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.

Enemies

The murderers who killed innocent people in Manchester and Egypt this week probably call themselves warriors of God.

In fact, they are enemies of God.

They clearly believe in a god who kills indiscriminately.  But, that is not the God I know.

Jesus and God the Father are one.  Jesus said that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)

Jesus made clear that we are to love one another – not kill each other.

It is often easier to hate than to love.  Jihadists have chosen the easy path.

Jesus sets a high bar for his followers.  He tells us “love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

It’s fascinating to see what impact that loving your enemies has had on the world in the 2,000 years since Jesus was born.  Many people became believers because their hearts melted when Christians loved them despite their antagonism toward Christ and his followers.

Godly love is more powerful than hate.

The hate displayed in Manchester and Egypt this week flows from satanic forces.  But Satan has already been defeated by Christ on the cross.  He is lashing out but his time as prince of this world is drawing to a close.

Meanwhile, there is time for Christians to spread the love of Christ and the good news of Christ in all the dark places in our world.

That is what God wants us to do.

He will triumph over this enemies.

When losing is winning

It’s all about winning in the world we live in.

But, in God’s eyes, losing is sometimes better.

Take Jesus’ words in Mark 9 as he deals with the disciples privately arguing about who will be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom:  “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

That turns upside down the normal way we view our world.  We may be surprised by the people we meet in heaven who have received the greatest rewards – some may be the quiet ones out of the limelight in the world we live in.

I recently attended a men’s conference where men who have attended one of these conferences before are encouraged to invite others to come – and to serve them.  The idea is that these people serve at tables, carry suitcases, park cars, and do additional tasks for the general good of others.

Voluntary servanthood involves self-sacrifice – I am called to give up time, money and personal ambition to help others for the sake of Jesus.

As I look at myself, I am ready to help others but I grumble inside if it is likely to cost me anything significant.  I left that conference with something to work on in my own life.

I ask myself, was Jesus not the perfect servant, giving up his life of glory to come down to my world to die for me on the cross?  Am I justified in my grumbling about the little things I am called to do?

There is another area where losing is more important than winning – giving up control of my life to Jesus.

That is one of my toughest battles and I believe it is the same for most Christians.

To begin with, taking the step of faith in Christ means admitting we can’t meet God’s standards for eternal life.  We can never be good enough.

We are accepted by God because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross and his resurrection, defeating Satan.

But even after that surrender of my life to Jesus, I find myself still trying to take back control of my everyday life, doing my own thing.

Watchman Nee, a great Chinese Christian who died in a Chinese Communist prison camp, wrote a book called The Life That Wins which declares that winning over our character flaws and sins means giving it all up to God.  It means admitting that we can’t do it ourselves.  We have to depend on God to do it in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

In this sense, losing means winning.

Invited to a party

Many people can’t believe that Christ really loves them and wants them to join him in an eternity of joy.

They are like a little child who refuses an invitation to a birthday party because he doesn’t believe the birthday boy wants him to come.

This is certainly true of some non-believers I know who seem drawn to Christ but believe that God cannot accept them because of their past.

In a different sense, some believers have accepted the invitation, but are going to the party still doubting that they are really wanted.

It can be a crippling issue.

This struck me again last weekend at a men’s conference I attended.  The conference was about God’s love for us and who we are as believers in Christ.

During a discussion at our table, one of the men who was not a believer said he does not believe that God could accept him because of the things he has done.  He has had a rough life, including time spent in jail.

I pointed out that many of the Bible heroes did things that were terrible in our eyes, but that God had his hand on them.  They were accepted and loved by the Lord.

Here are some examples: Jacob cheated his brother out of his inheritance; Abraham was ready for his wife to become concubine to another man because he feared for his life; David had sex with another man’s wife and then arranged for that person’s death; and Paul threw believers into prison.

For me, that increases my wonder at God’s love.  It is not because we are worthy that God loves us – it is because Jesus gave himself for us that we might believe and enter the Lord’s family.

I am not saying that God wants us to have sex outside of marriage, or arrange someone else’s murder.  As believers, we are to become more like Christ – not less.

But I confess that I, as a believer, have sometimes felt that God could not possibly approve of me because of my failures and sins.

That’s where the other part of the conference came in – who we are as followers of Christ.  As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8, we are no longer under condemnation because of our faith in Christ and what he has done.

I need to constantly remind myself of Christ’s love and the power of the Spirit available to help me live the life God intended for me.

I am going to the party with gladness.

The power of questions

A question can change an opinion – and maybe a life.

A question such as “Can you tell me why you believe that?” can prompt people to re-examine their views.  Some may even ponder that question afterwards and start on a new path.

I was thinking of this after listening to a brief discussion about religion at a lunch gathering of retired men in our neighbourhood.

It began with one man saying he was less religious than he had been as a young man. He talked about chatting with men from two other faiths on their burial practices which he thought made a lot of sense. Another said 90 per cent of people around the world were good.

They seemed to be implying that all faiths were equally valid or that religion doesn’t matter at all.

I believe your faith does make a difference – if truth has any meaning at all.  And athiesm is as much a faith as any other.  But I did not declare my views for fear of offending.

Afterwards, I regretted not asking questions as a way of raising important points without flat-out offending the other men.

Randy Newman, author of Questioning Evangelism, says a simple word such as “Really?” can start a much deeper discussion after someone makes a declaration.  Questions aimed at learning more about someone’s opinions are not direct challenges but a way of opening minds to other ways of viewing the world.

The apostle Paul was a master of asking questions, sometimes uncomfortable ones.  He used questions to make a point to believers and unbelievers alike.

Our church men’s group looked at Romans 2 this week where the apostle asks Jewish people whether they were living by the Jewish law that they were trying to impose on others.  It is not clear to me whether he was speaking to Jewish believers in Christ who did attempt to impose their laws on non-Jewish believers in the early church.

But the question would certainly force his readers to examine their own conduct.

Newman notes that Paul “reasoned” with Jewish people and with non-Jews, suggesting discussion – questions as well as statements.

The author says discussion does not alone lead to a change of heart.  In the end, it is the Spirit of God that brings people into the kingdom of God.

But a good question, asked with respect, can be a good starting point.

Relationships and God

Imagine you are the only human being left on earth after a terrible calamity.  How would you feel?

I know how I would feel – lost, lonely, desperate.  And I say that even though I am an introvert and love times of solitude.

God knew that we needed relationships even before the creation of the universe.  He made Eve to be a companion to Adam.

Indeed, the perfect relationship is the relationship of love between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

But what about the tragic, abusive and heart-breaking relationships we have with family, friends and acquaintances?  Why does God allow this to happen to us?

I believe it is because relationships are the best way to shape us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).  It is preparation for the life to come with God in heaven.

At one time, Jesus said that everything in the law of God in the Old Testament hangs on two commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39)

These commandments speak about relationships – with God and with others.  They are commands to love which runs against the inner selfishness in all of us.

The love that Jesus is talking about is impossible for me in my natural life.  I am too self-centred, demanding that my needs be met first before I care for others.

It is interesting that in the Matthew 22 passage, Jesus says that loving God is the first and greatest commandment.  I believe that it is only in loving God that we can truly love others unselfishly.

The apostle John says in 1 John 4 that we love because God loved us.  It is the love of God that transforms – not the self-love that seeks payback before caring for others.

John says that loving one another – even the most difficult and hard-to-love among us – is proof that the love of God is at work in us.

The kind of love that the Bible is talking about is illustrated in the apostle Paul’s great chapter on love – 1 Corinthians 13.  Here are just a couple of lines from that passage:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

That is not me.  But I do not despair.

God is working in me to smooth out the rocky parts.  He knows I am weak and that the older I get, the more I will realize my weakness.  The more I know I am weak, the more I will turn to his Spirit to change me.

That is the first step to being changed into the image of Christ.

Standing firm

I believe God is calling believers to stand firm against a rising anti-Christian tide in Canada and the Western world.

I am not advocating an angry campaign against other beliefs.  But I do believe that we Christians must be ready to defend our faith.

This may sound too dramatic.  But a quick glance at the world around us – our schools and universities, our governments, our media – will reveal a strong bias against Christianity and Christian values.

I am amazed at the swiftness of this change.  It is accelerating.

Some years ago, I read a poll that asked parents whom they would least like their children to marry.  Evangelical Christians topped the list.

That suggests to me that we Christians need to begin by looking at ourselves.  Why do people object to us?  Do they see us as judgemental?  Is it because we have made no effort to love them as Jesus did?  If so, we must ask ourselves why we have not ventured outside our cocoons to touch the lives of others.

But, I think there is more to it than that.

The good news of Jesus Christ is the “aroma of life” to some and “the stench of death” to others, as the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:16.  The gospel divides people.

That’s because the news that Jesus Christ gave his life for us out of unimaginable love also calls us to repentance of our sinful past and a commitment to God for eternity.  Not everyone is ready to take that step.

Still, I think there is a vast swarm of people who don’t know what we Christians stand for.  They go along with the prevailing opinion of Christianity in our society – and that opinion isn’t pretty.

In my small way, I admit that I am often guilty of hiding my faith in the public arena rather than speaking out as Jesus did.

The apostle Peter famously said in 1Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.”

That is the perfect approach to defending our faith.

The best way of changing people’s opinions of the Christian faith is to live like Jesus did – reaching out to others with acts of love and sharing the good news.  Barriers to Christ will fall if we live like that.

The Christian world is also blessed with people – lawyers, politicians, scientists – who are ready to challenge wrong views of God as the apostle Paul did in the early years of the Christian church.  We should support them and learn from them so we, too, can give convincing answers to questions people raise.

In any case, we Christians must no longer hide as I have done too often.  We must not be silent.

We must stand firm.