by Mark Penninga
I’m often asked whether political and legal developments in Canada get me down. And my honest answer is that they rarely do. I’m often amazed and encouraged by the impact we can still have when we seize the freedom God has given us and take action.
But I admit that last Friday’s Supreme Court of Canada TWU decision really hurts. It is a game-changer. I don’t think most Canadians realize just how profound an impact it will likely have on our most fundamental freedoms.
At the risk of oversimplifying it, a majority of the highest judges of our land broke the highest law of our land (the constitution) to chart their preferred moral course for the nation. Although the law was not on their side, they simply decided to press on with their agenda. And, humanly speaking, nothing can be done to stop them. Our legal and political systems will entrench this decision as the new standard.
When the dust settles and Christians begin to see just how serious this is, we may be tempted to throw up our hands in disgust, grumble at how things came to be this way, and, even worse, decide that this is the time to exit the public square.
It is times like this that our faith is tested. What do we really think about those passages in Scripture that instruct us about how to respond when we face hard times?
I have appreciated the biblical encouragement received from family these past few days. I’ve been reminded that the Bible says we should not be surprised when we face trials. Nor should we fear. God knows what He is doing.
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…”(Emphasis added, 1 Peter 3:13-14).
It is easy to skip over the “you will be blessed” and “have no fear of them, nor be troubled” part of the verse given what we are experiencing today. But that would be a big mistake.
God is calling us to move beyond our fear of man towards fear of God. He is calling us to be strong and courageous.
If we are honest, most of us will admit we do not feel very strong. And the older we get, the more clear that becomes. But courage has little to do with how strong we feel. Instead, courage means that we listen to what God promises, believe it, and then live in such a way that we show with our actions that we believe God’s promises.
In other words, courage has very little to do with who we are, and a whole lot to do with what we believe about who our God is.
A young child has courage not because they are strong, but because they have faith. If my two-year-old Matthew is standing up on a high table and I hold out my hands, he doesn’t need to think about it, he just jumps. He trusts me to catch him.
Sadly, as we get older, we begin to doubt the many promises that God made to us. As we experience the brokenness of life, our trust in those promises wanes. Our anxiety increases. And we often decide we are not going to jump. We are paralyzed with fear. We complain, or become bitter, or distract ourselves. But we don’t move forward with courage.
This has always been a challenge for God’s people. We read time and again in the Bible that God calls His people to stop living in fear and to be strong and courageous.
A key text that is imprinted on my mind is from Numbers chapter 13 and 14.
After their trek from Egypt, the Israelites were on the threshold of the Promised Land. Picture hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children travellers. God promised that they would receive the land. They just had to go in and take it. But upon hearing the frightening report of majority of the spies, the people crumbled. They refused to listen to Caleb, who believed God’s promise and encouraged them “let us go up at once and occupy it.”
Israel decided that God’s promises could not be trusted. They decided to obey the fear in their hearts. As a result, God tells Moses that none of those people would see the Promised Land. “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.”
What was different about Caleb? He had a different spirit. It was a spirit of faith. His faith trumped his fears. We have much to learn from Caleb, also as our nation chooses to flaunt God’s commands.
Sure enough, for forty years the Israelites wandered in a desert. Their lack of faith meant their entire generation died out. But it doesn’t end there. 40 years later a new generation has a new opportunity. God talks to Joshua when the new generation is on the threshold of the Promised Land. Will this generation be any different? Here, God gives Joshua a pep talk like no other.
If you have a moment, please read Joshua 1:1-9. Note God’s instruction:
Verse 6: “Be strong and courageous.”
Verse 7: “Be strong and very courageous.”
Verse 9: “Be strong and courageous.”
Do you think God had something he wanted Joshua to remember?
That was more than three thousand years ago. We know that God kept His word then, just as He always has. Israel did conquer that land.
Today, we have to decide whether and how to move forward after a very troubling Supreme Court decision. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us feel like grasshoppers next to the people in our land. Many powerful people think we are fools. They think Christian teaching is “harmful” and that Christian institutions should not be free to participate in public life.
But courage means we will share in the confidence of Caleb. As he said to all the people “We can surely do it!” That doesn’t mean we will say all the right things, or do it as well as others. But we will step in line and show with our words and actions that God’s promises are real, not only in the safety of our homes and churches, but throughout Canada, in 2018 and onward.
I understand very well that we are not the nation of Israel, and God has not given us a calling to “conquer” this land. We are not here for earthly power. He has given us an even greater calling than conquest. And that calling applies to every one of us who calls him or herself a Christian. Our calling is embedded in our name. We are Christians. Followers of Christ, meaning “anointed”.
If you are familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism, you will know that to be called a Christian means first that we are prophets, priests, and kings.
As prophets, we confess His Name (Lord’s Day 12). This means that we speak words of grace and truth, also in 2018 and in Canada, and also to those in authority.
As priests, we present ourselves as living sacrifices, willing to sacrifice our time, money, and even our reputation for Christ in Canada.
As kings, we fight against sin and the devil in this life. We actively resist Satan and his forces as they seek to make this a nation that celebrates death, corrupts vulnerable minds, and worships the idol of self.
We cannot do this in our own strength. Not a chance. But we can do so in the strength of Him of who calls us to not be afraid.
Let us call upon Him, seeking His grace and strength and fearing Him alone.
And then let us press on, strong and courageous.