Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Church of the Holy Smoke?

This morning's scan of the online news feeds once again provided me with an opportunity to say, "Hmm."

It seems that there is a pastor in beautiful White Rock, BC (near Vancouver) who heads up the Church of the Holy Smoke. The "smoke" in question is none other than marijuana. Yes, you heard that right.

The church boasts 10 members locally and 600 nationally. The good "reverend's" messages can be heard and subscribed to on his YouTube channel.

I gave Pastor Robin the benefit of the doubt and clicked on a couple random videos on his YouTube channel and listen for a couple minutes. Other than a passing reference to "Mother Earth," I heard nothing deep or theologically profound about faith or church, but then again, I'm not really surprised.

Apparently Pastor Robin Douglas has gotten himself into a little bit of a scuffle with the City of White Rock over his erecting "worship service" (pot smoking) tents in the backyard of a beachfront property. Again, this isn't really a surprise. The media article went on to say that lawyers have now been consulted by the church to assist in their struggle with the city.

Those wishing to make a contribution towards the church's fight with the city can do so; they're accepting both cannabis and cash donations (I kid you not; see story source link below).

Well there you have it; yet another instalment from the weirder side of religion. In the end, the Church of the Holy Smoke reminded me a little of another religious story that made the headlines a couple years ago that I blogged about: The Snakes that Charmed the Church. As the old adage says, "To each their own."

Finally, and at the risk of being completely facetious, maybe one day the media will report of the Why is the Rum Gone Church. Hmm, sorry, couldn't resist.

Photo Credit: Adrianna Broussard, Flickr Creative Commons
Story Source: Church of the Holy Smoke

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Are You A Berean?

I saw this cartoon on Facebook the other day and it gave me a good healthy chuckle. During his tithing sermon the pastor tells his parishioners, "Actually, the Greek word for tithe means 25%." The caption then says, "Dr. Sheldon takes advantage of his congregation's lack of knowledge of the Greek language." Too funny!

But seriously, the implication of this cartoon is that there are some pastors who are deliberately deceptive. Other than a bonafide 'Wolf in the Pulpit,' I have a hard time with that. Sure, some preachers might be deceived themselves, but I believe that the vast majority seriously believe that which they preach.

This does, however, raise another question for me from the other side of the pulpit; the pew. There is, perhaps ironically, this age-old tendency for Christians not to know their Bibles and simply be told what to believe. Granted, since the Reformation days, we're doing better, but as I look around in my little corner of the world, I still see an attitude among some believers reminiscent of those old days when Bible reading was discouraged. I wonder why that is.

I just cannot fathom why this lethargic attitude towards the Scriptures prevails. God has revealed so much of Himself within its pages that one would think that every Christian would daily spend time examining it for themselves. Unlike the suggestion in the cartoon, we don't have to have a knowledge of the Greek language either in order to know that something coming from the pulpit is true or false; there are plenty of good English versions to guide us in our quest for biblical literacy. Please understand, I do not mean this as the proverbial 'guilt trip.' This is just my own humble musing.

Getting back to the cartoon, I wonder if the Bereans old old would have fallen for such trickery. Notice what Luke tells us in Acts 17:11. In the NIV it reads,
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (emphasis mine)
The point is, the Bereans did not just blindly take Paul's word for it; they looked it up for themselves. As such, I doubt they would have fallen for "a tithe means 25%." Taken one step further, would they have believed that the tithe (10%) even had a place at all in the church if they heard a preacher trying to convince them to part with a prescribed portion of their income? Some still preach that Old Testament law today, and try to twist it into the New Testament church. And some non-Bereans still buy into it. (For more on this, see my post: Tithing: Is It Christian?)

Perhaps this explains why there are so many "dissensions and factions" (Galatians 5:20, acts of the sinful nature according to the previous verse) in the church today; some Christians are like the Bereans whereas some are not. Some test what they hear from the pulpit against the Scriptures, and some just blindly accept what they're told without question.

Are you a Berean? Something to think about. Peace.

Cartoon Source: Unknown (via Facebook)

Monday, 20 July 2015

What Are You Afraid Of?

I was thinking a little this morning about things that stir up anxiety and stress in us. It seems that there is no end to possible stressors; health concerns, finances (will I ever be able to afford to retire?), employment (both the lack of and the wrong kind), enemies (both foreign and domestic), to mention but a few.

Lord knows; we’ve all got more than enough on our plates to get our blood pressure rising!

As I thought about that, I was reminded of those who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. Under the leadership of Nehemiah, and despite the great opposition of the surrounding peoples, they undertook the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall. Imagine trying to build something and having a buddy stand guard while you do so that you don’t get killed in the process by your neighbors, people who aren’t as enthusiastic about your building project as you are. That’s essentially what the building process looked like for them. Talk about stress!

How does Nehemiah encourage the people? He simply says to them, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome …” (Nehemiah 4:14). I like that. "Remember the Lord."

What are you going through today? What are you afraid of? Is stress getting the better of you? I'm preaching to myself here; it seems that there's no shortage of stress in my life lately. Still, Nehemiah’s words ring true. “Don’t be afraid of them [it]. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.”

Meditate on that truth; take a moment to really think on that and let it sink in. The God of Nehemiah is the same one you and I worship and call Lord. God hasn’t changed and He still can be trusted to help us through all those anxieties and stressors, just as He helped the people rebuilding that wall long ago. Though we often tend to forget Him, He has not forgotten us.

Call on Him. “Remember the Lord.”

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Hoarding Church: Not A Part of God's Plan

Perhaps one of the most beautiful illustrations in the New Testament of the early church is that of a sharing community. People spontaneously gave from what they possessed to help meet the needs of others, and so much so that the Bible says that "there were no needy persons among them" (see Acts 4: 32-37).

Are there needy persons in the church today? (No guilt trip intended). Hmm. Maybe we'll just leave that question alone.

This attitude of concern for those in need wasn't limited to only the local faith community either; they gave to fellow believers in distant places as well. The point is, whenever and wherever there was a need, the true church responded to help meet that need. To be sure, they also had in their midst conniving spirits who were less than honest in their giving, such as the story of Ananias and Sapphira, but God swiftly judged and passed sentence on their dishonesty and duplicity. Likewise hoarding was not a part of God's plan for the church, as seen in this post's meme above.

Let's Change Gears

My wife and I have been talking lately about visiting a lawyer and renewing our Last Will and Testaments. It's not that we have a lot of earthly treasures that require a careful post-death distribution plan, for we don't, but we would rather have control over what does get distributed to whom than allow the government to one day make that decision for us.

Still, wouldn't it be something if one day, when they bury the last surviving member of this marital union, there's nothing much left to bequeath because while we yet lived, God had imparted such a concern in us for the needs of others that most of the estate had already been given away? No, we're not there yet, and maybe we never will be. Maybe this is an unrealistic utopian idea. But in the end, doesn't it all come down to our attitudes concerning our worldly wealth and riches in relation to the poor and hungry, both in the church with us, and in the communities around us? Do we really care about them and their needs? Jesus does.

What if this very night our lives were demanded from us? Then who will get what we've prepared for ourselves? (Luke 12:20). Something to think about. Peace.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

of Subtle Conformity to Worldly Values

"For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son."
(Romans 8:29; NIV).

I remember once reading the story of how a psychologist brought several groups of ten students at a time together in a room for a little experiment. The instructions were simple enough; raise your hand when the psychologist pointed to the longest line on a series of charts. However, unbeknown to one student in each group was the fact that the other nine students in that group hand secretly been told ahead of time to raise their hands on the second longest line, regardless of the instructions given to the group.

In virtually every case, the one student who knew nothing of the ruse would glance around in confusion and ultimately, despite his/her better judgment, also raise a hand at the second longest line instead of the obvious longest line like the group had been instructed to do. This happened time after time; rather than confront the error of the group, that one poor self-conscious student simply went along with the rest of the group.

As I reflected on that psychologist’s experiment, I wondered if the same doesn’t also often happen with the church; not the institution, but rather individual Christian lives. Do we too tend to sometimes self-consciously go along with the group, even if we know deep down inside that they’re wrong? As I wondered about this, I was reminded again of one of my favourite Scriptures, Romans 12:1-2, which in the ESV reads:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by the testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
I don’t know about you, but every time I read those verses, the one thing that stands out loud and clear is the question of exactly who is being “conformed,” or “transformed,” by whom? Sometimes I feel like that one lone student being duped into raising my hand at the second longest line, rather than the longest line that I know is correct.

Sometimes, instead of being beacons of light that, with the Spirit’s leading, draws the unsaved to Christ, I cannot help but wonder if the reverse is not true instead. Like that lone student in the group of ten, could it be that the world has subtly “conformed” and “transformed” many Christians (myself included) into its version of pseudo-light instead? After all, sometimes it seems virtually impossible to tell the believer and the non-believer apart. It’s almost as if everything now somehow has become acceptable and there is no longer a recognized morality versus immorality, even in the church. Have you ever wondered about that?

I think about these things every now and then.

Now I realize that I’m talking about outward appearances, which obviously does not necessarily represent the condition of the heart within, but is it not logical to assume that the inner condition would somehow also manifest itself externally? If the joy of the Lord is truly in my heart, then why does it not show itself more than it does? Is my faith a secret? Am I self-conscious too like that lone student in the psychologist’s experiment? If so then haven’t I seriously misread my New Testament and seriously misunderstood the teachings of my Lord and His apostles? Jesus once told His hearers,
Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Let’s take that verse apart a bit.

“Let” is the same as saying to “allow” or “permit.” It’s something that we have control over. It’s a choice we make; I choose to “let” it happen or I choose not to “let” it happen. It’s completely up to me. If it were not so, then Jesus would not have given us the admonition to make it so. But He did; He said, “Let your light shine.” Still, the choice is mine, but how I choose then also brings with it the question of obedience versus disobedience to my Lord.

At the risk of digressing too far, this begged another question and that is, if I choose to deliberately disobey, then can I still rightly call Him Lord? Hmm, I wonder, but that’s a topic for another post.

“Shine” is more than simply being lit. There can be light, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bright. We can drive in the light of the day’s sun, on both cloudy and non-cloudy days, and see reasonably well; certainly better than driving at night. But try driving east as the sun comes up over the horizon, or driving west as the sun begins to set, and it “shines” so bright in your eyes that you can hardly see anything else around you. It’s in that sense that I think our Lord would have us to shine; so that the world can barely see anything else because the light of the "Son" is right there in their faces and in their eyes that they are essentially blinded to everything else.

This kind of reminds me of Moses who used to have to cover his face with a veil after having been in the presence of the Lord, because his face just radiated God (Exodus 34: 29-35). Ever meet Christians whose faces just seem radiate Jesus, no matter what the circumstances? I know a few like that. One would almost have to veil their faces too in order to keep from being “Son-burnt.” I confess that sometimes I’m even a little envious, wishing I too had such a witness.

“Good deeds” implies just that; our actions matter and we will be doing good deeds for the benefit of others. In other words, our walks will line up with our talks. Someone once said something to the effect of, “I won’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” Deeds do matter. James went so far as to say that “faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). Furthermore, if we can speak of “good” deeds, then it stands to reason that there can also be “bad” deeds, or maybe better yet, “evil” deeds. As Christians, ours are always to be of the “good” variety.

“Praise your Father in heaven” is the ultimate purpose of what Jesus was driving at. The goal is that my life and profession of faith be of such a nature as to lead others (and by that I include non-believers) to “praise your Father in heaven.” Again, please understand that I do not mean this as a guilt-trip for others, but rather I see this as an exercise in my own walk of faith. Does my day to day lifestyle, my “deeds,” my activity and “light” lead others around me in my circle of influence to “praise your Father in heaven” or not? If I were honest with myself, I would have to admit that it probably doesn’t happen as often as it should. I wonder why that is.

Where do I go from here? Well it’s a good thing that Jesus isn’t a baseball umpire; I would have struck out long ago. Where I will go from here is to not dwell on the "would-have’s, should-have’s, could-have’s," but to move on in His grace and love, striving to listen a little more to the leading of the Spirit, and to let my light shine a little more before men, striving to excel a little more in the “good deeds” department, all so that God may be glorified a little more as others come to the place where they too “praise your Father in heaven.”

I wonder how many experiments that psychologist would have had to perform before she found one student to stand up and choose the longest line, regardless of the fact that the other nine chose differently? Furthermore, despite their earlier instructions, I wonder if some of the other nine might not then have “transformed” their earlier vote and become “conformed” to the vote of the one lone student.

It’s easier to go along with the masses, there are plenty of examples in society of this, but it’s better to “not be conformed to this world.” Something to think about. Peace & Blessings.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Are You Just Another Brick in the Wall?

Are you a Mason?

Yes, I'm talking about a secret society, but it's not the Freemasons. This society is so secret that most of its adherents don't even know they are members.

Has anyone ever said to you "you wouldn't understand?" Have you ever said something like, "He has built a wall around his heart?"

What if I told you that you might have contributed to the construction?

I have recently found out that I may have built a wall around someone else's heart, or at least contributed a few bricks. You see, I found out that someone that I care about dearly has been suffering in silence. This person has made some choices and mistakes in life, and has been regretting them. Unfortunately, I have been rather outspoken about my opinion on these subjects. So, while this person was hurting, I was probably one of the last people to be considered for the role of confidante.

Can you relate? Have you ever found out that someone close to you has done some of the things that you preach against? If so, then you might know the feeling of shame that I must now endure. It makes me realize I have been far less like Christ than I should have been. So what do we do with that?

How do we express our thoughts on subjects that we feel are important without contributing bricks to someone else's wall? There must be a way to express our opinions without causing someone else to feel that we are not approachable. After all, the situation is not improved if we are the ones behind the wall. I think the key may lie in one detail from the situation that sparked this post: I have known this person for almost half my life. You see, I have been making a concerted effort over the past several years to tone down the religious rhetoric, but this person has known me during a part of my life when I was regularly opening my mouth long enough to change feet.

It seems to me that the problem may lie in the use of absolutes when discussing what we understand to be "truth." We Christians can be the worst at this. We make statements, often publicly, based on the combination of our personal story and our reflections on scripture. While those statements and observations may be valid, we must remember that the only way to prove that matters of faith are correct (or false) is to die.

Perhaps we should learn a lesson from Socrates. One of the things that have caused him to remain relevant over the years is that he would ask probing questions that would cause his fellow interlocutors to consider evidence and eventually discover "truth" on their own. This has become known as Socratic Questioning. So instead of saying some vice or choice is wrong, we should perhaps lead those around us on a journey of questioning that will help them to find the truth. Occasionally, we may even find out in the process, that it is what we understand to be the truth that needs correcting.

I hope that people who have gotten to know me over the past decade or so would find it hard to believe that I might be unapproachable. I am still a work in progress. To the person who sparked this post (you know who you are), I'm sorry. Please forgive me, and give me a chance to pull down the bricks that I have laid.

God help me to abandon this society of Masons.

by Guest Blogger: Waldo Rochow
Photo Credit: Rose Morelli, Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Graciousness: Leaving the Stones at Home

Friends, here's another guest blogger post that we've entitled:

"Graciousness: Leaving the Stones at Home."

A big "Thank You" to my little brother for sharing. Peace & Blessings to you and yours.

Are Christians called to be gracious? I suppose it depends on what you mean by gracious. I asked Google to "define: gracious" and interestingly, it provided me with two definitions for the adjective "gracious." One in common vernacular, and the other from a Christian perspective.

1. courteous, kind, and pleasant.
"smiling and gracious in defeat"
synonyms: courteous, polite, civil, chivalrous, well mannered, mannerly, decorous;
2. (in Christian belief) showing divine grace.
"I am saved by God's gracious intervention on my behalf"
synonyms: merciful, compassionate, kind;

I believe we are, but not specifically in the common definition (though, I do believe that the second builds on the first). We are not merely called to be the "hostess with the mostess", but gracious in the way that Christ was while He was with us.

Now obviously, Christ didn't walk around the Middle East being followed by a stenographer who was feverishly writing down his every word; so we have limited data from which to draw our opinions. However, it seems from my readings of scripture that the only people that Christ criticized were the people in the religious community. He lambasted them regularly, I believe, because they should have known better. I think the only time that Christ used harsh language was when he was addressing the church. Toward the unchurched and uneducated He was soft and tender. He used language that was simple, and non-confrontational.

Many people have made a big deal about the fact that Jesus ate with various "sinners". We have (...ok, I have), always viewed that as an example of how tolerant Jesus was toward the lost sheep of Israel. But it occurred to me today that He was invited to their table. It doesn't seem to be very likely that Christ knocked on the door and said "let me bless you with my presence." It was more likely that he was speaking to some of them close to mealtime and they invited Him to dine with them.

I can't imagine the religious leaders of the day being invited to dine with prostitutes and tax collectors. Of course, it wouldn't be a problem since the religious folks wouldn't likely have accepted such an invitation anyway. But my point is, the "sinners" felt comfortable enough with Jesus to invite Him to dinner. They obviously didn't feel that they would be "lectured at" for their lifestyle or the choices that they've made. They likely felt a rapport with Him. When I think of the people I've met, whose company I enjoyed the most, they were the people who let me tell my story. Chances are good that Jesus was the same way. (Can you imagine being in the presence of the living God incarnate, and having Him ask you about the things that are important to you?).

So here's the bite: Do we follow in the footsteps of Christ, or in the footsteps of the "good" religious folks? Do we have pet sins about which we cannot keep silent? Is there a particular group of "sinners" who would never invite us to dinner? Alcoholics? Drug users? Profaners? Homosexuals? Transvestites? Adulterers? The corrupt? The inhumane? Convicted criminals? Moslems? Jews? Jehovah's witnesses? Atheists?

If you ask most Christians today, (and they answer honestly), I'll bet that they feel that God wants them to point out the error in such sinful lifestyles. But my question is this: Why would God expect that of us, if He didn't expect it of His own son? If His own son could make these people so comfortable that they would invite Him into their homes, why would God expect us to shame the same types of people into repentance? Now, God does expect us to root out such lifestyle choices in the body of Christ. Of that I have no doubt.

When we see someone professing to be a follower of Jesus, especially if they are leading others, and they have obvious sin in their lives, they should be lovingly corrected, and coached to bring restoration. But even there, I feel that the rebuke must be gentle and compassionate, because none of us deserve the salvation that Christ offers. (Let him without sin cast the first stone). But those that are sinning against a God in whom they don't believe first need to be introduced to Him. They need to experience His grace first hand... and since we are His hands and feet (and mouth), it falls on us to show them the mercy, compassion, and kindness that Christ himself would have shown had He been here today.

May God grant us a tongue that is still enough, and ears that are open enough, to hear the concerns of His elect; and patience enough to make the introduction.