Have You Checked For Yourself

September 24, 202

     I have never spent any considerable time in a desert, but I must admit that the unique environment is rather intriguing. I have often thought it would be a fun adventure to hike, bike or camp for a few days in a desert. I would love to see those large saguaro cacti which I read somewhere can grow up to 60 feet tall. 

     In reading and watching about desert survival I have heard a few times that those large cacti have water inside. At one time I had envisioned cutting one down and getting a drink. The common notion that cacti have drinkable water inside is a myth. They do store water but it’s in a form that is not safe for drinking and in fact can cause illness. 

This raises an important principal. Sometimes it matters what we believe. Not always, for example if you believe the toilet paper should roll off the back of the role that is not life threatening (You shouldn’t be allowed in civilized society, but you won’t die). That’s probably not a great example but I’m sure you can think of many things where a mistaken belief isn’t harmful. 

     Sometimes however mistaken beliefs are very harmful. A few years ago a woman shot and killed her husband because they were under the impression that a phone book could stop a 9mm bullet. Needless to say it could not and did not. 

     These of course are physical examples but the physical world is not the only place where you can find mistaken beliefs that have very real and very harmful consequences. 

     I have met people who believed there was no God. I’ve met some who believed there was a God but not one to whom they were responsible. I have met people who believed there was a God but that he would save everyone. I have met people who believed that there was a God but that only the purely evil go to hell. I have known people who believed that the universe was God and they would become part of it at death. I have had young well-dressed men come to my door who believed they would someday be gods. 

     Then I have met people who believe in God, believe in Jesus, believe in the Bible but who don’t take it seriously or study it carefully. They may believe that God elected the saved and lost before creation. They may believe that mental affirmation of God’s existence is all that is needed to be in a right relationship. They may believe that we must perform meritorious deeds which will ingratiate us to God. 

     I’m sure you have met many of the same people I have. 

     The troubling thing about all of this is that someday their beliefs will matter. Someday they could be like me going to get a drink from a cactus only to discover that I should have brought a water bottle. In fact, were I to set out into the desert without learning this it could be fatal. I should also add that this is not difficult information to find. 

     Someday all men will enter eternity. My prayer is that before that day they have heard what Peter said to those who learned the good news about God’s plan of redemption through Christ “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.””
     Beliefs have consequences lets be the kind of people who check our beliefs in the light of scripture and help others to do the same.

~ Kevin Cleary


They Don’t Know How to Blush

September 17, 202

I don’t want to make people feel bad about themselves and most other people don’t either. That common human sentiment has a place, it’s good that people feel compassionate. However, compassion can be misconstrued such that it becomes cruelty and even active harm. Every parent wants their kids to feel good and happy and confident. But every parent also knows that affirming every whim of a child will lead to serious harm. No matter how badly your 5 year old cries and begs to drive the car they just can’t be allowed. Even though they may be deeply upset, may get mad at you may yell and cry and call you names. Loving them means placing restrictions on their behaviour and teaching them to feel bad when they violate those restrictions. It is good that they feel remorse, shame and guilt for bad behaviour. 

It’s important to understand that God has given humans the capacity to feel for a reason and that includes negative feelings. Yes, some people can be more prone to negative feelings than others, some can even have misplaced negative feelings. That does not indicate that those feelings were a mistake on God’s part. It does indicate that our consciences need to be informed by truth. 

     Many societal institutions, especially in the humanities, psychology and social work have adopted the position that no one should experience any kind of guilt or negative feeling. This is often discussed in terms of stigma. Stigma describes the societal negative feelings of guilt and shame associated with certain activities. While it’s true that this sometimes causes people to avoid getting help in an effort to hide the things they are ashamed of. It’s also true that this keeps many people from engaging in them at all. The most common examples today are drug abuse and sexuality. The sexual revolution promoted the idea that any sexual appetite is normal and should be satisfied. That, people shouldn’t feel guilty about sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman. However this kind of behaviour hurts individuals and hurts society. People don’t like this they want to do whatever feels good and never have to deal with consequences. This is not how the world works and the stigma attached to sexual misbehaviour while not stopping the problem certainly limited it. People should feel bad about bad harmful behaviour it’s a God given protection. 

     Now a similar thing has happened with drug use and even crime. There is a vested effort to remove the stigma from behaviour that needs to be stigmatized. Drug use is extremely harmful, and people should feel ashamed of doing it. Our policies aimed at removing stigma and creating “safe” ways to use drugs are a lie. Imagine if Russian Roulette became popular but we were worried because sometimes people were using guns with malfunctioning safeties, so we started giving them free guns which were manufactured to better standards. 

     God warns that those who don’t know how to blush, don’t know how to feel ashamed of bad behaviour, will fall Jer 6:15. We are witnessing that fall in all our major cities. What’s worse we are complicit because we are facilitating the means of people’s destruction. It is notable that since the new stigma free initiatives have taken hold death from overdose, crime, and homelessness have not improved but in fact have become much worse. Almost like what anyone with a shred of common sense would have predicted. 

     If we are wise (which we aren’t) we will relearn how to blush, and perhaps limit some of the damage of sin simply by being honest enough to call it sin. That is the compassionate thing to do.

~ Kevin Cleary


What Makes You Good At Something?

September 10, 202

Are you are good driver? By what metric do you measure that? What skill do you have that you could share with someone? If you were trying to help someone becoming good at it too how would you help them? 

     Is it knowing a lot about that thing? 

     In our imaginary scenario would you want to give them this history and background? Is that important for the skill you are wanting to develop? Would you want them to know the first person whoever did this and why? Perhaps you would tell them about developments over time and how we came to the point we are at today. For example, hockey sticks when I was a kid were wood not carbon fibre. However, knowing this detail adds very little to your ability to play hockey. 

     There are some things that would be necessary to know  like the basic rules or steps. However, you may know all the rules of the road and not be a very good driver. You could know all the rules of a sport and be in a similar situation. I don’t think I every broke any rules when I played baseball but that did not mean that I was good at it. In fact I can tell you that I was not. 

Rather we might suggest that knowing the rules is more like a basic necessity to do many things; sports or driving as mentioned above. If you own a firearm or even if you just want to shoot one at a target, there are many safety rules you need to know and follow. However even when you follow all those rules you may still miss. Similar rules plus a few more related to seasons and legal harvesting are important for hunting. Again, you may be very safe, and totally compliant with all the rules but you may not be a good hunter. 

     One point must be emphasized before we move on. Knowing some things and following certain rules is necessary. For example following rules won’t make you good at basketball but if you don’t know and follow the rules you don’t know if you’re playing basketball at all. 

     I’m sure by this point many of you know the answer. It’s practice. Good, thoughtful practice is what you need to get good at something. The things we practice become part of us. For a good player, shooter, driver, the skills needed to do well become second nature. I have often been in cars with people who signal even turns in parking lots. Why? It’s not because they think it’s needed it’s because signalling has become a natural part of turning the car. This brings us to a critical point. The Bible has rules to be followed, there is no question about that. Knowing them and following them is important. However, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that following rules it what makes us good Christians. The problem is we can follow lots of rules while never really putting our faith into practice. If we want to be like God his word, his values, his priorities need to become second nature. We need to spend time, talking, praying, loving, studying, encouraging, sharing, helping. That these stop being things that we do and become who we are. Scripture can and must inform our faith II Tim 3:15-17, but it can’t put it into practice for us. 

~ Kevin Cleary


Travel Documents

August 27. 202

I will shortly be traveling for a time in the US. In order to do this it is important to be able to identify myself to the Border guard. I could arrive at the border thinking I know who I am and surely when the border guard sees me he will know, yep that Kevin Cleary Canadian Citizen. As convenient as it would be if this were the case the reality is the guard will want proof. He will want some (to use his words) “documentation”. For this purpose, I have a passport it has my picture, identifies me, and proves I’m Canadian. This way I will have no problem crossing the border and continuing my trip.
     We as Christians have another aspect to our identity. We are God’s people. Just like our physical identity we need some documentation of our spiritual identity. Is there such a thing? Can we know we are God’s and can God identify us as his?
     The answer is yes! Unlike the passport that I have to carry with me the documentation from God is with us all the time. In Ephesians 1:13 Paul says we have been given the Holy Spirit as a seal. This is not the seal that keeps our food fresh; instead, it is like an identifying marker. II Timothy 2:19 points out (again making reference to the seal) that God know those who are his. It is comforting to know the saved have documentation before God. What about us though? Can the saved know they are saved? Is there documentation for us?
     When I approach the border, I find myself invariably touching my pocket or even getting my passport out to assure myself that I have everything in order. I say it’s because of the sign telling me to have my documents ready, but if that sign were gone, I know I would still be grasping my passport ready to hand it out the window open to the right page.
     Wouldn’t it be nice if there were documentation for our trip into eternity? There is, God has not left us to wonder about our standing before him. He has told us, what we need to do to have everything in order and keep it that way. This information comes to us in scripture. I Corinthians 2:6-16; John 16:12-14; II Peter 1:21; II Timothy 3:15-17 all inform us that God communicates to man through the Bible. And it is in this communication from God that we can find his promises to us consider I Corinthian 6:11 after listing a number of sinful conditions Paul points out that Christians no longer have their sins. A similar affirmation is found in Rom 8:31-39. Christians do have documentation, it’s the Bible. No wonder so many who are approaching death do so grasping their Bibles, they like me at the border want to know that everything is in order.
     Knowing then how to know that we are right with God, lets always keep our Bibles close not just grasping them but reading and loving them. Furthermore, let them reveal the true object of our love the Lord Jesus who is responsible for our salvation.
(Anyone who wants to know specifically what the Bible says about how to be saved see: Rom 1:16; 10:9-10; Acts 3:19; Acts 2:38; Rom 6:1-4; Gal 3:27)

~ Kevin Cleary 


Why Forgiveness Is Hard

August 13, 2023

(from a presentation by Jeremiah Tatum

How do you forgive when you have been hurt so deeply by someone you love so deeply? Why is forgiveness so hard? We often hear forgive and forget but its easier said than done.

1. Forgiveness is hard because forgetting is impossible. I know we’ve heard and been told to “forgive and forget.” I have counselled with Christian people who have said hatefully, “I will forgive them but I will never forget what they’ve done!” I have walked away knowing that there was no forgiveness there. But can we really forget? No. Will we forget? Impossible. But will we learn some things about trust? Yes. Will we learn some things about healthy boundaries? Yes. Will we lean on God more knowing that He alone will never leave us or forsake us? Yes. God wants us to remember so we can learn lessons and thank Him for His steadfastness.

2. Forgiveness is hard because trust is difficult to regain. If you have been lied to, if you have been betrayed, if you have been slandered, or if your loved one has cheated on you, there is a wound that has been created that goes all the way through. This wound rarely heals completely. Whenever a familiar moment arises that reminds you of the time trust was broken, the surface that has healed above that wound is removed and you begin to bleed again. Human beings have a hard time trusting because we tend to over-emphasize our own personal feelings. We categorize and compartmentalize faithfulness. We forget that we are not always trustworthy in all things. We decide that if our loved one has broken trust in an area that we feel is more significant, they can never truly be trusted again.

3. Forgiveness is hard because it is natural for us to try to protect ourselves. We build physical walls to protect our families, mental walls to protect our intellect, emotional walls to protect our hearts, and even spiritual walls to protect our individuality. Anytime a fortress has been penetrated we are prone to pack up and leave an area that was once safe, never to return. If you have been hurt bad enough even one time, you would rather experience anything than to be hurt in that same place all over again. We don’t want to be fools, so when we have been badly injured we wrap up and find a cave. There is no forgiveness for the one who has inflicted the pain when we are too busy sulking and licking our wounds.

4. Forgiveness is hard because everything is amplified when it is our loved ones who have been hurt. We would much rather be hurt ourselves than to have it be our spouse or children. Especially in cases where the sin was egregious and unnecessary and cast upon the innocent – we find ourselves seeking retribution and justice. We suppose that if we could see the guilty party suffer for what they have done at least we would have something to hold on to over which we had some control. It is hard to forgive when you are reeling. It is hard to forgive when you see the pain in the face of your pierced and yet sinless child.

We can’t forget, but God has promised He will forget our sins. We can’t trust, but God has forgiven us enough to trust us with the precious gospel and adopt us into His family. We can’t be vulnerable, and yet God has opened the gates of His eternal abode and invited us into His most intimate dwelling place forever. We can’t overcome the suffering of our loved ones, and yet God has forgiven us for crucifying His only Son.

Forgiveness is hard for one simple reason. We make it about us! God forgives so freely and perfectly because for Him forgiveness is about others. This is the love of God. When we deserved punishment, He chose mercy. When we deserved banishment, He chose fellowship. When we deserved nothing, He chose to give us everything. When we did what was unforgivable, He chose to forgive.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10