Escaping the Ideological Snare

Artist's depiction of Job and his friends

“Job and his Friends.” Painting by Ilya Repin (1844–1930). Public domain

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. (Job 42:2-3; ESV)

In my desire to more fully understand and teach the Bible, I am keen to unearth the ways we approach Scripture that undermine its effectiveness. There are all sorts of popular misconceptions that stand in our way of being fully exposed to God’s Truth. I list nine of them in my first publication, “Undermining Forces” (book information available here). One reader asked me to write a fuller version outlining antidotes to each one. Good advice. Maybe I will one day, but I keep finding more, including this really big one I want to share with you now (and its antidote).

I don’t know how familiar you are with the Book of Job (pronounced like “robe” not “lob”). It’s part of the Old Testament’s wisdom literature. It is written primarily in poetical form, except for its introduction and conclusion, which are narrative (story-style). Job the man is very rich and genuinely pious, a quality God himself boasts about in his heavenly court. The Accuser (Hebrew: the satan) challenges God, claiming that Job’s piety is exclusively due to his wealth. Take his stuff away and he would certainly curse God to his face. God grants permission to the Accuser to wreak havoc upon Job’s life, as long as he doesn’t touch the man himself. Job then experiences a series of devastating disasters and is left destitute and childless. Yet he responds with humility and faith. The Accuser is not satisfied, however, and makes a case that as long as Job’s life itself is intact, then his continuing to love God is no big deal. God responds to this second challenge by allowing the Accuser to strike Job as long as he doesn’t kill him. Job’s suffering is the stage upon which the rest of the story is told.

Job’s body is in anguish, covered in boils, but he still refuses to curse God. Note that he doesn’t know about the heavenly contest that is at stake. All he knows is that he is suffering badly and for no apparent reason. Three friends of his come to sit with him. A whole week goes by in silence, and then Job finally speaks. He claims his plight is unjust. His friends don’t agree and take him to task. The latter arrival of a fourth friend bridges the debate away from Job and the others to God himself. God’s subsequent lengthy speech puts everyone in their place, but never explains what was going on behind the scenes. In the end, Job’s fortunes are restored.

The most common understanding of the Book of Job is that it is a treatment of the theological and philosophical problem, “Why do good people suffer?” That theme is certainly in the book. It’s an important and difficult question that the book handles ingeniously. But if Job is simply about unjust suffering, why all the speeches? Does it really serve this purpose to have the suffering virtuous man go on and on about his innocence? And then for him (and us) to hear his supposed friends also go on and on about why Job is wrong, that he must have done something to deserve this. Their accusations grow increasingly arrogant and misguided. Certainly, God’s appearance towards the end is a highlight, and the need to trust him in spite of appearances, no matter how dismal, is an essential lesson for all of us to learn. But is that it?

The real problem that Job and his friends have is one of the most common for both believers and non-believers today. And it seriously undermines any attempt to truly grasp Scripture in its fullness. The issue of unjust suffering in the story is functioning as an example of a much more encompassing problem. What is it? Our unwillingness to properly relate to things we don’t understand. What everyone, except for the heavenly gathering, didn’t know was what was going on. Job and the others, while dealing with the situation in different ways all had this in common. They believed that the world worked a certain way. For Job’s friends the only conceivable reason for what was happening to Job was that he was a bad guy. Even though they knew about his good reputation, and they had no evidence to the contrary, Job’s suffering could only mean he had seriously sinned. They had no room whatsoever to even consider that something outside their understanding was remotely possible. That’s why the more Job claimed innocence, the more they demonized him.

Job’s friends were in a philosophical box which they couldn’t get out of. Whether they understood the dynamics of this or not, they were deeply committed to a particular understanding of how life worked. It included a permanent filter through which to interpret human suffering that allowed no exceptions. The only way for them to cope with the pitiful sight before them was to continue to spout their ideology.

An ideology is “a comprehensive set of normative beliefs, conscious and unconscious ideas, that an individual, group or society has” ( In this regard, Job wasn’t all that different from his friends. He also believed that people suffer because of wrongdoing. However, a couple of factors were at play to release him from this ill-informed ideology. First, his integrity enabled him to not doubt himself. If he would have allowed the prevailing ideology to continue to determine his understanding of life, he may have forced himself to confess something – a twisted version of reality or something completely imaginary. If he would have done so, the ideology would have remained intact and the tension with his friends reduced. Second, he was indeed a faithful man of God. So, in spite of the confusion, he knew to go to God for answers. That he challenged God to a court battle he thought he could win, while misguided in some ways, at least demonstrated that in spite of his ideology, he knew deep down who was the only one who could rectify this terrible situation.

So much of the culture clash of today is a clash of ideologies. Don’t think for a second that Bible believers are immune. Far from it! I am not saying that Jesus followers are necessarily left- or right-wing ideologues, though that might be. It’s far more prevalent than we might think. However it might be said, it seems to me that many, if not most, believers define their faith, not in terms of Bible, but some sort of comprehensive theological, denominational, or philosophical set of principles, an ideology in other words.

But isn’t biblical Christianity an ideology – God’s ideology? Doesn’t God’s Word provide us with a comprehensive set of principles and a divinely oriented philosophy of life? Yes and no. Biblical truth is indeed sufficiently comprehensive. It provides us with everything necessary to live effective, godly lives. It sufficiently addresses every area of life. It establishes priorities, focus, and meaning. But is it an ideology? A book that’s daring enough to include Job is no ideology. Instead it undermines ideology. It reminds us that our systems of thought, no matter how comprehensive, supposedly helpful, and apparently biblical, have significant gaps. We often don’t know what those gaps are until we find ourselves in crisis. But when crisis comes, the Bible is clear – and not just based on the Book of Job – relying on our principles should never come before relying on God. If our Bible understanding doesn’t continually lead to us to dependency upon the Master of the Universe, it is seriously deficient.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to understand the Bible or avoid making theological assertions. It also doesn’t mean that we must avoid giving definition to our particular faith communities and affiliations. Definitions, clarifications, and policies need not be ideologies. If the Bible is our authority for faith and practice as it should be, then we need to allow it to challenge our convictions and preferences. Molding Scripture into our particular ideologies, however they came to be, however precious they are to us, blinds us to its truth. If we don’t approach it with the level of humility exemplified by Job, we will become more and more like his good-for-nothing, so-called friends.

The example of Job’s humility is not solely found in his repentant state near the end of the book but is demonstrated throughout his ordeal. Like Jacob, he too wrestled with God, refusing to let him go until he blessed him. Allowing ourselves to engage God on core issues can be very painful. Of those things we hold dear it isn’t always easy to discern what is of God and what is of ourselves. We shouldn’t shift and adjust our thinking every time a new idea in the name of the Lord comes along. But at the same time, do we need to wait for a Job-like experience before we submit our ideologies to God and his Word? It can be scary to lay down our ideologies, but the deepening reality of God that will be ours if we do is more than worth it.

Have You Been Validated?

Red validation stamp superimposed on male head silhouette

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

I was pleasantly surprised at the level of interest I received in last month’s article, Hiding in the Shadows. Many of us need to hear God’s call to emerge from the shadows of our shame and be the people he made us to be. I imagine a good many of us could identify the source of those things in our lives that restrict us from experiencing the “abundant life” Yeshua offers (see John 10:10). While we may struggle to be free, we understand, at least in our heads, that “the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) has done everything necessary to release us from shame’s oppression. That being the case, why do we continue to struggle? How could it be the “redeemed of the Lord” (Psalm 107:2) often find themselves pulled back into the shadows. Is the power of darkness stronger than we care to admit?

I would like to propose what I think is one of the main causes for our lack of freedom. It’s something underlying much of what I shared last month but didn’t take the time to explore. As I discussed in last month’s article, responding to God’s call is a call to reject misdirected shame. That’s the shame you or others put on you. These might be societal standards of beauty or success or the expectations of parents. You might even be suffering under impossible standards put in place by none other than yourself. Until we allow our lives to be seen through the lens of God’s standards alone, we will be manipulated by the harshest of taskmasters. I think most of us get that. We know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, feeling depressed because of our physical condition, level of intelligence, work position, who our friends are – the list goes on and on. We know we shouldn’t, but we do it anyway. But this is still not the root of unnecessary shame.

Beneath the surface of much or our unnecessary shame is a deep-seated suspicion about our humanness. We doubt our validity as human beings. This is the case for believer and unbeliever alike. The atheist’s and agnostic’s naturalistic, evolutionary sense of being is based on impersonal chance. While unbelievers may not identify their discomfort with self as shame per se, this profound lack tells them they are nothing more than cosmic accidents. Many believers don’t fare much better. What makes our shame of self so insidious is we don’t know we are doing it. This is because we have accepted the phony distinction between an ideal, supposedly real self and a substandard earthly, supposedly not-so-real, perhaps illusionary, physical self.

When God created human beings, making us in his image, what did he create? He didn’t create intangible, so-called souls, and stick them in disposable packages called bodies. He made people. And people are comprised of physical and spiritual aspects. And these aspects were not designed to be in tension. The problem with human physicality is not that it exists, but that it is tainted by sin, doomed to die due to the curse. But sin and the curse don’t only affect our bodies. The unseen aspects of our humanness are equally affected. And what aspects of our existence have been rescued and redeemed by the Messiah? Every aspect, including our bodies, will be transformed at the resurrection.

In spite of the grief our bodies give us and will continue to give us until Yeshua returns, they are part of God’s ingenious, intentional design. The human body is not a mistake. It is not substandard. It is not even a nuisance (or doesn’t have to be). Our physicality is our God-given interface with the real world. You may have never thought of this, but we engage the spiritual aspects of life through our bodies. We read and hear Scripture with our eyes and ears, we come to God through other human beings with whom we engage with our five physical senses. Even the activity that brings us into existence in the first place is a grand and good wonderous reflection of God’s grand design. Human physicality, including sexuality, is not something to endure, but to celebrate, as long as it is expressed within the boundaries of God’s Word. The reason why sexual sin is so serious and destructive is because it is a sin against our own body, which is to be the residence of God’s Holy Spirit.

The only way to glorify God in our bodies is to stop rejecting our physicality as a substandard, contra-spiritual, abnormality. Instead, accepting our whole self as God’s intentional design, our sin nature notwithstanding, we can begin to live out our lives to their greatest extent, free from unnecessary shame.

Life is a journey, not a destination – Really?

Young man walking away from camera in outdoor market

Sayings such as “Life is a journey, not a destination” are very appealing to those who value quality over quantity, process over accomplishment, and character over ability. These are people who remind us to “stop and smell the roses,” and we are human beings not human doings. You might think that’s exactly the Bible’s perspective. Doesn’t God care more about who you are than what you do? We may go as so far to conclude the Bible doesn’t value external, quantitative results at all.

But is that true? King David didn’t seem to think so. He was determined to take Goliath down. Noah before him didn’t think so either. In both cases, we know that their quality of life was foundational to the tasks at hand. David was called a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Noah “was a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9) Their character proceeded their God-given objectives. But it is an extreme and unhelpful overemphasis to claim that their lives were about the journey as opposed to the destination. The Messiah understood this as well. He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Yeshua was keenly aware of his life goals. He, like David and Noah, as well as almost every other godly example in the Bible, had a mission to accomplish.

There are certainly times for a reminder to not neglect internal, character issues and to learn how to appreciate process. In fact, there may be something in the fragrance of roses that is essential to your achieving your goals. We need to learn God’s life rhythms, which include time to study his Word, pray, rest, sleep, spend quality time with family and friends, and so on. It is right to remember that without godly character we will not likely achieve the kind of success that God prefers. But he does want success.

God’s written revelation addresses both the journey and the destination – the destination being more than our eternal future. While the Bible won’t tell you what your specific vocation is to be or where best to acquire your training, it clearly reveals God’s design for human activity. The better we understand his plans and purposes for people in general, the sooner we will be able to discern what our particular objectives should be.

The Bible is also clear that we are not on our own as we search for our life’s mission. Our heavenly Father longs to personally engage us and is more concerned than we are that we would discover what our objectives should be.

What you do with your life matters. It matters to God; it should matter to you. The journey to your destination may not be straightforward. In fact, I can almost guarantee that if you walk with God, you will experience all sorts of interesting twists and turns along the way. Learn your lessons as you travel on, but don’t forget the destination to which you are called.

Some time ago, I was reflecting on the futility of living life without direction or goals. The result was The Traveler, which I am presenting here in a multimedia format:

In many ways the Bible is God’s map for our lives. Actually, it is more like a real-time GPS, since it equips us to not only reach our life’s destination successfully, but how to negotiate the pitfalls we encounter along the way. God’s written Word is not only concerned about the so-called spiritual aspects of your life, but every aspect of your life.

An Ontario Physician’s Concern about Marijuana

On January 22, 2018, Canada’s public broadcaster (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) on their program “The Current” with host Anna Maria Tremonti featured an interview with Dr. Brian Hart, an Ontario family physician who has significant concerns about marijuana, especially for young people under age twenty-five.

Here is the audio excerpt:

And the transcript:

AMT: You’re listening to The Current on CBC Radio One and Sirius XM. I’m Anna Maria Tremonti. Last week on The Current we looked into the coming legalization of recreational marijuana, and the concerns about its safety and contamination. Medical marijuana users have reported concerns. And I spoke with Dan Clarke who tests medical marijuana at A&L laboratories in London, Ontario.


DAN CLARKE: It is a concern. We talk about medical cannabis. It is a pharmaceutical that needs to be regulated and make sure the industry is providing a very safe product to the client.

AMT: Well the discussion generated a lot of interest from listeners, including from Dr. Brian Hart, who said contamination is not the only thing people should be concerned about. He wrote to us in part: “I am a family physician and deal with the side effects of marijuana in my practice every day. Believe me, they’re serious—but not due to pesticides—rather the drug! Marijuana is NOT benign. When an 18-year-old comes into my clinic with anxiety and a 35-pound weight loss, I put my pen down and ask how much he’s smoking. I have yet to be wrong.” Dr. Brian Hart practices in Gananoque, Ontario. That’s where we’ve reached him now. Hello.

DR. BRIAN HART: Good morning Anna Maria. Thanks for including me in the conversation.

AMT: First of all, how often do you get requests for prescriptions for medical marijuana?

DR. BRIAN HART: I would say probably, increasing frequency, but probably two to three times per week.

AMT: And what do your patients want it for?

DR. BRIAN HART: I would say there are two types of patients. A lot of patients that come in are already using it. Some of them may have cannabis use disorder. Some of them may be looking to switch from a drug that they don’t want to be on like alcohol over to marijuana. And these would be inappropriate referrals. The other type of patient are the patients that actually have really serious medical issues. Those that have essential tremor that we haven’t been able to control. People that have M.S. fatigue. People that have the indications that traditionally medical marijuana has been indicated for.

AMT: And do you not prescribe it at all then? Even in a case like that.

DR. BRIAN HART: Well it’s really difficult in that—so usually when medications come to market they come to market with a proven efficacy. There are studies that are done that show that it work. And we know that it works in a certain percentage of people. And we know what to expect in terms of short-term side effects. With medical marijuana it’s come to market and then we’re trying to find what it works for. And we really don’t have the appropriate studies to show the short and certainly not the long-term side effects. But in people that have exhausted everything else, so people that come in with severe essential tremor or with multiple sclerosis related spasms, I have no trouble referring them along to be counselled and receive medical marijuana as long as they go into it eyes open. But it is a third or fourth line intervention. It’s not a first line.

AMT: And where do you send them?

DR. BRIAN HART: Well in Kingston there’s three or four different marijuana referral centres. And I think these folks have doctors and they do interviews and then they’ll prescribe it. So when you say I don’t prescribe it, so my brother is a lawyer and he says there’s a term have done or cause to have done, and I know that if I refer them they will 100 percent of the time receive the medication and receive the drug.

AMT: And is that a problem in your mind that if they’re referred to some other clinic they’ll get it automatically or usually.

DR. BRIAN HART: Yeah, you interviewed Rosy Mondin last week and you wondered why pesticides that shouldn’t be in the marijuana were there, and she referred to it as a bit of the Wild West. And when it first started I saw everybody that went was given medical marijuana. And we do know with medical marijuana there are some absolute contraindications. For example anyone under 25 should not receive medical marijuana. Anyone with a marijuana use disorder should not be prescribed marijuana. Anybody with significant anxiety or an untreated psychiatric illness should not receive medical marijuana. And I have seen numerous cases where these people have been given the drug without much follow up or supervision.

AMT: And this goes back to your first point which is that normally if a drug comes on the market it’s been clinically tested. We know a lot more about it and we’re going by anecdotal now.

DR. BRIAN HART: Oh absolutely. And please don’t get me wrong. I go to work every day trying to help my patients. And the issue is if marijuana is proven to be a benefit I’m going to be the first one to prescribe it. And if we’ve run out of everything else and there’s a hint that it may be a benefit I will help my patients receive it. But the trouble is I do radio interviews, I guess what once every 53 years, so I Googled performance anxiety. And if you actually look at Health Canada, medical marijuana one of the indications is performance anxiety. And if you actually look at this study, 23 people were given synthetic THC before doing a simulated performance and 95 percent reported that they felt better about the performance afterwards. That’s not a study. That’s hearsay. I would argue that if I had put a little scotch in my coffee this morning I might feel a little less nervous right now.

AMT: You sound just fine Brian Hart [laughs].

DR. BRIAN HART: [Laughs].

AMT: But I want to ask you about that because you also said you wouldn’t prescribe to someone under the age of 25. Why not?

DR. BRIAN HART: I think you may have had articles on before, but the brain is under construction really until age 25 and the younger you are the more harm marijuana can do. And it can be permanent. And I see it in my clinic. My real concern is that this is an epidemic among high school students and I often see young man in particular coming in and they’re suffering from tremendous anxiety and weight loss and anorexia. And this was a bit of a learning curve for me. I mean remember back in the 80s if anyone bought marijuan, the next stop was the grocery store for Doritos. You would expect weight gain and apathy. But you’re experiencing significant anxiety and weight loss. The issue is that under 25 these folks are most susceptible to that. And there is some evidence that it can decrease long term IQ and have permanent bad effects.

AMT: You raise many questions that we in the media need to follow up on. Thank you for your letter to us and for speaking to me today.

DR. BRIAN HART: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

AMT: Bye bye. That is Dr. Brian Hart. He’s a family physician in Gananoque, Ontario. That’s our program for today.

Hiding in the Shadows

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16; ESV)

The Great Showman Theatrical PosterI was doing my fatherly duty to my sixteen-year-old daughter during the holidays by taking her to see the movie “The Greatest Showman,” a musical based on the life of P.T. Barnum. Some time before, I had seen enough of the trailer to know I wasn’t interested. One of my older daughters told me she liked it, but didn’t say much else, except the music was contemporary, which I thought was pretty strange given that the story takes place in the mid-19th century. Strange or not, a dad’s gotta do what a dad’s gotta do; so off to the movie we went.

I am not sure when it happened – it may have been during the third musical number (“Come Alive”) – I began to see the special something of this film. By the time it was over, I concluded I had just witnessed a leap in the evolution of movie entertainment for the 21st century. The makers of “The Greatest Showman” had accomplished the convergence of compelling story-telling and superb talent as expressed via extraordinary songs and choreography, all the while upholding family values, in such a way so as to instill hope and joy in the audience. And they did it at a time that may be the most cynical in all of history.

Regarded as the movie’s anthem, “This Is Me,” recently won the best original song at the Golden Globe Awards. It captures the fundamental theme of the film, which on the surface may be taken as the overdone “follow your dreams.” While the movie is laced with a good dose of the typical “you can be whatever you want to be as long as you want it badly enough,” it goes much deeper than that. It reaches out to the hearts of those who, for one reason or another, don’t allow themselves to have dreams in the first place.

There are two levels of human oppression. The first is typified by the people of Israel in bondage in Egypt. Trapped against their will, they hold on to the great promises of the past as they cry out to their God for deliverance. In no way should we diminish the difficulty of such a state. Yet the second level of oppression is a lot worse. This is when we either do not know we are oppressed or if we do, we simply accept it. The power of this second level of oppression is chiefly derived from self. Without our cooperation, there would be hope for change. But hope can be too painful. It is a lot easier simply to accept our plight as it is, thinking we are making the best of an impossible situation.

Surprisingly, the second level isn’t often realized until sometime after being rescued from the first. We see this in Israel after the exodus. It isn’t until the people face the challenges of freedom that the depths of their internal oppression become clear. Even though they are no longer slaves to Pharaoh, it is evident they are still entrapped in their own fear and faithlessness. Unable to rise up to their high calling in God, they eventually yearn to return to their house of bondage in Egypt, where they feel more at home.

How many Yeshua followers experience something similar? Our initial encounter with the Lord is glorious as we discover freedom and a power to live beyond our wildest dreams. But it isn’t too long before “reality” sets in and we begin to wrestle with the specters of the past, not to mention new challenges and problems we never had before. That’s when we, like Israel of old, are tempted to return to our old predictable lives, preferring our former taskmasters to the scary unknown that’s ahead.

“This Is Me” is the refusal to give into that temptation. It is a call to embrace the reality of who we really are and not give in to the manipulative deception of shame designed to push us back into the shadows of disengagement. Having tasted freedom; we will not be enslaved again.

Reflecting on this song from a biblical perspective demands at least a couple of considerations. First, I am aware the film and this song in particular is being framed by many as a celebration of “diversity,” which in our day has come to take on a technical meaning in society, especially in relationship to individuals who embrace certain lifestyle choices. Tragically, more and more people regard all forms of shame as oppressive as if morality itself is the problem needing to be eradicated. But while there may be a tendency to leverage “The Greatest Showman” in this way, that’s a metaphorical stretch. The coming out of circus “freaks” Barnum provides is not a green light for the pursuit of unrestricted human desire, but a true celebration of the humanity intrinsic in the image of God embedded in all of us.

The second consideration is of particular concern to me personally. I understand the power of shame calling me into the shadows. That might surprise those of you who are only familiar with me as a speaker and writer, but for now just take my word for it. Because of my tendency to hide away, I love songs and stories that call us out to face our giants or climb the mountain – to be whatever it is we are meant to be against all odds. “This Is Me” is definitely one of those songs.

In the context of the film, the song challenges the notion of “You don’t belong here.” The temptation for many is to agree and go back into hiding. The song rejects that, asserting the opinions of others will no longer get in the way of one’s contribution to the world. But isn’t expressing this so aggressively as in “bursting through the barricades” or “gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out” arrogant? There’s a part of me that thinks so and would rather return to the shadows. In the film, however, these are metaphors to insist we be fully present in the situations we find ourselves in, not allowing others to diminish us. Yet many believers, including myself at times, think it is godly to be diminished as if that is the essence of true humility.

Some justify hiding away through an oft-misused Scripture which relates the words of John the Baptist as he neared the end of his public ministry (see John 3:22-30). When John’s disciples mentioned to him that people were beginning to flock to Yeshua, he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard people use this in prayer, asking God to demonstrate his power, while keeping themselves from being noticed. Sounds humble, I know. But that has nothing to do at all with what John the Baptist was saying or with true humility. John was explaining that his task of introducing the Messiah was nearing completion, which was why more people were going to Yeshua than to him at this stage. Now that his job was almost done, it was time for him to fade into the background, so to speak. Prior to this, he had an essential part to play in which taking center stage was required.

Hiding away is not humility, but fear due to shame. The aggressive posture of “This Is Me” is not really toward others, but toward ourselves. In spite of the freedom secured by Yeshua on our behalf, we remain our own brutal taskmaster, standing in the way of all God wants us to be both in and through us. We don’t oppress ourselves completely on our own. We leverage the impressions and opinions of others, past and present, to justify our continued imprisonment. But we are no longer slaves, we are fearless children of God (see John 1:12; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6-7).

Far from hiding in the shadows, we are to let our light shine for the world to see. Yet many of us have been intimidated into the shadows, shamed into silence, agreeing that we don’t belong. But we do! The song declares “I’m not scared to be seen; I make no apologies.” Apologies are appropriate when we have wronged God or others. But we are not to apologize for being “me” as if we have no God-given place in the world. We have nothing to be ashamed of. How can we be when we have the very help the world is desperate for? That they don’t know it is beside the point. That we don’t know it undermines what God wants to do in the world.

God wants to do great things through his people, but he can’t use us if we are hiding away. Sure, we are weak and wounded. We make mistakes – sometimes big ones – but he can handle that, especially if we cooperate with him. Nothing is going to happen if we hide in the shadows. It’s time to come out and let ourselves be seen for who we really are.

*     *     *

This early presentation of “This Is Me,” sung by  Keala Settle at a workshop session, illustrates the challenge of coming out of the shadows.


Why Hanukkah Matters

Large hanukiah in Jerusalem

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah begins this evening, Tuesday, December 12, and lasts eight days. It commemorates the Jewish victory over the occupying Seleucids in the second century before Yeshua. After the reign of Alexander the Great, his empire was split into four, with the Seleucid Empire encompassing much of Alexander’s near-eastern territories, including Israel. Antiochus Epiphanes was king of the Seleucid Empire from 174-164 BC and sought to consolidate his kingdom through assimilation, by forcing Hellenistic (Greek) culture and religion upon the diverse peoples of his domain, including the Jews.

Antiochus outlawed Judaism, erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem, and defiled the Jewish altar by sacrificing pigs on it. Antiochus’s plan was working as many Jews acquiesced to his assimilation program. Things began to change, however, when a kohen (English: priest) named Mattityahu from the small town of Modi’in sparked a revolt when he killed both a fellow Jew who was willing to comply with the demand to sacrifice to Zeus and the Greek official who issued the demand. Leadership passed to Mattityahu’s son Judah, nicknamed Maccabee, the name also associated with those who joined the rebellion. The revolt soon led to the cleansing of the Temple and the rededication of the altar on the 25th of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, which coincides with late November/December. Hanukkah means “dedication,” and is a reference to the restoration of the altar.

The most popular feature of the festival is most likely based on legend. It is said that when the Temple was cleansed, there was found only a day’s worth of holy oil for the menorah (the seven-branched lampstand). Apparently it took eight days to make a new batch of oil, but a miracle happened, and the small amount of oil lasted eight days. This is commemorated by the lighting of a special Hanukkah menorah (Hebrew: hanukiah) for eight nights. We also indulge in delicious items fried in oil: latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jellied donuts).

While the oil provides much of the symbol and fun of the festival, the actual miracle is wrapped up in the victory itself, as recounted in the traditional prayer, Al Hanissim which include these words:

You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah.

The theme of God’s miraculous deliverance is certainly not unique in Israel’s history. Hanukkah’s recounting of great victory over the Seleucids joins earlier ones over the Egyptians at Passover and Persia at Purim, not to mention all sorts of other sensational victories recorded in Scripture. But at the same time each of these provides different aspects of the outworking of God’s faithfulness toward his ancient covenant people. The rescue from Egypt is about bondage, redemption, and the revelation of his Word. Purim demonstrates the providential work of God against the blind hatred of Israel’s enemies. Hanukkah is about the need to resist the insidious nature of the dominant culture and what a few faithful believers can accomplish if only they would take a stand.

While there is much to learn from everything that God has done for Israel in the past, the lessons of Hanukkah illumine some of today’s greatest challenges. Assimilation forces attempting to eradicate biblical faith will eventually fail. But Yeshua’s triumph over evil will not occur apart from his followers. He pledged to build a community against which the very gates of hell will not prevail (see Matthew 16:18). His kingdom will work through the world just as leaven permeates a clump of dough (Matthew 13:33). And the movement that began small in his day will grow into a gigantic tree (Matthew 13:31-32).

The growth of his everlasting kingdom (Daniel 2:44) was not and will never be dependent on the cultural climate. Yet it requires the tenacity of the Maccabees, willing to take a stand for God’s ways, no matter the cost. Unlike the Maccabees, this is not a military battle (Ephesians 6:12) but a life and death struggle nonetheless. One that will be opposed and criticized; its adherents misunderstood and ostracized (Matthew 10:22). Yet the victory is guaranteed (Revelation 11:15).

The Maccabean victory was not simply another win for God’s people. It was a necessary stand to ensure the ongoing nature of God’s plans and purposes. The divine destiny of Israel and Messiah depended on their sacrifice. Not alone as crucial players in God’s rescue operation of the creation rooted in Abraham, they certainly were true to God’s call on their lives.

May the same be said about us. It is time to stop giving in to the prevailing mood of moral and spiritual decline in our day and allow Yeshua’s kingdom power to be displayed through us. To do that requires, like the Maccabees of old, standing against the current cultural pressures to conform. But more than simply resist, we must also, like the Maccabees, engage the great powers of our day and demonstrate the superior nature of the earth’s true king.

Jerusalem the Beautiful


With all the commotion in response to the U.S. President’s announcement last week regarding recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it is easy to forget that real people’s lives are at stake. Personalizing political decisions should in no way diminish or distract from their national and international importance. If I read the Bible correctly, we are called to keep the Big Picture and the details in mind at all times, no matter how much they might appear to be in tension.

The Big Picture aspects of the President’s announcement are vast. So much has been said since Wednesday, but I am convinced that he did the right thing. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is unjust that until less than a week ago, the Middle East’s only true democracy was the only country in this troubled world whose capital was denied by all other nations.

I commend to you two items that are most helpful. The first is from Honest Reporting, an agency that seeks to correct anti-Israel bias in the media. This piece provides general historical and political context to last Wednesday’s announcement:

The second is the speech by Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, given at Friday’s emergency session of the UN Security Council, where she clearly lays out the what the President said and what he did not say in his announcement two days’ prior.

Whatever our viewpoint might be on this and related issues, let us take the time to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the people living there, Jews, Arabs, and others. I will never forget when I was there a couple of years ago. I was heading back to where I was staying from my first solo walk around the Old City. I happened upon an Armenian woman, who had been born there many years before. I can’t remember how or why we started talking, but she exclaimed, “This is the most beautiful city in the world!” She was right. There is a beauty that is intrinsic to Jerusalem that is incomparable. But it’s a beauty beyond its geographical landscape and architecture, ancient and modern. It’s the beauty of God that permeates its very existence.

It’s no wonder that the President’s announcement caused so much reaction. Jerusalem is no run-of-the-mill city. The Maccabees (it’s Hanukkah this week!) knew that over 2000 years ago, and we have celebrated their victory ever since. The Armenian woman knew that. The President knows it. And in some way, millions of others know it too. But could you imagine what would happen if we used even a small portion of our reactions to Jerusalem news to offer up a prayer for help and blessing to Almighty God?

Please pray for the men, women, boys, and girls for whom this is far more than a news story. Pray that world leaders would make wise decisions, putting the welfare of their people ahead of national interests. At the same time may justice prevail for all. May God’s will be done!

Just Released: The Between-the-Lines Bible (KJV)

Note: The following is satire. References to organizations and individuals are fictitious.

Genesis 1:1-8 (KJV) with lots of space between each lineSpeculative Publishers Inc. (SPI) just announced its latest Bible resource designed especially for readers who are not satisfied with just the plain text. For the very first time, the “Between-the-Lines” Bible (BTL) gives you all the room you need to expand upon the revelation of Scripture. Instead of the usual cramped line spacing of regular Bibles, the BTL Bible provides ample space for your imaginative and fictitious additions and comments. Instead of having to jot your thoughts in the margin, you can now add your ideas right into the words of the Bible itself.

Pastors and teachers alike are delighted with the BTL. “I always found traditional Bibles cramped my style,” remarked Rev. Bernie Clarke, founder of End Times Now Times Ministries. The BTL Bible is like opening a window to infinite interpretive possibilities.

SPI is so proud of its first edition. President Bartholomew Eisegesis exclaims: “We are confident that our readers will appreciate the BTL’s beautiful print and layout as well as the extra line spacing in the books of Daniel and Revelation.”

SPI is working on a digital version in which users can expand the lines in between the text as much as they like.

Do You Know the Messiah’s Name?

Names of Jesus in Hebrew, Greek, and EnglishOne of the challenges for my wife and I in having ten children was names. Besides the fact that my wife wanted to have their names in hand from the moment we knew of their conception, while I tended toward leaving that important decision much closer to their birth, we shared pretty high standards. We preferred characters from the Hebrew Bible, but only those of noble character and they had to be sufficiently easy for English speakers to pronounce. It helped that we didn’t feel the need to provide more than one name per child, though three did get middle names. All in all, we wanted to give our children names that would be meaningful to both to us and to them.

God takes naming seriously. The Bible tells us he invented it, when he called the light “day” and the darkness “night” (see Genesis 5:1). While he would pass on the naming of animals and most people to humans, he would from time to time intervene, providing names to particular individuals either before birth as in the case of Ishmael and Solomon or change them afterwards, as in Abraham and Jacob.

Tragically, the meaning of the most important name God has ever given anyone has been lost to most people, partly due to the English translation tradition. In the great majority of English versions of the New Testament, we read the angel’s words to Joseph the betrothed of Mary as “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

To most the name “Jesus” is exclusively associated with the Messiah, which is fine. But the name actually given by the angel was common at that time. The name “Jesus” is an attempt to provide an anglicized version of what is actually recorded in the New Testament. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, it itself translates most of the dialogue and speeches in the Gospels and the Book of Acts from the original Hebrew or Aramaic. The name normally translated in English as Jesus is the Greek Iesous (pronounced yay-soos). But that is not exactly what Joseph heard from the angel. Nor is it what people in his day called him. What God named him was more along the line of Yeshua, a proper name derived from the Hebrew word for “salvation.”

Yeshua is certainly a fitting name for the Savior, and associating his name with the concept of rescue (which is what salvation in the Scriptures means) is most likely intended. But connecting with the concept of salvation is not the first thing that the people of his day would have thought of upon hearing his name. Whether a person regarded him as Messiah or not, Yeshua was and is the common short form of Yehoshua, the Hebrew name normally rendered in English as Joshua – the same name given to the son of Nun, the successor of Moses and the military leader who led the conquest of the Promised Land. It is still common in Hebrew today to refer to people named Yehoshua as Yeshua. That said, it is almost certain that the New Testament Greek derivation Iesous may not be representing the short form, Yeshua, after all. That’s because the name Iesous is used in passages referring to Joshua the son of Nun, thereby following the lead of the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, where Joshua is translated as Iesous.

This is all to say that when God named the Messiah it was clear that he would be associated with Israel’s prototype military leader who led the conquest of the Promised Land. As people came to consider the possibility that this Joshua might be the Messiah, it fueled their expectation that he had come to engage in a new conquest of the Land. Instead of overcoming “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (Exodus 3:8), this time it would be the vanquishing of the Romans.

For most of the time since returning from Babylon centuries earlier, the Israelites were under foreign domination, a certain sign that they were the objects of God’s disfavor. Messianic expectation became associated with the restoration of God’s favor and the end of foreign oppression. By God naming the Messiah “Joshua,” he affirmed their expectations.

Yet the last thing we think of Jesus is his being a conqueror of the likes of Joshua son of Nun. What is often taught is that the messianic expectation of the first century Jewish world was wrong. Jesus didn’t come to conquer in that way, rescuing the people from military and political oppression. Rather, he came to save in a spiritual, nonphysical sense.

Obviously Jesus did not aspire to or fulfill the role of a military conqueror. There was much about his methodology that was contrary to expectation. We see this in Peter’s reaction to Jesus’s announcement to his closest disciples of his imminent arrest and death (see Matthew 16:21-23). That Jesus also mentioned resurrection seemed to go over Peter’s head, since suffering and death was so counter to the Jewish messianic concept. However, just because the Messiah’s methods were contrary to expectation doesn’t mean he is any less the conqueror. God didn’t stamp his Chosen One with the name Joshua only to dash the people’s hopes and dreams that he himself gave them through their prophets.

Some see the misunderstanding solely in terms of timing. Much of what was expected two thousand years ago will happen when Jesus returns. In the meantime, God is patient with humankind as he gives us the opportunity to turn to him. But one day, the Messiah will return to judge (see Acts 17:31). The problem with shifting the Joshua concept to later is that it neglects the power of everything he has done until now.

Calling him Joshua is not a shout out to a future time, it’s the Messiah’s God-given identity marker. It’s not that he will one day be a Joshua, who will conquer evil’s minions and establish God’s rule on earth forever. He will indeed do that fully and completely upon his return, but he has been the conqueror all along. As the greater Joshua, he has conquered far more powerful threats than the earlier Joshua ever faced.

The Jewish world, Jesus’s followers included, thought he would beat off the Romans, but instead he beat off sin and death. This is not a spiritual-only victory. It’s spiritually based, but not spiritual only. This Joshua may have not removed the Roman presence from ancient Israel. He did something far more effective. By defeating death, he broke Caesar’s power, thus freeing God’s people to conquer the effects of sin throughout the world.

Coming to grips with the essence of his God-given name is essential to effectively follow him today. His followers are increasingly relegated to society’s fringes. The aggressive tone of our culture’s influencers can be overly intimidating. But it is the people of the messianic Joshua who have been mandated by God to teach the nations the Truth about himself and his ways. This is not a time to shrink back. Instead, we need, like his early followers, to pray for boldness and the demonstration of his power (see Acts 4: 23-31). As he answers this prayer, let us step out in confidence, knowing he will prevail.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

Escaping the Fun House

Illustration of a fun house mirror

When my wife and I were recently in Vancouver, we visited the world-famous Stanley Park for the first time in years. As a treat we took our two youngest children on the miniature train. In the waiting area they had something I hadn’t seen in years: two fun-house mirrors. Not exactly the place where I would expect to see them, as they are normally found in a traditional amusement park attraction called a “Fun House”. Fun house mirrors are designed to provide (hopefully) humorous reflections, by skewing the mirrored image, thus making the subject and others look extremely tall, short, fat, or even upside down. The intended humor is found in how nonsensically people are represented. While the fun of fun house mirrors is related to how preposterous these reflections are, I don’t think most people would find them funny at all if they represented any semblance of reality, especially since they are actually very grotesque.

I grew up in a fun house, but there was nothing funny about it! No, I wasn’t raised in an amusement park. Rather, throughout my childhood and adolescence, everywhere I turned so to speak, I saw skewed, grotesque reflections. The problem was I didn’t know that what I was seeing was anything but normal.

Almost nothing was an image of reality. I had a father and a mother, plus three older brothers. But my family life was extremely dysfunctional. My parents bickered all the time. My brothers hated my parents, and left home as soon as they could. Being as young as I was while chaos reigned, I was helpless to do anything about it, except suffer. What furthered my distortions were words of love and demonstrations of affection that were part of my everyday life. My mother would dote over me and my father would take me out with him quite regularly. But I didn’t realize then that my mother’s love was more about satisfying her needs than mine, while my father’s desire for my presence was a ruse towards my mother as a way for him to get out of the house. My mother worried all the time and feared almost everything, demonstrating to me that the world was a very scary place. Both parents played the victim instead of looking for ways to constructively resolve issues. When he was young, my father determined that might means right, and became a body builder, so that he could beat people up when necessary. He was ashamed that my brothers and I didn’t share his physique, teaching me that my lack of strength meant I was helpless facing life’s problems. Along with that he taught me: “Money makes the world go ‘round,” and did he ever believe it! Almost every blow up was about money and, according to him, the lack thereof prevented us from enjoying life.

After years of skewed reflections, I was full of fear and could no longer cope. I was living in a world of lies, caught in a web of illusion in a nightmarish fun house that was anything but fun. No wonder I had a nervous breakdown at age eleven and panic attacks at eighteen.

Then one day I was given an opportunity to escape my fun house. A Friday afternoon in the Cote St. Luc suburb of Montreal, talking to a friend of a friend, I was presented with a whole new set of reflections. Could it really be that I was living in a crazy fun house; that the skewed reflections I had always thought were real had deceived me? As I was hearing a biblical case for Jesus’ being the Messiah for the first time, I was being presented with reflections of a clarity and sharpness that shone of a goodness and truth that I had never encountered before.

I stepped out of my fun house that day and discovered the real world for the first time. I cannot overstate that transition I experienced as God through Yeshua transformed my life. But what I didn’t know at the time is that I would carry with me many of the skewed reflections of my former residence. While God has wiped away many of the old images from my mind, others have stayed with me. Some of the ways my mind interprets circumstances and interpersonal interactions is still via old skewed reflections – old fun house mirrors that still need to be broken.

The thing that works to preserve my remaining skewed reflections is what made them so effective in the first place: I think they are genuinely accurate reflections of the way things are. Instead of perceiving the real world, one that is saturated by the presence and power of a loving God, I see myself alone under the threat of danger in an unsafe world.

The recent events in Edmonton, Alberta or Las Vegas, Nevada, not to mention the devastating weather disasters that took place before them, plus all sorts of personal and large-scale tragedies the world over may support the skewed reflections of my old fun house. But these circumstances, terrible as they are, do not reflect the whole story of the world in which we live. The world is extremely complex. The daily happenings of our individual lives are complicated; how much more are global events? Yet whether from the media, be it main-stream or social, or a chit chat over coffee. we are continually confronted by skewed reflections of today’s world. No wonder we see so much personal and societal breakdown. Our increasing inability to cope is largely due, not to the problems of life themselves, however real and serious they may be, but to the great amount of skewed reflections that distort reality all around us.

It’s not enough to exit the fun house. We have to also smash the mirrors wherever they may be.

That’s what Paul told the first century believers in Rome, when he wrote:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2; ESV).

It’s not good enough to exit the fun house of your old life. It’s starts there for sure. Our journey to reality must begin with being in right relationship with the God of reality by trusting in his Son, the Messiah, who gave his life for our sins. But it doesn’t stop there. Unless we smash our mirrors of skewed reflections, we will never be able to discern God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will. Instead we will continue in our dysfunction of distorted reality, unable to accurately interpret the personal and societal events of life.

But if we have the courage to smash the lying mirrors that continue to haunt our lives, not only will we discover ever-increasing freedom and goodness in our own lives, we will become reflections of reality to others, helping them to see how skewed their mirrors really are.