Shine!

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At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:1-3)

People are often surprised to learn that the Old Testament doesn’t have a lot to say about what happens after we die. It’s not silent on the issue, but there’s not a lot of detail either. That’s one of the things that makes this passage from the Book of Daniel, written about four hundred years before the coming of the Messiah, so important. For it refers to the resurrection of the dead, which is a uniquely biblical understanding of the afterlife. The way a lot of people talk about it, however, one would think we simply believed that after we died, we are going to float around in heaven with the angels, rather than live forever in the presence of God physically on a renewed earth. But that’s not the topic I want to address. We’re going to look at purity. You might be wondering what in the world does this passage have to do about purity. In verse three we see an aspect of what God’s people will be like in the age to come: “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Those who are right with God through personal and sincere faith in Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah are going to shine and shine big. If you are truly his child, that’s God’s end-goal for you no matter how dull you may be now. Whatever stains you are struggling to remove from your life now, you’re gonna shine! You can count on it.

It’s amazing how expectations affect us. When we are convinced that something is going to happen, then we act as if it will. Convinced you’re going to fail? You probably will. But if you’re convinced you’re going to succeed, it makes all the difference. And with Yeshua, you’re going to succeed with regard to purity. So let’s play like winners.

But this purity thing is no game; it’s a battle. It can be really hard to live godly lives. Lives that shine now. And we don’t just have an opponent, we have an enemy. But with God the impossible is possible. We can do this thing, because not only will we be fully and absolutely pure one day, but because the power that will bring about that future reality is at work in us right now.

We are not alone in this process. Being a follower of the Lord is not a self-help program. The Bible is not a bunch of pointers on how to improve your life, as in a “Just get with it”, sort of thing. He promised to be with us each and every day—every moment of every day to lead us, to teach us, and to pick us up when we fall. He’s the master trainer, using all sorts of tools at his disposal to train us in godliness. And discipline isn’t simply doing things to us, but a process to enable us to do what we should do. So while purity is our certain destination, and God is with us in the process, we need to cooperate with that process. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 reads: “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Note the connection with the resurrection.

Even though we need to work hard at purity, the power to do it doesn’t come from ourselves, but from God. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes to a community of believers who really knew the Lord, but they lacked understanding of the spiritual resources they had at their disposal. So Paul takes time to share with them what he has been praying for them. I want to point out the results Paul expected:

that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 18b-21)

My bank’s slogan is “You are richer than you think!” That’s what Paul is saying. You and I have far more spiritual resources at our disposal than we think. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us. If that power can raise the dead, there’s nothing in our lives that God’s power can’t overcome: no addiction, no compulsion, no weakness. I know it often doesn’t feel like that. But what do our feelings have to do with the reality of the power of God?

So purity is our destination, God is with us in the process, and his infinite power is at work in us. One more thing. In this fairly well-known passage, also from Paul, there’s something easily missed that relates to this subject:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

The process to the end-goal of purity (predestined, called, justified, glorified) is something God initiatives and accomplishes. We need to cooperate with the process but if it were up to us, we would be lost. That’s not my main point here, however. The end-goal of the process, “glorified” means to show forth visibly an internal reality, demonstrating the true character of something. It’s the shining we read of in Daniel chapter twelve. But notice its past tense, “those whom he justified he also glorified.” Paul isn’t saying here that those who are called by God and justified by him will one day in an eternal future be glorified. That’s true, but it’s also true that in a very real sense, due to what Yeshua has done for those who trust in him—the reality of our certain future when we will be absolutely pure, shining like the stars, is a reality now! God lives in us now. We can shine now. If only we would let him.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

Understanding Money God’s Way

Background from paper money of the different countries.

How we relate to finances arises from deep seated values in our hearts that we may or not be aware of. We all have a way of looking at the world—a worldview. How we live, including our relationship to money, is an expression of that worldview. As I grew up, I was taught, “Money makes the world go round.” No wonder it was the cause of what seemed to be incessant bickering between my parents.

It seems to me that many people, believers included, agree that our lives depend on money. It’s one thing to say we believe God runs the world, it’s another for that truth to work its way into our hearts. It’s been a struggle for me; it may be a struggle for you.

Let’s look briefly at some passages that will help us formulate a godly and effective perspective on finances. The very first verse of the Bible reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). God is the creator of all things. And because he is creator, he owns it all (see Genesis 14:24). And because he is the owner of everything, we’re not. If not, than what is our relationship to material things? Later in Genesis one, we read:

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (Genesis 1:26).

We have been appointed by God to be the stewards of the creation. And that goes for everyone, whether we believe in God or not. God has entrusted us with what he has made. We are responsible to watch over and care for everything on planet earth under God’s direction. Therefore, we should regard whatever we own as a gift and a privilege.

Next, let’s read Yeshua’s perspective on the subject:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:25-33).

Because we are not alone in the universe, but rather we have a loving, all-powerful Father, who not only made the universe, but owns it, we are not expected to provide for ourselves, which may seem like a crazy idea to you. Yeshua isn’t saying don’t work hard or don’t be responsible. He is addressing where our focus should be. Don’t focus on our material needs, including money, but rather focus on our responsibilities. God will take care of the rest. But what are our responsibilities? Yeshua tells us: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. But what’s that about? We are to focus on God’s rule and his ways. In other words, concentrate on doing what he wants you to do in everything, all the time, everywhere. Focus on God and his will. And he will take care of the rest. We have a Father who loves us and is committed to providing for us. We are not spiritual orphans.

I could tell so many stories of how at age nineteen, abandoned by my father, living on welfare with my mother, I began to be confronted by the reality of God regarding money—that I really did have a Heavenly Father who promised to take care of me. A wife and ten kids later, do I have stories to tell! But instead, by way of illustration, let me share one about someone else – a fellow student of mine when we were in Bible school together in Toronto many years ago. He was from an African country, and depended on the Lord for provision day to day. He had to go down to the consulate, I think it was, to deal with a visa issue. When an official asked him, “Who is providing for you?” He answered, “My father,” meaning God. Whether that was appropriate or not, he meant it. That’s how he lived. His unusual answer reflects the truth of how God calls us to view him, money, and life.

Understanding that material things are God’s concern, not ours, is so freeing. But that doesn’t mean, of course, we can blow all sorts of cash, since God is going to provide anyway. Seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness must also include how we manage the finances he provides. Remember, we’re his stewards. More than that! We are his children, that is if we have the kind of intimate relationship with him as Father like my friend did. If you don’t know God that way, but want to, contact me.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

Facing Difficulties

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Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Facing difficulties is something that often makes us question God, life, and ourselves. But as Peter writes, we shouldn’t be surprised by such things. The context of this verse is being insulted for being a follower of the Messiah. That’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. If we are truly children of God, then we are on the winning team, and while some people may resent that, we shouldn’t let that get us down.

But not all difficulties in life appear to be directly related to taking a stand for our faith. Difficult things just happen: Injuries, sickness, and so on. The little annoyances of life are better ignored; but what about those other bigger issues that are not so easily blown off?

Both Paul and James say that difficulties build character:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

This character building should not be understood as impersonal cause and effect. But rather God is personally involved in this process:

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrew 12:7-11).

The writer of Hebrews wants his readers to understand harsh difficulties in terms of God’s discipline. Discipline isn’t always punishment. A better word is “training.” And as everyone knows, good training is hard; even painful at times. It goes against our grain as it trains us to do something very different from what comes naturally to us.

It seems to me that God confronts me on issues in my life at the most inconvenient time; inconvenient to me, that is. But isn’t that how disciplinary training works? It happens on the trainer’s terms, not mine. It can be so frustrating to deal with my issues, especially when I am in the middle of acting out! But so what? God is disciplining us as a loving Father. Perhaps we would do well to cooperate with him when we get called out on things.

A lot of people say that the way we picture God is largely dependent on how we view our earthly fathers. I understand that. I have struggled with that myself. But from God’s perspective, that must be a huge rip off. Why should we base our understanding of anyone based on anyone else—let alone God! Some of us have had great fathers; others—not so much. But the way to know God is to get to know God for himself through his Word. And his Word tells us that his discipline is based on love beyond comparison and is 100% absolutely for our good.

Understanding God’s motive in using difficulties for our good, doesn’t automatically tell us how to respond to difficulty. Just because problems are thrown in our direction, that doesn’t mean we have to take it. One of the purposes of the Bible is to help us know how to deal with life effectively. Sometime we need to endure pain; other times we should avoid it; and other times confront it. Jesus said that if we are persecuted in one city don’t stick around, go to the next one (see Matthew 10:23). King David understood this. Before he was king, during the reign of King Saul, David suffered greatly due to Saul’s jealousy of him. One day Saul tried to kill David with a spear. But David, who so trusted God, didn’t think that it was God’s will for him to take the spear to his heart. He got out of the way. So we too need wisdom to know how to handle what’s thrown at us.

We shouldn’t be surprised when we face difficulties, it happens to everyone. If it’s for the Lord, learn to be happy about it. But whether it is or not, it benefits us more than we know. And let’s not forget that we always need God’s wisdom to know how to deal with what comes our way in life.

Now for the big question: Why do bad things happen? That’s the question no one seems to be able to answer, but I am going to try. First, some bad things are simply the result of living in a broken, sinful world. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, the world we live in is not what it should be. Evil has affected every area of life, and believers are not exempt from day-to-day, big-and-small problems. Sometimes this is the only explanation for difficulties.

Second, we are called to confront that evil. We are on the winning team, but we still have a game to play—a game of life & death (in know it’s not a game, but stay with me here). It’s difficult because the opposing side plays for keeps and has no problem playing dirty. This is a game of rescue in which we are called to bring God’s salvation and his blessing to the nations of the world. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we face opposition. If you are truly a follow of the Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, you are not a victim in this game. You are a victors. So let’s learn to play as victors.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

Emotions: An Essential Part of Who You Are

Last month I attempted to provide a biblical perspective on Disney’s hit movie, “Inside Out” (http://blog.alangilman.ca/2015/07/21/pixars-inside-out-a-biblical-perspective/). At that time I commended the film for how it effectively illustrated the value of a wide array of human emotions, including those that may be regarded as negative, sadness in particular. I went on to explain, however, a weakness in the film’s depiction of human psychology. While likely unintended by the writers, there’s an implication that we are victims of our feelings. My eleven-year-old son certainly got that impression. He heard me referring to how, in the Japanese version of the film, broccoli was replaced by green peppers, because in Japan they relate better to a child being repulsed by green peppers. But according to my son, Riley, the main character in “Inside Out,” wasn’t repulsed by the broccoli (green peppers, if you are in Japan), but rather it was the emotion of disgust that caused her to react that way.

In my attempt last month to correct the notion that we are nothing more than the result of our feelings, I wrote:

Whether or not you regularly experience a battle of emotions within you or you are one of the few who are emotionally balanced, your feelings are not you. You are called to be a child of God, whose identity can only be found in your Creator. You don’t have to be a slave to your emotions. If the Spirit of God lives in you, your emotions will serve you as you serve God.

A good friend of mine, who is also a psychologist, expressed concern over my statement, “your feelings are not you,” thinking I may have been detaching emotions from the human person. If my feelings are not “me,” then what are they? Are they separate from me? Are they illusionary? He and I worked this out over email. He is no longer concerned about what he perceived I was saying.

I would like to clarify what I really meant by “your feelings are not you,” just in case anyone else misunderstood me. But first, I’d like to mention something I realized through my discussion with my friend. I had failed to take into account how people, whole cultures in fact, relate to emotions differently. I grew up in a household where emotions flowed freely. My parents and brothers wore their emotions on their sleeves, on their faces, and every other part of their bodies, often leaving destructive traces of their presence everywhere. It wasn’t all negative, however. My family of origin was also passionately creative and engaging. Everyone was good at telling stories. We talked loud, we laughed loud, and we cried, even the men (actually in my case I had lost the ability to cry, until God restored to me the wonderful gift of tears. But that’s a story for another time). And so I grew up amidst a great deal of emotion. Tragically, too often those emotions were out of control and brought with them much grief. As for my wife, children, and me these past many years, I am glad to say that we have continued the legacy of expressed emotion, but without most of the grief. Not that we co-exist in perfect harmony, but the Lord has given us the grace to, for the most part, channel our various emotions in constructive ways. Forgiveness – something absent earlier in my life – really helps.

Not everyone is accustomed to an overly charged emotional environment as I am. So when I wrote, “your feelings are not you,” I didn’t have in mind people who have experienced the negative consequences of emotions, not from their overuse as I have, but from their underuse instead. Perhaps you were brought up to regard emotions with great suspicion to the point where feelings and desires were never to be indulged or trusted. Even now you may have a difficult time accepting that emotions are a vital part of you (my friend’s point) and that when properly understood, they are an essential aspect of effective living.

One aspect of my communicating an integrated, holistic understanding of the entire Bible is bringing to people’s attention bad filters we consciously or unconsciously have that prevent us from fully engaging the whole Bible. A misunderstanding of the role emotions play is one such filter. Regarding emotions as sinful in themselves cuts us off from much of what God has revealed in his Word. Joy, anger, disgust, fear, and sadness, the five emotions featured in “Inside Out” are all portrayed in the Bible at various times in a most positive light (I know there are more emotions than this, but I am trying to make a point). Here is a small sampling:

Joy: Adam’s being introduced to Eve for the first time (Genesis 2:23). The Israelites song after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18). Nehemiah’s statement about its importance (Nehemiah 8:10). Several Psalms (Psalms 30:11; 100:1-2; 126:3; etc.). Yeshua’s delight at God’s revelation to “little children” (Matthew 11:25). Paul’s command to rejoice (Philippians 4:4).

Anger: King Saul’s righteous anger (1 Samuel 11:6). Elisha’s words to the King of Israel (2 Kings 13:19). Yeshua’s indignation over the disciples preventing children from coming to him (Mark 10:14) and his cleansing of the temple (Mark 11:15-17). Paul’s confrontation of Peter’s compromise (Galatians 2:11) and his words to the Judaizers (Galatians 5:12).

Disgust: Those things which are an abomination (disgusting thing) to the Lord (Leviticus 18:22). The loathing of the faithless (Psalm 119:158; cf. 139:21), the “lukewarm” that Yeshua spits out of his mouth (Revelation 3:16).

Fear: Many references to fearing God (e.g. Psalm 111:10). Note: I am aware that people tend to reject the idea that fearing God includes an aspect of being afraid, but I think that the emotion of fear is more connected to reverence than we may realize.

Sadness: God himself grieves (Genesis 6:6-7). The prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1). Nehemiah was sad in the presence of the King resulting in a positive outcome (Nehemiah 2:1-8). Yeshua wept at Lazarus’s tomb (John 11:35). Paul was continually sad over the plight of his kinsmen, the Jewish people (Romans 9:1-3). And in the letter in which he calls for continuous joy, he also expresses sorrow (Philippians 2:27).

It would be most helpful to do an emotional study of Scripture. There are few passages that are devoid of feeling even though for some of us we may have to stop and carefully think about what we are reading in order to begin to sense the passion throughout. I doubt that it’s only because of my expressive emotional background that I make the claim: take out emotion from the Bible, and you have nothing left. You might point to supposed unemotional passages such as the genealogies. Maybe you don’t care, but there’s a lot of people out there who have a lot of emotion regarding family trees. And why not? Every name is a story, a link to the past, giving meaning to the present. Maybe if we grasped their importance, we would emote more over them. Remember that Paul needed to write to at least one group of believers and tell them to tone down their interest in genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4; Titus 3). And you might find the book of Leviticus boring, but it wasn’t so to the priests of old, who would have gotten into big trouble if they didn’t follow its directions carefully. They would have had feelings about that, not to mention how we would feel if we could only grasp its importance for understanding Yeshua’s sacrifice for us, which is perhaps the most emotional event in all history.

I hope I have made clear what might have been fuzzy last month: emotions are an essential part of us. But that doesn’t mean that we should define ourselves by our emotions. While our feelings may appropriately connect us to other people and our environment, allow us to express ourselves effectively, and be necessary outlets for the events of our lives, they were not designed to master us. Emotions are great when they are a reflection of reality, but they can be misinformed and misguided. Our need of the fruit of the Spirit called, “self-control” (Galatians 5:23), reminds us that there is something other than emotions that should be in the driver’s seat of our lives. The directive “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) implies that we can and should subjugate our emotions for the sake of others.

So don’t be confused. While “your feelings are not you,” they are yours, given to you by God as an aspect of being created in his image. Like every other part of creation, our emotions have been affected by sin. But if we have put our trust in Yeshua as Messiah and Lord, they are being renewed by him that we might learn to express ourselves as the holy children of God we really are.

Billions of Private Personal Thoughts Leaked to Web

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Disclaimer: The following is strictly satirical in nature, but the warning is real.

GlobeHackNews – August 20, 2015. New York, London, Tokyo, etc. Not to be outdone by the leak of millions of alleged users of extra-marital-affair web site, Ashley Madison, notorious hacker Natas has released a searchable database of the personal private thoughts of approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide. Natas claims to have had access to this information for some time, but only now has shouted it from the rooftops, so to speak. “Face your truth, #minions!” Natas tweeted at midnight GMT today.

Unlike the Ashley Madison affair, where some names and addresses may have originated from other parties, the ownership of each thought is verifiable, since the human brain is a fairly closed system. But some experts claim reason to doubt the database’s accuracy. “Natas is a master of deceit,” says Dan Isle, director of public affairs, Skeptics International. “He has made grandiose claims in the past. Everyone knows he has acute ego issues. He’ll do anything to get attention, and doesn’t care who he takes down with him.” Isle has a point, but when asked about his own plot to steal his best friend’s girlfriend during his high school prom twenty years ago, he refused comment.

“The cat is out of the bag,” says P. Astor Graceman, Senior Advisor, the Truth Company. “We knew it was only a matter of time before the thoughts of every man, woman, and child would be broadcast worldwide. We have issued warnings, encouraging everyone to take every precaution to guard their thought life. We just didn’t know it would happen so soon.” Asked if there is anything the public can do now that our deepest secrets have been exposed. “Absolutely!” says Graceman. “But remember, not all thoughts should be of concern. Much of what goes through our heads is fluffy nonsense. There’s lots of good stuff in there too. It’s only the bad stuff we need to be concerned about.”

What then can be done about the “bad stuff”? Graceman, suggests the following:

  1. Own up. Honesty is the best policy. Any attempt to cover up the truth will only make matters worse.
  2. Trust in Jesus the Messiah. The Son of God died for our wrongs, both the public ones and the very secret ones. There is nothing too terrible that his blood cannot cover.
  3. Wrong thoughts and wrong actions are ultimately offenses against God. If we confess to him, he will not only forgive us our wrongs, but cleanse us from their effect.
  4. Take inventory. Some thoughts are simply thoughts. Taking action is another matter. Where wrong thoughts have led to wrong actions, apologize to offended parties. Make restitution where possible.

Cautionary note: As a rule of thumb confession of wrongs should only be as public as the infraction. It is unadvisable to confess the details of secret thoughts to others. Doing so will only cause unnecessary damage. Take evil thoughts seriously. Start by taking them to God alone. If they are out of control, seek council from a pastor or counsellor.