptable Christian

“Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” – Colossians 2:16

So often we find ourselves worried about what others think, about making sure we look good and that we are doing the right ‘Christian’ (religious) thing. What ends up happening is that we surround ourselves with so many religious safety nets that we can’t see Jesus for the rules. Jesus wasn’t about rules – he was about relationship.

Much too often, we come into the body of Christ and are quickly introduced to something other than the gospel… legalism. Legalism refers to an emphasis on man-made rules and prohibitions as the standard for spirituality. Someone tells you how wrong it is to indulge in certain practices that ‘they’ have deemed unacceptable in the Christian community.

These individuals are not only convinced that these practices are wrong but consider it their duty to judge you as less Christ like because you do them! “Don’t play cards… Don’t watch movies… Don’t drink wine… Don’t get a tattoo…etc.”. As if Jesus isn’t near good enough to have taken care of the law for us. Listen, if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit about some of those things in your life then by all means listen to and obey the Holy Spirit as you’re convicted, but it’s not your or my job to convict others where there is no conviction in their lives about these things or practices…you nor I am the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, there are house rules that we as a community must live by… thou shall not kill (good house rule). Thou shall not commit adultery (another good one). Love each other (a great law to live by). But where there isn’t a direction by the word of God I can’t go around and hold up man-made laws or traditions as though they have the same weight as the word of God. Where one person has liberties in an area with God another may not. We can’t make those demands on others let alone ourselves.

Just look in Romans 8 where we see how Jesus fulfilled the law, both its moral demands and its ceremonial demands. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:3-4

If keeping the Law could not make us acceptable before we received Christ, why do we think that keeping the law can make us acceptable after we are believers? Or as Paul rhetorically phrased it… “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” – Galatians 3:3

Sadly, many genuine believers are living under some form of a yoke of bondage, thinking if I just do this or do that, I’ll be more acceptable to God. They may not say this overtly but their actions betray them.

The point is that the consumption of food and drink is in itself no basis for judging a person’s acceptability with God or standing in God’s family. To be sure Paul had to deal with the abuse of food and drink; the problem of eating meat offered to idols and the problem of drunkenness (1 Corinthians 8, 11:21; Romans 14). But his approach to these abuses was never to forbid food or drink. It was always to forbid what destroyed God’s temple and injured faith. He taught the principle of love, but did not dictate its application with regulations in matters of food and drink.

Lie # 2 – Legalistic rules and regulations say that Jesus isn’t sufficient

“These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”  – Colossians 2:17-18

I recall watching the cartoon version of Peter Pan as a child and being fascinated by the shadow of Peter. It had a life of its own and in many ways, was an independent entity apart from its owner. I remember as an 8-year-old trying endlessly to ‘awaken’ my shadow so that we could enjoy separate adventures – together. Remember I was only 8. It didn’t take me long to discover that In the real world  a shadow has no substance, and for that matter has no independent existence. It simply is a proof of the fact that there is a reality somewhere behind it making it happen. It is not solid or real – simply a copy of the real thing. Much like Pepsi is to Coke. No matter how hard I tried to make my shadow ‘real’ it was always going to be lifeless, it was always going to be just a copy. Paul is stressing to us that legalism through rules and regulations are only insufficient “shadows” that do nothing to put us into right relationship with God and most certainly don’t make us safe.

In my wallet you might not find much money but you will find pictures of my kids. I value these photographs and look at them occasionally when I am away from home. But what would you think if I propped up these pictures all over my house or office and talked to them and tried to relate to them? You would think I’d gone a little crazy – and rightly so. But, more than that, I would lose connection with the very people whose pictures I hold. They would end up feeling ignored and our relationship would be damaged and would most likely end.

That is what Paul says is wrong with shadows. If you continue to give the shadow key significance after the real person or thing has been identified, you’ll only end up killing your opportunity to enjoy the real person or thing itself. here’s the point. There are times we put more trust than we think into our rituals or regulations than we do in Jesus. If you don’t believe me then ask yourself… do you feel better about your relationship with God after you read the bible for a week or if you have been attending church every Sunday for three months than when you didn’t read the Word as much or missed church for a few weeks? Or do you feel that God’s depth of love for you is dictated by how well you serve him? Or have you ever said, “Well i’m not really being that good of a Christian” as if you were the one sanctifying you?

I absolutely understand that we learn more about who God is as we read and pray and serve… but we need to do those things out of love & not because they are rules, things we need to do as a ‘good’ christian. What Paul is telling us is that the reality in our faith is Jesus, not other ‘things’ such as rules, regulations or otherwise. It’s him, not the shadow, that journeys with us through life, who comforts us when we need it and gives us the strength to face temptation. But when we forget that, we then are believing that rules & regulations are more sufficient in making us Christlike than Christ himself.

So do we truly believe that Jesus is sufficient? Truth is that God couldn’t love us any more than he already does. Remember that God doesn’t have lots of love to give – He is love and so is an endless reservoir of love. But when we trust more in regulations and those rules we place on ourselves and others… then it means we really don’t believe that God really loves us like he said he does or that Jesus is truly sufficient enough to take care of us… because if we truly believed the truth about him, well then we’d never rely on those shadows again.

Lie # 3 – Legalistic rules and regulations deny the authority of Jesus

“And not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. – Colossians 2:19

Jesus is to be “the head of the body,” a metaphor that demonstrates the authority of Christ over the church as well as the dependence the church is to place in Christ (Colossians 1:18). That’s what the writer of Hebrews puts so much effort into doing throughout the book of Hebrews. Attempting to show us the superiority and authority of Jesus Christ over and above all of the shadows of the Old Testament. We are not to content ourselves with shadows when we can fill ourselves with the real thing. And “Jesus is ‘the real thing’.

When we die to self and live to make him known, when we can’t help but love our fellow disciples, when we crave the word of God, when we welcome discipline and tribulations in our lives because we know we are being made into the image of Christ, when we seek out fellowship with other believers because we love being with God’s people we can know that as we grow, all our spiritual growth has as its ultimate focus – Jesus.

Avoid the false teachings, the legalistic rules, the empty rituals and the unsatisfying regulations that move us away from Christ, and instead take advantage of the things God has given for growth.

Lie # 4 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you holy

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 2:20-23

The false teachers in Paul’s day practised asceticism, which was a poor attempt at freeing the spirit from the ‘prison’ of the body. The view that the body was evil eventually found its way into the church. In fact, there were many who began to find ways to punish their bodies believing that this was a way to free their spirit from the body. A monk named Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet. I’m sure his cell probably smelled like a lot of guys’ dorm rooms. Even Martin Luther, before discovering the truth of justification by faith, nearly wrecked his health through asceticism.

Paul addresses a similar issue in Galatians 4 writing that while we were children, we were held in bondage under the ‘elemental’ things of the world. Elemental is from the Greek meaning “rank” used to speak of basic, foundational things like ABC’s or 123’s. Paul was saying that these rituals of human religion they were engaged in were elemental because they are only human, and could never rise to the level of the divine.  But he asks then that now that they’ve come to know God, how in the world could they go back to grade 2 – to the ABC’s? Do they really think that these rituals, holy days, and rules of diet will do it for them? Do they really want to be enslaved all over again?

Legalism only leads us back to unchristian slavery instead of freedom in Christ, and in any event, doesn’t free us from our lusts, at the very best keeps them on a leash which just isn’t good enough. Rules and regulations will not, and cannot make us holy.

The great news is that through our union with Christ, we, the redeemed are set free from man-made rules designed to promote spirituality and holiness.

What are the legalistic rules, regulations & traditions that you or I hold onto while we live out our own faith journey experience? What are those things we need to let go of in order to truly experience freedom in Christ and find safety in our relationship with God? True Christian safety and freedom never comes from restraining desires by rules and regulations, but from the death of evil desires and the springing to life of good desires. And this can only happen as we grow in deep love with Jesus and know him intimately, asking him to fill us with his spirit in order to be empowered to live for him. And as we grow we can know that he will complete the work that he began. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

God With Us Means Hope

What is hope in your life? For some, hope is the first candle to be lit when the power goes out in the storm. Hope is the first day you wake up and can breathe again after an awful cold. And hope is that percentage you do have of beating the cancer.

Hope is that COVID will be beat in the coming days or weeks. Hope is the faint line on that stick when you’ve been struggling to get pregnant. It’s the first ray of sunshine through your window after a tearful, difficult night.

Hope is hearing the words, “He’s going to be OK.” Hope is the flicker of maybe, just maybe.Hope is the fuel of faith and dreams. And hope is what we celebrate on this first Sunday of Advent.

Advent is actually a season of hope. The word advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and the season is marked by expectation, waiting, anticipation, and longing. It’s a season that links the past, present, and future.

Advent offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, to celebrate his birth, and to be alert for his second coming. Advent looks back in celebration at the hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s first coming, while at the same time looking forward in hopeful and eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. During Advent we wait for both – it’s an active, assured, and hopeful waiting.

Now, the Christmas season always seems busy doesn’t it? Even with COVID lockdowns we’re busy. But in a season often marked by frenzied busyness, Advent is an opportunity to set aside time to prepare our hearts and help us place our focus on a far greater story than our own – the story of God’s redeeming love for our world.

And it’s a season of digging deep into the reality of what it means that God sent his Son into the world to be Immanuel. Immanuel is a word that means, “God with Us”.

That means then that it’s a season of expectation and preparation, with an opportunity to align ourselves with God’s presence more than just the hectic season of presents. So, wherever you are on your own spiritual journey, I invite you into this season. It’s a time that allows for questions and struggle as we take time to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming.

In the darkness, in the pain, in the chaos, he comes. And he makes a way and he brings us hope. God with us means hope. That’s the way God has been working throughout history. You see, back in the beginning, in the way God intended this creation, he walked freely and openly with Adam and Eve. He was with us, and humanity enjoyed wholeness and intimacy with God.

But you know the story. Adam and Eve chose sin. Separation divided God and humans. As a result, the brokenness of our world that we know far too well is the ongoing reality.

But do you realize that ever since, God has been working toward restoration and healing and wholeness for us and all he has made? This is the overarching story of the Bible. Throughout the scriptures, we can see God making a way and giving and reminding his people of the hope that he is still at work. We see it in God’s covenant with Abraham, then called Abram: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:3

When God encountered Jacob at Bethel, he renewed that covenant and reinforced the hope rooted in his faithfulness: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” – Genesis 28:15

But much time passed, years and generations and centuries, and we humans are an impatient breed, aren’t we? Stand in line at McDonalds for more than five minutes and we think we’re living with a bunch of barbarians.

Culturally, we Canadians don’t seem to understand the concept of delayed gratification, do we? We want everything now without waiting for it. Which is why so many, experience so much stress with credit cards maxed out and bankruptcies common place. Fast food delivered quickly is the norm and we want it faster so we call uber eats or skip the dishes.

And a child in the car heading to vacation is the worst! When we’d go on vacation as a child, I’m sure I drove my dad crazy by asking repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” But we’re not the only people in history who lived impatiently. “Are we there yet?” was the cry of the ancient Israelite people too.

From the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to David, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the many other prophets, there was a cyclical repeating of history, with devotion to God one time and neglect of God the next. There was prosperity and there was recession, feast and literal famine, pleasure and pain.

But through it all, there was a deep and ongoing longing for God to fulfill his covenant and his promise of a Messiah, who would come to make everything right. And in their hearts, they would impatiently ask, Is he here yet? This wasn’t just a happy idea that drifted in and out of the Israelites’ consciousness and culture – this was a deep hope, their deepest hope, that sustained them and encouraged them and spurred them on, especially through thousands of years of uncertain waiting.

And in the midst of that long journey of hope, the prophet Isaiah became a voice of hope. Seven hundred years before Jesus, Isaiah gave us beautiful words that ring with hope for the coming Messiah. Listen to some of these. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”

And Isaiah 9:1-2, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan – The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned”

A little later in the same chapter, Isaiah wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” – Isaiah 9:6-7

Can you imagine living in an ancient world, well before the time of tiktok, or FB or Television, or YouTube and even before written information became common place, and hearing a message like that? Can you imagine the hope that would spring up in the hearts of the people?

Did Isaiah understand all of these messages and promises? On some level, yes, but on others, probably not. He sure didn’t know God’s time line for when it all would happen and when the Messiah would come.

Perhaps Isaiah thought it would be in his lifetime, or maybe he somehow knew that God’s work stretched for generations and generations. Either way, Isaiah was filled with hope, and God’s promises fueled him and his people to continue to hope for years and even centuries.

In Luke 1, we see a priest named Zechariah who would have been well acquainted with the words and prophecies of Isaiah. And he would have most certainly held deep longings for the Messiah who had been promised. Zechariah was one of those who would have asked, “Is he here yet?” That’s because he had a hope for the future.

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple since his priestly division was on duty that week. There were twenty-four priestly divisions who would each serve in the temple only twice a year for one week each time. And as was the custom of the priests, a member of their order was chosen by lot to enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the temple, and burn the incense.

Apparently, that meant then that any single priest might have only had one chance in their whole lifetime to actually enter the holy of holies to burn incense since only one priest was allowed in at a time. If anyone else, priest or commoner, not chosen and thus considered unworthy were to enter, the presence of the Lord would kill them instantly.

In this particular case, Zechariah must have thought he won the lottery because he was chosen through the casting of the lots. Casting lots was a method used by the Jews of the Old Testament and even by the Christian disciples prior to Pentecost to determine the will of God.

Lots could be sticks with markings or stones with symbols, or something similar, which were thrown into a small area and then the result was interpreted. Proverbs says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” – Proverbs 16:33

So, even though Zechariah might have thought he got the luck of the draw, it’s important to remember that it was actually God who caused the lots to choose Zechariah because he was orchestrating something amazing.

 Luke 1:11-22 tells us about this something amazing being orchestrated. In that passage we see that Zechariah was shocked when suddenly, out of the blue, God drops a megadose of hope into his world, not just for him, but also for the people of Israel. Problem was of course that Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were old. Too old to have kids.

So, when Zechariah received this special angelic delivery, he was a little bit in shock, to say the least. And he couldn’t quite get over this part about him and his old wife having a child. “Who me? Uh, we’re old, God. That’s not possible”. As a result of Zechariah’s push back to the angelic message, God made sure he remained literally speechless until his son, John, was born.

This was certainly an inconvenience, but can you imagine the hope that sprang up within this couple and the people around them when they heard this news? The old prophecies are about to be fulfilled!

The one prophesied to come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah, is coming! God is moving to restore hope that he is still here – that the human expression of God with Us is still coming. Hope on earth at its deepest levels was alive again!

Maybe some of you are thinking, That’s all fine and dandy for those people thousands of years ago, but what about for us? What about for me? They weren’t fighting cancer. Their spouse wasn’t killed fighting in a war on the other side of the world – or didn’t walk out on them. They didn’t lose their job with no warning, with bills to pay and debts stacking up and kids expecting Christmas presents, not to mention meals on the table. And COVID wasn’t even a thing then.  

But no matter what kind of problems and struggles you’re facing right now, no matter what kind of season of darkness and pain you are in, let me encourage you not to abandon hope.

Hope is still alive, even in our deepest pain and most hopeless circumstances. Hope is alive because God is with us. How can we know? How can we find that tiny spark of hope when we’re on the verge of giving up?

No matter what kind of circumstances we are facing, the first is that we can have a hope based on God’s word.

Hope Based on God’s Word

Part of the gift of God with Us is the written word that he has left us. These are his promises to his people – both long ago and today. They are beacons of hope. They are reminders that can penetrate our hearts and spirits and assure us that no matter what we are facing, no matter how bleak tomorrow looks, no matter how bad the pain, God will never leave us or forsake us. And nothing can separate us from him.

You are not alone. God with Us means that he always will be with us, and nothing – nothing – can take that away. Scripture is filled with stories and words and promises that can rekindle a supernatural hope within us.

As we move through Advent, let me encourage you to dig into the words of the Bible expectantly. Because God is with us, we can take hope that we are never alone, that he is always working in and among us, and that he isn’t done yet with his greatest and final work of healing.

The second way we can rekindle hope is to put our focus on God’s character – on who he is and promises to be.

Hope Based on God’s Character

In Mark 5 there’s a great story of hope. For twelve years, the woman in the story had been slowly bleeding to death. No one had been able to help her. Doctors had tried, but her condition had only grown worse. And this condition would have affected everything about her, every day of her life. Those of you with long-term illnesses can probably relate.

But she had heard about this Jesus – the stories, the miracles, the healings – and she believed. And because of that, hope awoke inside of her. And the hope of healing – of a new life, drove her to act.

And so, she did what she could just to get close enough to Jesus and reach out. And when she did, Jesus connected with her deeply and directly and intimately, as God with Us.

This is our God. This is his character. Jesus is God with Us, fulfilling Israel’s hope for the Messiah when he arrived that first Christmas. He fulfilled humanity’s hopes for victory over death when he was resurrected that first Easter. And one day he will ultimately fulfill all hope and complete God’s work of restoration for all creation when he returns.

‘Finally, the third way we can find and take hold of hope is by focusing on God’s faithfulness.

Hope Based on God’s Faithfulness

Let me ask you, how has God been at work in your life? You know those times when you had no doubt he was there and he was working. Maybe it’s been recently or maybe it’s been a long time ago. But you still remember that in those circumstances swirling around you, the presence of God’s Spirit was with you. But what does that have to do with hope? What do those memories have to do with the here and the now?

Listen to these words from Jeremiah found in Lamentations, a book most of us may not spend too much time reading. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:21-22

Jeremiah understood that there is hope in the future when we remember what God has done in the past. Hope grows and spreads like a living thing. It can dwindle and diminish and, yes, even die. But with nurture and care, it can be revived and flourish and multiply. And when we focus on gratitude because of what God has done in the past, it can renew and grow our hope today.

Even during these times of COVID restrictions, where many are not able to spend Christmas with loved ones. Where churches aren’t able to gather, where jobs have been lost. Even for those who have seen loved ones pass away and so only have memories of Christmas past, we still have a hope in the future. Recognizing and appreciating the good that God has shown us in the past will increase our hope for all he will do in the future.

Let me encourage you by reminding you, that no matter what the circumstances of life look like and no matter what we’re facing, know that God with us means Hope. And we can hope because his word tells us we can. And we can hope because God’s Character promises we can. And we can hope because God’s faithfulness guarantees we can.

Quit Trying to Live Like A Super Christian

A short time ago, I, along with my family, watched the movie Avengers: Endgame. As we watched we all cheered the Avengers on hoping and waiting for the forces of good to overcome the forces of evil. For the evening at least, these superheroes captured our imaginations and our hearts. Then we went to bed.

Why are we so enamored with superheroes? At least our culture seems to be even if you as an individual aren’t. I think it’s because it’s in the superhero stories where we see good always winning over evil, where people are saved from horrible fates and bad guys always get punished.

Superheroes give us hope in a world where we are bombarded by bad news and sadness.

Superheroes give us hope in a world where we are bombarded by bad news and sadness. But also, the truth is that they are just so cool. Try wearing spandex and look good at the same time. For most of us that is utterly impossible, but these superheroes always look amazing and so downright cool.

But superheroes aren’t real. They’re a fantasy. That’s why when we see someone dressed up like Spiderman we know that he or she is either heading to a party or they’re half a puck short of a goal. And if they really thought they were Spiderman, well then, we’d know for sure that they are unbalanced in their minds. That’s because we know that superheroes don’t exist.

How come then, when it comes to the Christian life so many try to be super heroes in the Christian realm? I don’t mean the hero who saves people from death, Jesus did that on the cross already. Rather I’m talking about the self-acclaimed Super Christian who comes across as better than everyone else, as someone who is out to single handedly fight the evil they see in every corner.

Truth be told, no one wants to know a Super Christian. And just like the super heroes of Marvel & DC, they aren’t real. And we know this because too many of us have grown up in broken homes. Too many of us have been disoriented by tragedy in our lives. Too many of us have lost faith in cultural institutions, including the church. Too many of us have grown up wondering if anyone really cares about us.

There is no such thing as a ‘Super Christian’. They are fake, yet we have all been hurt by people wearing those labels. What we are all longing for is to enter into relationships with people who are not just shiny and pretty on the outside, wearing the correct clothes and cutting their hair just right, appearing to be ‘all that’. Instead we are looking for those who are real and authentic with the life that God has given them, as messy as it may be.

But here’s the thing. Too many of us, if not all of us at some point or another try to be that Super Christian. We do that in the way we’ve struggled to ‘prove’ our worthiness before God.

I’m not interested in showing you how to be a better person. Nor am I interested in showing you how to be a good or even great Christian. And I’m certainly not interested in helping someone become a Super Christian. What I am interested in is showing you how to give your life over to Jesus so that he can change you and live through you.

Because unless he does the changing and unless he does the living through us, we’ll never get this Christian life thing down and we’ll never be free to live the life we we’re created to live. Which is accepting the gospel as a part of our life. The gospel or the good news that we can live a life free from the penalty of sin, free from the power & hold of sin, and ultimately free from the presence of sin.

Paul said in Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” – Galatians 5:1-5

To Paul and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, understanding the true gospel is vital to living the Christian life because without understanding what it means to be a real Christian by embracing the true gospel, we end up living lives that are angst driven.

But when we understand and embrace true Christianity, and understand what the gospel is really about, it frees us up from the anxiety of religiosity, and the angst of trying to prove our worth before God, other people and ourselves, of trying to be a super Christian. It’s only when we understand the gospel for what it really is that we can be free from anxiety.

We can be free from anxiety

The surface issue, which threatened to divide the church, was circumcision. There were forces in the Jerusalem church who taught that circumcision was necessary to be in church fellowship. Paul described them as “false brothers,” who were brought in to bring them into “slavery.” What does he mean by slavery? He means that by making circumcision necessary for salvation, the false teachers were dragging the church back to adherence of a system of laws.

According to them we all needed to keep all of the Torah that contains 613 specific regulations & commandments. And you’d keep them if you really wanted to be a disciple of Jesus’ and really wanted to prove your worthiness to be saved and approved by God. How hard would that be? To keep track of them all – let alone do them all, you needed to be some sort of Super Christian. And we already know that there are no Super Christians because following all those rules and regulations are impossible for any human to do.

So, Paul’s argument was that we didn’t have to keep trying to fulfill the law anymore because God knew we couldn’t do it. Paul pointed out that God was doing a brand-new work that superseded all of the old rules and relationships. Most of us would agree with Paul, and we look back at these false teachers causing problems in the early church and we tsk tsk them.

I wonder how often we unconsciously add “extras” to the gospel message? 

But I wonder how often we unconsciously add “extras” to the gospel message? Extras that make us think that we can earn God’s favour by affirming certain teachings, following prescribed rituals, dressing or acting a certain way, listening to and singing the right music, speaking the right lingo, or avoiding taboo behaviour  And sometimes we get to the point where we smugly believe that we are better Christians because we don’t do this or that thing.

It’s like we think that the motto to live by is; I don’t smoke & I don’t Chew & I don’t associate with them that do! But anyone who trades freedom in Christ for a set of rules or a list of does and don’ts so that they can be considered a better Christian or a “Super Christian” is in reality accepting the handcuffs of spiritual slavery.

It’s so important to get the gospel right. That’s because the true gospel provides freedom, not slavery. Before we were in Christ, before we became a follower and disciple of Jesus’, we were in slavery to sin; now we are free in Christ from being forced to observe what often amounts to incidentals. Those activities we hold onto will not save us, and in the end, it is like being chained to the law. If we base our salvation and standing before God in a list of do’s and don’ts, we will grow very tired very fast.

Tim Keller, in his book Galatians For You, refers to this as emotional freedom, and says that when we apply a list of rules and regulations to the gospel it can become an “endless treadmill of guilt and insecurity.”Paul’s concern for the Galatians was to get the gospel right so that they could live in freedom. This needs to be my concern daily. It needs to be the concern of every Christian man or woman.

Promoting a gospel with extras is no gospel at all, and in the end, it robs us of the joy and freedom in Christ that is ours through his sacrifice and by becoming a part of Christ, united to Jesus as a disciple of his. We only can become filled with increasing anxiety, when living the old way of trying to justify our existence by our own work.

Union with Christ tells us, “you have died to yourself”. Which means that you’ve died to the angst that comes from feeling like you’re not allowed to fail, or to the feelings of inadequacy that come from feeling like you have. To those questions “Am I significant? Have I done enough? Am I accepted?” the answer is “Your life is now hidden (united) with Christ in God” – Colossians 3:1

This is the beautiful, biblical truth of justification. You no longer have to justify your life. You don’t have to worry, like Jay Gatsby in the story the Great Gatsby, about others thinking you’re a nobody. Christ marries himself to you and in a wonderful exchange, you give him all your sins, and he gives you all of his righteousness. It’s like he says to you and me “My life is perfect, right? Well yours isn’t. How would you like to trade?” The good news is that Jesus offers his life for those who are willing to turn from their own imperfect life and embrace his perfect one.

It’s like he says to you and me “My life is perfect, right? Well yours isn’t. How would you like to trade?”

In Christ, you are significant – ‘he’ makes you so. In Christ, you are secure. In Christ, you are accepted. But that acceptance no longer has to be earned or maintained; it is granted by grace and guaranteed in Christ. This doesn’t mean you stop working, but it does mean you now work in a totally new way. You no longer work for approval; you work from approval.

 American Idol was one of the most popular television shows of all time, and for the contestants, one of the most nerve wracking. A single missed note could cost you the competition, but winning could change the course of your life. At the end of each season, when the contest was over and the winner had been crowned, she or he took up the microphone and sang one more time. But it was no longer singing to win; it was singing because they’d won.

It was no longer a contest. They had nothing more to prove or earn. Instead, the chosen and honoured performer could sing with all his or her heart, delighting in their gifts for the benefit of others. That’s the freedom from anxiety the gospel gives.

You, dear Christian, have already been chosen and crowned in Christ, so now you can do what you do with all your energy, delighting in whatever gifts God has given you for the benefit of serving others. That is living life knowing you don’t need to be the hero, super or otherwise. That is living life without anxiety.

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

It’s that time of year once again, when the air gets crisper, the days get shorter, and for many young Canadians the excitement grows in anticipation of the darkest, spookiest holiday of the year – Halloween

I was raised in a home where it seemed that there was a lot of confusion about whether or not Christians should participate in Halloween. One year we were allowed to participate, the next my parents would feel convicted that we should burn all candy, the next we were allowed to participate as long as we only trick-or-treated at people’s homes we knew, the next we’d burn candy again.

I’m exaggerating somewhat of course, however the conversations, debates and questions kept being discussed and asked year after year in our home – “How should Christians respond to Halloween?” “Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat?” “What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season – are they overreacting?”

The Pagan Origin of Halloween

The name “Halloween” comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. “All Hallows Eve” was eventually contracted to “Hallow-e’en,” which became “Halloween.”

As Christianity moved through Europe it collided with indigenous pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pagan holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be a stumbling block to their faith.

To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively Christian holiday to a spot on the calendar that would directly challenge a pagan holiday. The intent was to counter pagan influences and provide a Christian alternative. But most often the church only succeeded in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual – the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That’s what happened to All Saints Day – it was the original Halloween alternative!

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major celebrations were marked by the seasons. At the end of the year in northern Europe, people made preparations in order to ensure winter survival by harvesting the crops and culling the herds. Life slowed down as winter brought shortened days and longer nights (darkness), fallow ground, and death. The imagery of death, symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the colour black, remains prominent in today’s Halloween celebrations.

The pagan Samhain festival (pronounced “sow” “en”) celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days – October 31 to November 2. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living – ghosts haunting the earth.

Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead. They sought “divine” spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations, and even romantic prospects. Bobbing for apples was one practice the pagans used to divine the spiritual world’s “blessings” on a couple’s romance.

For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and the thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper send-off with treats – possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably “treated” would “trick” those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiplied if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime.

Early Christian converts found family and cultural influence hard to withstand; they were tempted to rejoin the pagan festivals, especially Samhain. Pope Gregory IV reacted to the pagan challenge by moving the celebration of All Saints Day in the ninth century – he set the date at November 1, right in the middle of Samhain.

As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. On the one hand, pagan superstitions gave way to “Christianized” superstitions and provided more fodder for fear. People began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were demons and the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. On the other hand, the festival time provided greater opportunity for revelry. Trick-or-treat became a time when roving bands of young hooligans would go house-to-house gathering food and drink for their parties. Stingy householders ran the risk of a “trick” being played on their property from drunken young people.

Today Halloween is almost exclusively a secular holiday, and many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. That’s not to say Halloween has become more wholesome. Children dress up in entertaining costumes, wander the neighborhood in search of candy, and tell each other scary ghost stories; but adults often engage in shameful acts of drunkenness and debauchery.

How should Christians respond?

First, Christians should not respond to Halloween like superstitious pagans. Pagans are superstitious; Christians are enlightened by the truth of God’s Word. Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year; in fact, any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God has forever “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross of Christ and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them through [Christ]” (Colossians 2:15).

Second, Christians should respond to Halloween with cautionary wisdom. Some people fear the activity of Satanists, but the actual incidents of satanic-associated crime are very low. The real threat on Halloween is from the social problems that attend sinful behavior – drunk driving, pranksters and vandals, and unsupervised children.

Like any other day of the year, Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian young people would be wise to stay away from most secular Halloween parties since many are breeding grounds for trouble (use discernment). Christian parents can protect their children by keeping them well-supervised and possibly restricting treat consumption to those goodies received from trusted sources.

Third, Christians should respond to Halloween with gospel compassion. The unbelieving, Christ-rejecting world lives in perpetual fear of death. It isn’t just the experience of death, but rather what the Bible calls “a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume [God’s] adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are not terrifying; God’s wrath unleashed on the unforgiven sinner – now that is truly terrifying.

Christians should use Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination – death imagery, superstition, expressions of debauched revelry – as an opportunity to engage the unbelieving world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given everyone a conscience that responds to His truth (Romans 2:14-16), and the conscience is the Christian’s ally in the evangelistic enterprise.

Christians should take time to inform the consciences of friends and family with biblical truth seasoned with salt (grace & love) regarding God, the Bible, sin, Christ, future judgment, and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ.

How might Christians engage?

There are several different ways Christians might engage in Halloween. Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities- listening to ghost stories and colouring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives. That response naturally raises eyebrows but can provide a good opportunity to share the gospel to those who ask (1 Peter 3:15).

Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals” – the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.

Finally, some Christians will opt for a limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. The good news is that there is no burning candy here. After all there’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbours. Even handing out candy to neighbourhood children (please don’t be stingy) can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behaviour does not dishonour Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

Ultimately, participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience before God. Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, you must honour God by keeping yourself separate from the world and by showing grace, mercy and love to the culture we live in. Halloween provides the Christian with the opportunity to accomplish those things in the gospel. What better time of the year is there to share such a message of hope than Halloween?