Boston Marathon 2013 – Reflections

April 15, 2013 will be a day not soon forgotten in the United States.  As an iconic sports event held on Patriots Day, the Boston Marathon was supposed to typify all that is essential to the American dream.  It was to be a day to celebrate.  Instead it ended in tragedy with 3 dead and more than 100 wounded, with the lives of civilians on U.S. soil rocked and destroyed.

In the past week other tragedies have occurred around the world.  A week ago a bomb blast in Damascus killed 15.  Last night a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the Iranian-Pakistani border, killing at least 8.

What makes this different?  Because it happened at home [for us], and the expectation is of safety at home, and that these things only happen “over there”.  Increasingly however, tragedy is striking close to home, and it is home-grown. Newtown is still fresh in our memory.

The Boston Marathon bombing is another reminder of how quickly life can change, and how we should not put off until tomorrow what we need to do today… particularly in the area of relationships – to God and to each other – in love, forgiveness, compassion, patience, and reconciliation.  Tomorrow may never come.

It is also a reminder of the transitory nature of this phase of life that we live, and that we need to make each day count and not waste it or get hung up on self-absorption.  The way we live each day is how we live our lives.

The challenge, especially in times of challenge and suffering, is to not let the experiences of your past and present to negatively define your future.

We all can, and must, choose to go on.  We all can, and must, choose to respond positively and truthfully, even in the face of danger or tragedy.  As someone once said, “you can choose to curse the darkness, or you can choose to light a candle and dispel the darkness”.

In the summer of 2005, I was in London when the tube was bombed and civilians died. One day we were on a bus returning to the City from Oxford, and the tour ended at Victoria Station where we were to get on the tube.  The tour guide asked us if we were afraid, and then told us not to fear.  England, he said, had endured years of IRA bombings, and did not and would not bow before it… NOTHING would deter us from continuing to live life without fear or surrender.  So don’t be afraid, he told us… get on the tube because this was a new day. We would NOT change our lives or bow to fear.

I had a similar experience in 2009.  I was in Israel on a tour of the Holy Land, and one day we visited the Golan Heights overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), and then went on to visit historic sites under the shadow of the Lebanese border.  The next day, while in Tiberias, we learned that Hezbollah had launched rockets into Israel right where we had been the previous day.  When we inquired of our hosts, they said that they lived with the threat of attack on a regular basis, but that they would not be shaken because Israel was their home and they would not surrender to bombers or rockets or hatred.

In both countries, they have learned three lessons very well. First, as a people, they will carry on, no matter what.  Threat and attack and pain and suffering and loss do not lead to a crisis of faith or of soul-searching or of wondering where God has gone. These lead rather to a strengthening of resolve and, if anything, greater certainty of one’s identity.  Second, as individuals and as a people they have come to recognize that a refusal to surrender to fear is far more powerful than any weapon or any right to bear arms.  Third, they have learned from experience that the threat of terror is home grown, and comes from people who sound like you and look like others in your midst.

These are lessons we need to learn in North America.  First, our identity is not defined by our prosperity or by the crises within our borders. If our identity has been defined in these terms, it needs to be redefined. God is still here in our midst… but we need to better define what His blessings look like, and what a strong, or peaceful, or just society requires of each of us… as in Christian terminology, we are in the business of putting His kingdom and its principles into effect.  American values, or Canadian values, need to be redefined in term’s of God’s values and what He would require of us.

Second, and this is particularly true in America, our response needs to be one where we refuse to surrender to fear or anger or revenge, but rather to carry on, and implement the values of a Godly, just society, not by force of arms, but by strength of character, and by faith.  The response to defend the right to bear arms, no matter what, is no answer.  Qualifying the meaning and context of the Second Amendment, and realizing that the right to bear arms is instead a privilege and a responsibility, is essential. Change will be brought about by a change of hearts and a return to Godly character, and not by the right to carry handguns and assault weapons.  America, like Canada, is not a nation under God at this current time, and we had better realize it and stop fooling ourselves.  To call us a Christian nation at this juncture is to make a faith statement as a downpayment on a future that requires us to return to God and His values, and implement these in our society.

Third, there must be a recognition that the threat of violence against our state and its people is coming increasingly from within, from people who sound like us and look like others in our midst, but who do not live by Godly values or by what is defined in the New Testament as the fruit of the Spirit, the outworking of one’s faith in practical terms.  This means re-defining our notions of “enemy combatants” or the stereotypes we conjure up when the word “terrorist” is used. It was distressing to hear, even today, that the FBI were following up on a tip, and declaring that they were looking for a perpetrator who was a dark-skinned male, possibly black and with a foreign accent.  In word association, one says Palestinian, you think terrorist; one says Muslim or fundamentalist Christian, you think extremist; one says dark-skinned or black, many think criminal.  This must change… for in most of the mass violent crimes committed in America in the past couple of  years, the perpetrators were white, born in the U.S., speaking English with regional accents, of no particular religious conviction, and only a minority of them had previous criminal records.

Profiling on the basis of skin-colour, ethnicity, language, gender, age or religious conviction must end.  The perpetrators of violent crimes are home grown and come from every walk of life.  There are individuals who do good things and individuals who do bad things, and sometimes they are the same individuals.  It is time for a re-load of American values based on God’s purposes and values.  It is time for a re-load of Canadian values based on God’s purposes and values, to recapture in people’s hearts the scripture carved into the Parliamentary building: “and He shall have dominion from sea to sea”.

It is fallacy on the part of the NRA to desire to place armed individuals in our schools… as if arming ourselves with weapons is the answer.  They say that “good guys with guns don’t commit crimes”.  The enormous flaw in that argument is the pre-supposition that you can tell the difference, by looking at someone or talking to them, whether they are a “good” person or a “bad” person.  You can’t.  And despite the popular revisionist approach to reconstruct the past lives of perpetrators to see how they were bad all along and “the signs were there”, the fact remains is that good people have often done bad things.

In a similar fashion, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, there is an intense hunt on to track down the bombers to bring them to justice.  I hope they succeed.  But success will not be defined ultimately by catching these perpetrators, or by intensifying security or by arming ourselves.  Success will be defined by a paradigm shift in our corporate and individual identities, to return to values based on the Word of God in our actions and in the actions perpetrated by our governments, and to not be moved from this no matter what comes.  We must not give in to fear or recrimination or revenge but instead establish a just society in which peace, order and good government is not maintained by legislation and by force of arms but by the change of heart and action in each of us.  Building this just society means that we can no longer turn a blind eye toward the increasingly desperate plight of the lower classes, women and visible minorities.  We must recognize that the American dream does not remove us individually and corporately from caring for the least in our midst, and indeed if we are to call ourselves a Christian nation once more, there is a moral imperative to ensure that no one leads a life of desperation or fear or hate, or a life of personal abundance at the same time as so many have no hope.  Desperation, together with a departure from Godly values, does far more to create violence at home than anything else.

For the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, today is a day to mourn.  Tomorrow is a day to bring the perpetrators to justice.

But of far greater import in the coming days, and by far the harder task, will be to implement a paradigm shift in our values and our actions, based upon the foundation of faith in God and His plans and His values, to implement a new and just society.

Borrowing a quote from the movie “The Matrix”: –  “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. It is time for you to choose.”

It is time for each of to choose.. and there is really no choice about it.  We all must take the red pill, and walk in our new identity, based on Godly principles, and work together to implement a truly just society with no one left behind.  It will be a long and hard but edifying road, and be one that will please God.

Just sayin’….


Your Born Identity – Part 5.

It happened again.

This time it happened when my connecting flight was cancelled on my way back home from a conference.  My initial reaction was frustration, but as I approached the counter, I reminded myself once again that I could choose my reaction to this waste of my valuable time, and choose how I would use this “wasted” time. I could choose to respond with an attitude like “Don’t you know who I am?”, and take my irritation out on the flight attendant; or I could choose to respond with an attitude like “Don’t you know who He is? Let me show you.”

This is Part 5 (the final part – for now) of a series on Your Born Identity – who you were designed to be, and who, now restored by covenant faith, God has called you to be.  In Part 1 we discussed how through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, that God has declared you to have legal righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  In theological terms this is called justification.  In Part 2, we discussed the nature of the unconditional new covenant relationship between you and God, and that you have the Holy Spirit implanted in you in all His fullness to work within you to put moral righteousness into every part of your life.  In theological terms this is sanctification, and in Part 3 we learned that this sanctification process is not optional, but essential because we belong to Him now and we are to be fully engaged in God’s kingdom work.  Sanctification is progressive, requires hard work and sacrifice, and your new identity needs to grow.  Self-examination is required, and the growth will be evident in tangible ways and by the fruit of the Spirit in your life.  In Part 4, we discussed the need for an essential shift in focus away from yourself as the main event, and toward God and His purposes – on to what He would have you do, as a covenant member of His new royal priesthood over all creation.  This is why you are here, not just to wait and hold on hopefully for his promised return, but to go out and extend His kingdom, to make Him known.

Why you are here is for so much MORE than your personal salvation and personal blessing and gratification.  A shallow interpretation of the gospel leaves one to conclude God’s favour means blessing, and the presence of suffering can be hard to understand.  Yet the uncomfortable truth, rarely spoken of but appearing through the scriptures, such as Hebrews, is that we have been baptized into both the Messiah’s resurrection and the Messiah’s suffering.  Through both – the resurrection and the suffering – we are called to the Great Commission, the working of the harvest, to make Him known and to glorify Him.  He blesses us that we might bless others. He sustains us through the challenges we endure for His sake.  And both the blessing and the hardship – and our response to them – are not about us but about Him.

I have just returned from a pentecostal studies conference that focused on holiness.  The roots of pentecostalism go back to Wesleyan methodism of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the Holiness Movement of the 19th century.  Both of these stressed the subsequent sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not just for ourselves, but so we could go out and change our world and reach people with the practical good news of the new creation in Christ.

Today, even in pentecostal circles, this emphasis on holiness and its inward and outward manifestations is not adequately spoken of or acted upon, at least in North America.  In certain branches, christian faith has descended into a kingdom-now, personal blessing-based, corruption of the gospel message which has re-shaped the Saviour into a personal manufactured Jesus blended with the American dream.  In other branches, the imperative to change the world for the better has become separated from the truth and spiritual foundation of the gospel, so the engagement in social issues contains no gospel at all.

To neither of these descents have we been called.  We have been called to so much more.

We need to return to basics, to a firm foundation, to a covenantal relationship with God made possible through the saving work of the Messiah, to an on-going process of sanctification both inwardly and outwardly.  Like the Wesleyans and the Holiness movement, we need to commit to holiness and to go out and change our world, in this time of already, in-process, not yet of kingdom living as we prepare for His return and the full consummation of the kingdom.  This is a far more accurate depiction of the great commission.

The great commission is not just about personal spiritual salvation, rescue from death and the promise of living in God’s kingdom some day in the future, which we hope will come soon…  It is far more than that.  In short, it is about the restoration of God’s original design and the establishment of his kingdom.  Hesed (lovingkindness) which is at the core of God’s character, which undergirds His kingdom and which is the essence of the gospel, has been extended in covenant faithfulness to you and me as His people.  It needs to be at work through you as you extend and establish His kingdom.

Understanding this – that the great commission is about, but not limited to, “sharing” the good news and saving souls from hell – requires a change of perspective to see the great commission as a greater more encompassing commission than we have realized.  Being about our Father’s work – the great commission – is actually being an ambassador for, and the living embodiment of, the kingdom of God.  This de-mystifies the great commission, and excludes no one, either from working the harvest, or of being part of the harvest. We are all workers in His kingdom, working His inheritance, blessed by Him to do His will, no matter what comes.

So this brings me back to my story of the delayed flight… and giving visible evidence of the kingdom of God.

Many years ago, I found myself stuck in a checkout line at a grocery store, and it was supposed to be the express line.  As time passed, I became inwardly somewhat frustrated, as patience hasn’t always been my best feature. As I waited though, I became aware of the conversations around me, particularly between the cashier and the person at the checkout.  The cashier had made a mistake and was being roundly criticized by the patron.  The next person in line, just in front of me, was abrupt to the cashier, taking out his impatience on her, probably expressing what I inwardly felt.  As I watched and listened though, my impatience vanished and I had compassion on the cashier.  I realized that my inward frustration was wrong and that I was capable of (and expected to be) so much more.  When I approached the cashier with my so important purchase, she was visibly crushed from the previous 2 customers, not crying but close to it, and she wouldn’t even look up at me.  I thought to myself, “I’m going to talk to her… I’m going to make her talk to me and make her smile”…  which I proceeded to do.  At first she responded in only one word answers, but gradually my banter began to have an impact, and she looked up and engaged in a full conversation.  And then she smiled and laughed at something I said.  As I left, she said “Have a great day!”… and then greeted the next customer with a smile.

Something clicked in my mind at that point… getting stuck in a line-up was not optional, but I could choose how to respond, and how to use the time while I was stuck in line.  Routinely now I will engage people in conversation, in line ahead of me or behind me, and always the cashier.  I don’t quote John 3:16 but I give visible tangible evidence of the kingdom of God at work through me, and it changes someone’s world.  Oh yes… the next time I went to that store and that cashier was on duty, she spotted me 3 places back in the line-up and smiled at me.  She remembered.

I did the same thing with the airline attendant who was re-booking my delayed flight.  She had been having a rough day – in her words, “a day like I’ve never had before”, with other delayed flights, and the 3 people in front of me had vented their frustrations on her.  When it was my turn, I was reasonable, friendly, asking questions, and got her to smile and let her guard down a bit.  I thanked her and told her she was doing a great job.  What a visible response, surprised but pleased, I got to that!  Then, 3 hours later and 4 boarded flights at the gate, as we prepared to board our delayed flight, her co-attendant at the desk was checking my flight itinerary, and the woman who had re-booked my flight stopped what she was doing, leaned across, and told her co-worker that everything was fine, as she had “verified Mr. Ambrose’s itinerary personally”.  She remembered!  And my inward reaction was not “Thank you God for favour! She knew who I am!”.  Instead it was “Thank you God.  I hope she caught a glimpse of You and Your kingdom.  I hope You send others of your people across her path.”

Somewhere at some time, there will be the right time for someone to water the seed I planted and share with her John 3:16.  That needs to happen.  Maybe it will be you or me who gets that opportunity.  But every day you and I get opportunities to be  the visible evidence of the kingdom, the tangible manifestation of practical holiness, which you need to extend into your world and into peoples’ lives.  Otherwise the words of the gospel, without its works, will be dismissed by those who are perishing and thrown out for lack of evidence.

As you carry out the great commission, let it be evident to everyone at all times through your words and actions as a covenant member of the kingdom of God.  This is who you are.  This is your born identity as a new creation in the Christ.  To this you have been called!

Your Born Identity – Part 4.

One of my all-time favorite movies (at least the first half of it) is Fiddler on the Roof, a musical about a rural jewish village in Russia as it copes with religious persecution and the social upheaval brought on by a rapidly changing world.  In the midst of this, Tevye, a poor farmer who daily wrestles with God, says to Him: “I know we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

Sometimes, as we live our lives as believers and followers of the Christ, it can feel very much like this.  Christians can face ridicule in the news and the workplace.  We face many challenges, and if we are honest, it is difficult to walk out our calling as believers and followers, and a daily struggle to purify ourselves.  Combined with a lot of shallow theology these days that equates faith and obedience in the Christ with a smooth road and blessing in every area of your life, you can wonder what you are doing wrong, or grow discouraged or disillusioned in trying.  “Lord, I’ve tried so hard and it seems like I can’t get ahead.  Why me? Can’t you choose somebody else?  I’m done here.”

This is Part 4 in a 5 part series called Your Born Identity.  In Part 1 we discussed how through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, that God has declared you to have legal righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  In theological terms this is called justification.  In Part 2, we discussed the nature of the unconditional new covenant relationship between you and God, and that you have the Holy Spirit implanted in you in all His fullness to work within you to put moral righteousness into every part of your life.  In theological terms this is sanctification, and in Part 3 we learned that this sanctification process is not optional, but essential because we belong to Him now and we are to be fully engaged in God’s kingdom work.  Sanctification is progressive, requires hard work and sacrifice, and your new identity needs to grow.  Self-examination is required, and the growth will be evident in tangible ways and by the fruit of the Spirit in your life.

During this maturing process, the character of God will grow within you and manifest toward people and situations (also toward yourself!) One key characteristic of God is hesed, meaning “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and “covenant faithfulness and love in action”.  This will begin to manifest in a maturing believer actively engaged in covenant sanctification.

Some of the questions we ask, as we face challenges, result from not really understanding our new covenant identity, why we are here, what blessings are for, who this is really all about, and what “already, in process, not yet” kingdom living looks like.

Would it shock you to learn that you are not the main reason or the end result of Christ on the cross? Or that His blessing is not about you, and may involve suffering and death?

This is what some might call an “inconvenient truth”.  Uncomfortable even.  But still truth.  “I know we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” 

The truth is, God loves you and me.  He has set us free from the death-grip of sin and reconciled us to Himself.  But now we are not our own and there is a much bigger picture.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that is growing within us, that He desires to be extended to all people, this Kingdom already established, in process, yet waiting for its complete fulfillment upon His return.  We are workers in His fields, over His creation, to make Him known. Your life belongs to Him.  You serve the Most High.

What this does, of course, is shift our focus.  It shifts our focus away from ourselves and on to Him and His purposes, and what HE would have each of US do. It shifts your focus on to what He would have you do, as a covenant member of His new royal priesthood over all creation.  This is why you are here, not just to wait and hold on hopefully for his promised return, but to go out and extend His kingdom.

This shift in focus to Him and away from yourself leads to other changes.  

First, If we realize who we really are, and what our role really is, it will accelerate the sanctification process and our active participation in it.

Second, it will change how we pray and what we pray for.  If you are like most believers in this generation, most of your prayers focus around yourself and your own concerns.  How would this change if your focus changed and you embraced your covenant identity?

Third, the shift in focus to God and His purposes changes our notion of blessing and of suffering.  God still desires to bless you, but as a co-inheritor of an already established but in process and not yet consummated Kingdom of God, the focal point of the blessing is not your comfort or reward, but rather that you might bless others, that you might better accomplish His purposes and establish His Kingdom and make Him known to others.  This also might change how and what you pray for blessing.

Fourth, changing your focus in this way to the correct focus on Him can change your perspective on the challenges you face.  Understanding that the Kingdom of God is in process, and not yet fully consummated, will alter your perspective:  like the battle of sanctification within you, there is a war going on in the fields you are working on assignment in His Kingdom, and the adversary is the enemy.  The presence of challenge and hardship in your life (and understand that the challenge and hardship discussed here is not that which results from your own past decisions, but the challenge and hardship because of who you are as a member of God’s covenant family, involved in a war) is actually a good sign that His kingdom is advancing.  It is still never pleasant to face hardship! But having the correct perspective on it helps… while these things are unpleasant, and may even demand your life, the presence of challenge and hardship does not mean that you have angered God, it means that you have aggravated an already defeated adversary and irritated those under his sway who have not yet heard the good news of the kingdom.

Fifth, having our focus upon Him and not upon yourself can actually make it easier to follow His commandments and display His character.  For instance, with this change of perspective, it can be easier to forgive, because the real offense is against God, and not you, and eternal separation from God is not something you would wish on even your worst enemy.  Enter the character of God, and the reason for sanctification, because that character trait of hesed – “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and “covenant faithfulness and love in action” – needs to be well and truly on display, to everyone, because you are God’s ambassador with the good news of His Kingdom.  His Kingdom is not advanced through the fruits of the old nature, but the new.  

Finally, as we will get into in greater depth in Part 5, the reason why you are here, why you face trials of many kinds, why you are blessed, why you need to sanctify yourself, is so much more than your personal salvation and right standing before God.  There is a bigger picture than just you, and in this sanctification process within you, and in this Kingdom work you have been given to do, the fruit of the Spirit are the building blocks of the kingdom of God.