Encouragement From The Word

Keep your eyes on Jesus

Have you ever looked up the definition of the term ‘debacle’?  Loosely defined, it’s a great big failure.

It seems we don’t need to look very far these days to find an illustration for that!

On both sides of the border, politics is providing its share of debacles.  Organizations are seeing leadership debacles. Companies are seeing economic debacles.

Where can we turn to find something better?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas.  Your strength comes from God’s grace” (Hebrews 13.8-9a, NLT).

Too often, as followers of Jesus, we are easily drawn in to all the troubles of the world.  Indeed, we should be active in the world, and pray for the world, but we should keep our eyes on Jesus, on whom we can depend all the time.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12.1b-2a, NLT).

Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good, but likewise, don’t be so earthly minded that you lose sight of heaven.

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Encouragement From The Word

A spiritual problem

It’s hard to avoid the reality, when one watches the news, that there are political problems in the world.  Of course, our neighbour to the south, the United States, is getting a lot of press about these things lately, with hearings going on around the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice.

But one tweet I read yesterday reminded me that the problems are not political. They’re spiritual.

The root of all problems in our world today are spiritual.  If people followed the way of Jesus, made clear for us in Scripture, those problems would cease to exist.

We all know that’s difficult; after all, the apostle Paul told the church in Rome that “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3.23, NLT).  But we can’t let the reality of human sinfulness become a crutch that makes us shrug our shoulders and leaves us saying that this is just how we are.  God invites us to be better than that, to be sanctified.

To be sanctified literally means to become holy.  It’s not the same as being sanctimonious, which is being holier than thou.  It’s not about being better than others, or giving the impression of being better than others.  Sanctification is a process, one that we submit ourselves to when we say ‘yes’ to Jesus’ work in drawing us closer to God through the blood of his cross.

It’s a process that is lifelong, and God invites us to journey with him toward the likeness of his Son.  Only when we commit ourselves to this journey, this process, will we be formed spiritually, and find that the spiritual problems (which get many other names) will wane.

While you’re at it, will you pray with me, that the Lord will draw people committed to being more like Jesus into political office?  “The System”, such as it is, has discouraged many Christ-followers from serving in municipal, provincial and federal politics.  But that realm needs God’s people as much as any other…maybe more.

Encouragement From The Word

Government by public opinion

Warning:  Today’s Encouragementis about as political as I’ll ever get.  I’m not looking for a debate.  I encourage you to consider the broader issue and what God’s Word has to say to that broader issue.  Thanks for reading.  JFL

Government by public opinion is almost never a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that we should ditch democracy; after all, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”  I think it’s good that the people should elect their governments; I’m blessed to live in a country where that happens regularly.

But when that government, elected by me and many thousands of others, decides to rule by public opinion, we are in trouble.  Big trouble.

Take, for example, the report that came out earlier this week that the public health department in the city of Toronto believes that all drugs for personal use should be decriminalized.  Why do they believe this?  They say that the city’s current policy regarding drugs is not working, and furthermore, they say that a public health consultation has indicated that in general, people favour decriminalization.

Now, personally, I think this is a dangerous idea (that carries a dangerous precedent with it), but let’s set aside the issue of drug decriminalization, and look instead at the principle of government by public opinion.  Why is it such a bad idea?  After all, if the people elect the government, shouldn’t the government do the people’s bidding?

In theory, at least, we elect people to public office to govern us because we believe they have the necessary gifts, talents, skills, and wisdom to undertake the task.  And when a majority of the people in a given geographical area share that opinion, individuals are elected.  At the federal and provincial levels, at least, a particular party is declared to be the governing party when a majority of its representatives are elected by the voters.  We then entrust the responsibility of governing to these people.

When a government decides to legislate based on opinion polls and consultations – particularly on issues of morality – that government to which we entrusted responsibility then abdicates its responsibility to do what it discerns is best for the people.  Instead, it does what the people want…and in this fallen, sinful world, that’s not always what’s best for them.

Imagine if your family ran like that?!  If you and your spouse decided to do public consultations with your toddlers on what they should eat, when they should go to bed, whether or not they should look both ways before crossing the street, etc., how does that demonstrate responsibility for your children – and love for them?

In theory at least, the government is supposed to be the parent, and we are supposed to be the children.  That certainly seems to work when it comes to the Canada Revenue Agency; why not in other areas?

The Bible says, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God…. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13.1, 4, NLT).

Of course, some will cite National Socialism in Germany in the 20th century as a “but” to that passage, yet we cannot let our interpretation of the Scriptures be based on exceptions.  The Nazi regime was a notable exception, but it is an exception.  In general, governments (even harsh ones, as in the context in which the apostle Paul wrote Romans 13) are put in place for us to follow, not for the government to follow us.

Pray for your elected officials at all levels. Pray that God will give them wisdom and strength to do the hard work of governing placed before them.  Write to your elected officials; encourage them to make hard decisions that they believe will benefit society.  If you think they make the wrong decisions, let them know at the next election!  But let’s not tie the hands of government by suggesting that they should rule based on public opinion.

Above all, pray for the salvation of your elected officials.  Pray that these people will have a life-changing encounter with the living God, made known in Jesus Christ!  Imagine what God could do with a government composed of Spirit-filled men and women who want what God wants for your city, province or nation?

Encouragement From The Word

Lessons for the rest of us from the election of Pope Francis

In case you missed it, the Roman Catholic Church has a new leader as of this week.  Pope Francis is the first pontiff from the Americas, and he has been received with great joy.  From this, there is a lesson for us.

Our Roman Catholic friends are a devoted bunch.  The vigils that took place outside the Vatican as people awaited the white smoke billowing from the pope-selection-white-smoke_65226_600x450chimney of the Sistine Chapel brought people for as far as the eye could see.  And once that white smoke came, there was jubilation – even before they knew the identity of the new pope.  Folks were excited to know that their church had a new leader.

What makes this all the more amazing, from a democratic perspective, is that these folks are showing so much joy at the election of a leader over whom they had no say whatsoever.  And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.

The lesson for us, I think, is multifold.  First, trust the process.  There is very little that’s democratic about the Roman Catholic Church; it doesn’t pretend otherwise.  It’s a top-down system of church government, and the major decisions are made by high-ranking clergy.  The decision over who would be made pope was made by 115 men (cardinals) who themselves have been papal appointees over the years.  And their decision-making process was one that, they trusted, was guided by the Holy Spirit.  Of course, we don’t know what went on in the conclave; but if 115 cardinals can decide, reasonably quickly, that one of their number should become the next pope, there must be something to be said for the process.

Second, trust the deciders.  There were people in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto who prayed for their pastor, Cardinal Thomas Collins, every day from the time he left for Rome, that his decision, and that of the other cardinals, would be Spirit-led.  And once the decision was proclaimed, no one doubted the sanity or opinion of these decision makers.  They accepted it with joy.

Third, support the leader.  Because the people trusted the process and trusted the deciders, it became easy to support the leader.  True, there may be those who had been hoping, maybe even praying, that someone else would be elected.  But nobody is jumping up and down, making a fuss over the election of a new pope.  They are rejoicing with the decision that was made, and celebrating with their fellow Roman Catholics that the Lord has guided the process of choosing a new leader.

What does this mean for us?  It can apply in our politics, and in our churches.

In our politics, the lesson is that once a leader is chosen, through whatever democratic process we have, we support the leader…even if that person’s politics are not the same as ours.  Of course, there is always room for opposition, but it is always, in Canadian parlance, loyal opposition.  (Granted, that loyalty, in context, is to the Crown, but as the one who leads on the Crown’s behalf, there is an implied loyalty that comes even amid asking difficult questions.)  Too often, at least in North American politics, the opposition (both official and unofficial) has become cruel and personal in recent years.  This is not helpful to the cause of governance, nor to the cause of the Gospel that we followers of Jesus seek to live out.  Once the leader is chosen, be supportive.

(I know, I know.  Hitler was duly elected.  But can we call a spade a spade and say that the situation surrounding the Third Reich was an exception rather than normative?)

In our churches, the lesson is that once a leader is chosen, through whatever democratic process we have, we support the leader.  Sound familiar?  The same concept applies.  In my tribe, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the congregation is asked the following question at the induction of a new pastor:  “Do you receive N to be your minister as from Christ?”  That’s a pretty serious question.  If we believe that our leader has been chosen through a divinely anointed process, and that the Lord Jesus is personally bringing this person into our midst as a leader, it stands to reason that we should support him or her – even when we have disagreements with that leader.  That applies to your elders and deacons, too.

This doesn’t mean we can’t air our grievances; what it does mean is that we air our grievances respectfully.  In Christian circles, that means following the principles that Jesus set out for us, particularly in Matthew 18.15-17:   If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (NIV).

The unity of the church for which Jesus prayed (and still prays) will become more real the more we joyfully and prayerfully support our church leaders.  I’m blessed to serve a congregation that offers joyful and prayerful support to its leaders, and I hope you do, too.