Archive for June, 2017|Monthly archive page

Anti-Semitism and Christians

I believe Christians are called to defend Jews from anti-Semitic attacks in Canada and other Western countries.

Of course, we should stand against vile physical and verbal abuse of people of any faith in our land.  But Jews are particularly vulnerable.  They are small in number and no threat to anyone.

Small Jewish communities are under siege today in several European countries.  And even in Canada, there has been defacing of some Jewish synagogues and other anti-Semitic acts.

As Christians, we must remember that the Christian church was first created by Jews.  And Paul, the leading evangelist in the early church to non-Jews, was himself a Jew.

Unfortunately, the Christian church has a history of persecuting Jews over the centuries in Europe and elsewhere.  There were violent “pogroms” – killings – of Jews in Russia and Europe for many centuries, often led by people who called themselves Christians.

Many point their fingers at Nazi Germany for the horrible holocaust but there was discrimination against Jews in Canada as well in the first half of the twentieth century.

I remember growing up in the 1940s and 1950s and learning that Jews were banned from membership in the golf club in the town where I lived just outside Montreal.

And, of course, the Canadian government refused to accept Jewish refugees from Germany aboard a ship carrying them to North America just before the Second World War broke out.

Like many evangelical Christians today, I support the tiny state of Israel.  But whether one supports or opposes Israel, I believe all Christians should stand against discrimination and attacks on Jews in our own nations.

I was heartened this week to read an article in Spur, an on-line magazine in our city, which carried an interview with a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam who jointly oppose anti-Semitism.  See “Anti-Semitism: A growing threat to everyone” at http://www.spurottawa.com.

The two men recently received the Raoul Wallenberg Citation for Moral Courage in the Face of Anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Steven Gartner said that “anti-Semitism is the world’s most reliable early-warning threat to freedom, humanity, and the dignity of difference”.  In other words, attacks on Jews today could lead to attacks on other groups tomorrow.  Hate spreads quickly.

Imam Mohamed Jebara agreed and added: “You can’t undo the darkness by adding more darkness.  You do it by switching on the light.”

Jesus highlighted the rule we Christians are to live by: Love God and love your neighbour.

Loving your neighbour includes standing up for your neighbour when dark forces persecute him.

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Superheroes

“Do superheroes meet a need for you?” a local radio talk show host asked her listeners this week.

She was talking about the string of movies about Batman, Superman, Spiderman and now Wonder Woman.

The question struck me as ridiculous.  But then I began thinking about how many of us do put our faith and hope in earthly superheroes.

One of our grandsons was a great Spiderman fan when he was five years old.  He was entranced with Spiderman’s exploits.

What is normal for a five-year-old is hardly normal for an adult.  We generally stop fantasizing about being a Superman or Spiderman as we grow older.

But movie superheroes get replaced by sports heroes, singers, actors and actresses, and even political leaders.

We read about them obsessively, turn out at games and shows to watch them.  We idolize them.

This can even be carried into our relations with loved ones, putting them on impossibly high pedestals.

What is it that drives us?  What is the inner need that we seek to fill with our obsessions?

Augustine wrote more than 1500 years ago that “our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you”.  He was talking about man’s need for God, a need we are all born with.

No one can find lasting fulfillment in what the world offers.  Only God can fill that hole in our lives.

As I have mentioned before, Paul Tripp says in his book Forever: Why You Can’t Live Without It that Christians often put unrealistic demands on loved ones and on their careers.  They expect to find the full satisfaction that only God can give.

Tripp’s point is that we will never be satisfied in every aspect of life until we are with the Lord in heaven where there will be unending joy.

The apostle Paul said: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)  He lived every day for Jesus – his whole heart was enraptured by the Lord.  But he looked forward especially to be in God’s presence forever in heaven.

He has pointed out the true path for a satisfying life.

A crutch?

Is God a crutch for weak people?

I have been pondering that question after a chat with a barber who was cutting my hair today.

The barber clearly clings to remnants of beliefs he had as a young churchgoer a half century ago.  But he does not see that God matters much anymore.

Science, he said, has called into question the truths of the Christian church.  In his eyes, the only value of religion is to keep some control over human beings – to keep us from going off the deep end.

I suggested that every human being has an inborn desire for something beyond ourselves – as some have put it, “a God-shaped hole” in our beings.  He didn’t disagree.

He did not attack those who believe but he obviously sees no need for God – or for faith in God.

What struck me from our conversation is that the revolt against God in our society is not just a new phenomenon of the millenial generation.  It is a product of a long history of pushing God out of sight in our modern Western society.

For many people, there is no need for God.  Most Westerners feel they can manage quite well without him.

That’s where the idea of God as a crutch comes in.  I believe it has even infiltrated the Christian church.

I think many feel that they only need to call on God if there is a problem they can’t fix themselves.  And they only think of God because there is no other solution open to them.

Part of the problem may be that we in Western nations tend to feel that weakness and dependence on others is a bad thing.  We feel we should be in total control.

But the apostle Paul saw dependence as vital to a close relationship with God.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about a sublime vision of heaven that God gave him.  But after that, he received a “thorn in the flesh”, a “messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud”.

He asked God to remove this affliction, but the Lord replied: “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”

That is a great statement.  As human beings, we will not see God’s greatness and power until we acknowledge our weakness and our dependence on him.

Our Western world does not see God as he is because our world is man-centred.

So yes, God is a crutch for weak people.  And, like Paul, I praise God that I am weak.

But doubters of God would be amazed to find that the Lord is much more than a crutch.

There is ample evidence of God at work in our world if only we open our eyes.  They range from miraculous physical healings to transformed lives of even the hardest unbelievers.

To get there, it means recognizing – as Paul said – that we are weak and only God is fully strong.

A citizen of two worlds

Every Christian is a citizen of two worlds – earth and heaven.

Sometimes it’s tempting to act as if we believers belong only on earth.  But Wayne McDill says we can’t really hide our true home – with Christ in heaven.

McDill, author of Making Friends for Christ, makes a strong case for being open with our faith rather than hiding it.  The key is establishing close relations with those around us.

Of course, the idea of friendship – or relational – evangelism has been around for a long time.  As McDill says, Christ modelled it for us 2,000 years ago.

I like the way he develops his theme.

He notes that God chose to get personal with us earthlings when the Father sent Jesus to Judea as a man.  A man who was born, grew up speaking the language of Jews in Judea, obeyed human parents, learned a trade, took pity on the helpless, lived and laughed with others, and presented God’s truth in the give-and-take of discussion.

In other words, God did not drop the Bible from heaven and tell us in thundering tones to get with the program.  He met us personally in our messy world.

And that, says McDill, is how we should meet people, too.

In his view, it is a mistake to dump the whole gospel story on people and leave them.  We need to begin by seeing where our friends and neighbours are at in their lives.

As Jesus did, we should listen, learn how they feel, help them with their needs.

But, then we must go a step further as our relationships deepen.  We are here on earth with a mission.  That mission is to point people to reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.

“[The Christian] does not represent God in the world as a mere observer,” writes McDill. “The purpose of God is his calling.”

Jesus “demanded radical loyalty and sacrifice on the part of his followers,” says McDill.

That challenge is a lot easier for people in the Western world than it is in other nations where Christians are persecuted.

But it remains a challenge for me and many other Christians in our comfortable society.