Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Church in the Matrix?

Photo Credit: Hector Garcia
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You've sat on the church pew week after week, month after month, and year after year. Why? Partly because that is what Christians do, or so you've been told. After all, that's the way it has always been done, hasn't it? Christians "go" to church, don't they? They go to church, sit neatly in rows as they look at the back of the head in front of them, listen to some announcements, sing some songs, put some money in a passing plate, listen to a sermon, sing another song, and go home, only to do it all over again the following week. No one questions it. Such is church life for many. Such is the church experience for many. It's what we do.

Then why do you struggle with it so? If you didn't struggle with it all, you likely wouldn't bother with blogs like this one and like a host of others. If you didn't struggle with it, you wouldn't be looking beyond the pulpit in front of you. But "you're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain." All you know for sure is that your church experience feels strangely like it might actually be "The Church in the Matrix." All you know for sure is that something isn't quite right. I understand that feeling, for I have been there too. 
"You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain ... It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. What truth? That you are a slave, Neo, like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. You have to see it for yourself. All I am offering is the truth, nothing more." (Morpheus)

Is it just me, or is this scene from the Matrix full of religious motifs from the institutional church? Hmm, I wonder.

The spiritual connotations in this video clip from the Matrix are absolutely amazing. While the "Blue Pill" bunch, those still within the institutional church system, may not see the connection, I suspect that the "Red Pill" bunch that have left the institutional church will likely see it right away.
Photo Credit: Sourabh Rath
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I cannot help you with your confusion over the way things have gone within your institutional church experience. No one could tell me what to believe about this either. I believe that it all comes down to a personal revelation. I believe that the world stage is being prepared for something. I am convinced that God is preparing His church for something. I cannot help but wonder if this growing army of Christians, this exodus from institutional Christianity, isn't somehow going to be a part of God's end time plan. I like to think so. I suspect that your confusion about "The Church in the Matrix" may be a sign that God is beginning to reveal a few things to you too. Perhaps you too are now ready for the "Red Pill" like many others before you have already done. Can I get you a glass of water to wash it down?
I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit - just as it has taught you, remain in him." (1 John 2: 26,27; NIV)
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People always seem to be searching for that fantasy rabbit hole that really only leads them astray, and in which they can lose themselves. But the problem with holes, rabbit or otherwise, is that they can also give you that "sinking" feeling (pun fully intended). "You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain." But you're reasonably sure that somebody has been pulling your leg and trying to lead you astray.

But remember, teachers and preachers will come and go. People will always gather themselves around those who will give them "what their itching (rabbit?) ears want to hear" (2 Timothy 4:3). Perhaps that's a characteristic of the "Blue Pill."

Who do you listen to? Who can you trust? Well, maybe we should first be asking ourselves, what did Jesus say about this? He said:
"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14: 26,27; NIV)
Maybe we should just stop all our obsessions with the rabbit hole. Maybe we should stop our obsession with "The Church in the Matrix." Maybe we should just stop giving airtime all this religious and institutional stuff, and focus all our energies only on Jesus. Perhaps that's a characteristic of the "Red Pill." Maybe we should just stop being afraid, and believe that, though we may not know what tomorrow holds, we do and can know Him who holds it.

That's the way I see it anyways. Peace.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Atheist Holy Day?

I guess I've always been a bit of a jokester. If joking can be hereditary, I'm sure I get this from my father. At family gatherings, he always loved a good joke. Now with another April Fools Day just around the corner, perhaps "Rethinking Faith and Church" also needs to make its contribution to humour.

What comes to mind when I say, "Atheist?" What comes to mind when I say, "Holy Day?" Now suppose we combine the two and say, "Atheist Holy Day." What goes through your mind now? Maybe you're thinking, "a contradiction in terms!" Maybe, like me when I first heard it, you're thinking that somebody surely must have been smoking something funny to come up with that one!

Rest assured, my friends, though I'd like to take credit for it, I didn't come up with that one on my own. The term came from an email I received a while back. I have no idea how true it is or isn't. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "You can't believe everything that you read on the Internet."  (OK, he didn't really say that, but it makes for a good illustration). At any rate, the email did make for some fun reading. Here's the way I "cut 'n pasted" it from my e-mail. Enjoy.
Florida Court Sets Atheist Holy Day!
Gotta love this Judge!
You must read this.......a proper decision by the courts...for a change..
In Florida , an atheist created a case against Easter and Passover Holy days.
He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians and Jews and observances of their holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days.
The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring,"Case dismissed!"
The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, "Your honor, How can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays.."
The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant."
The lawyer said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists."
The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that, if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day.
Court is adjourned.." You gotta love a Judge that knows his scripture!
With all due respect to my atheist friends, I had to laugh when I read that. Still, I wondered, could the story be true? So finally I did what I should have done right from the beginning; I Googled it. And guess what? I found this on the The Museum of Hoaxes.

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. Happy April Fools Day. Remember, it's only funny if no one gets hurt by it. If our jokes hurt or offend, then we haven't acted in love. Like most most of us, I have to keep reminding myself of that, especially when my prankster side wants to come out and play. 

Blessings J

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

There Is Still Madness In This World

“To know war is to know there is still madness in this world.”

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I don’t know why I did it. The Internet is a funny thing that way. I was flipping through old music videos on YouTube and ended up with some of the old classic songs of yesteryear that I grew up with in my high school years. Video after video scrolled by for who knows how long. Minutes? Hours? Somewhere in between? It all became somewhat of a blur as I reminisced with one old classic after another.

Before I knew it, I was listening to music with video footage from the Vietnam war. Music such as the Doors, Hendrix, CCR, and the Rolling Stones to mention but a few, all with actual video footage from Vietnam.

As a preteen/young teenager at the time, I was too young to serve in the Vietnam war. As a Canadian, I likely wouldn’t have been there anyways (though some Canadians did fight alongside the US in the Vietnam War). But though I was young, I was not too young to have that sense that something wasn’t quite right in the world. I could read the newspapers by then. I could watch the television news. I could overhear adults speaking about the war. Something was clearly amiss.

A lot of the video footage I watched, though musical, was also political in nature. One video, by “Credence Clearwater Revival (Fortunate Son),” began with the image of a former GI (we are led to assume) carrying a protest sign, which read, “President Bush, you hid from the Vietnam war we served. How dare you ask our children to fight? Coward!” Wow! Strong words. Obviously the person carrying that sign was someone who strongly objected to renewed American military presence abroad. Canada too, has had its share of protesters to these foreign military campaigns, as have many other allied countries.

Photo Credit: Pak Gwei
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As I thought about these things, I was also reminded of some of the present day sentiments I’ve read on social media concerning politics on the eve of another federal election in the US. I mention the US only by default, as it is currently their election time. It could just as easily be Canada, Australia, Britain, or any European country for that matter. I’ve read of their political woes as well. Nationality isn’t even the primary issue here; but the spirit of the problem, which transcends all international boundaries, is.

Now, I am not unpatriotic; I love my country. However, the problem the way I see it is that too many Christians have become too engrossed with political agendas. Though they claim to be believers, the teachings of Jesus, especially as concerns our fellow man, seem to have become either down played or forgotten all together. Has the pledge of allegiance to a national flag trumped the pledge of allegiance to the cross of Christ? One has to wonder sometimes, and especially so when one sees them standing side by side as they do in some places.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Jesus; Mt.24:6; NIV)
What were we fighting about again? Does anyone even remember? Does anyone even care? Sometimes it’s pretty clear; other times not as much so. However, as someone has said, "if we don’t remember, then we’re doomed to repeat it." Will we ever see the utopic absence of war? This side of glory, I doubt it. War has become too ingrained in our human nature. Still, in the words of John Lennon's wartime protest, "War is over, if you want it." Do we want it?

Photo Credit: Ann Althouse
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Now please understand, though I tend to be somewhat of a pacifist, my heart aches for those who have lost loved ones in any conflict. My heart grieves for you if that includes someone dear to you just as much as my heart grieves for the mother on the other side of the conflict who also lost a son. Nationality or political persuasion has nothing to do with it. Families and loved ones are important to all of us. The communist, the capitalist, the socialist – and whatever other “ist” there is - we all grieve the same, and we all bleed the same, and we all love our children the same. And lest we have forgotten, we are all loved equally by the same God. Yeah, that’s right. God loves them too. As Christians, one would think that we should know this by now.

If we acknowledge that as truth, if we believe that, “For God so loved the world (John 3:16; note the word, “world”),” then why do we sometimes act as if the Scripture says, “For God so loved [insert nation here]” as opposed to the whole world? Is God only concerned with us and not them? Is God concerned only with our political persuasions? Of course not! I guess that’s just another example of our carnal nature.

NOTE: Parts of this video are disturbing.

But they’re communists, some might still object. OK, and I am an anti-capitalist. Your point is? Next question? What I’m trying to say is, so what? Where does it say that we have to be right all the time? Isn’t all conflict simply worldly? Regardless of what/who leads us into war, regardless of how many reasons there may be to justify a military campaign, isn’t all conflict ultimately the direct result of our hard hearts? It is one thing when the secular world concerns itself with the things of the world; that is to be expected. However, when the Christian, who professes faith in Christ, acts like the world, and with worldly values, then I begin to wonder.
“But they’re wrong,” some will still insist. Hmm, and I suppose that means that you must then be right?
OK, let’s assume for the sake of argument that they are wrong. If “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), or wrongs, does it cover their political faults too? The interesting thing is, you and I were also wrong, but thankfully God’s love through the cross of Christ covered a multitude (all) of our sins too. All I am suggesting is that we who know Christ, at least strive to focus a little more on that “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” part that Jesus spoke about (Mt.5:44). I’m reasonably sure that when Jesus said that, He wasn’t thinking of it as being only an optional suggestion, unlike what too many of us do today seem to think.

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At the risk of seriously over simplifying things, was that the problem in Vietnam and other global hot spots? More recently, was that the problem in Afghanistan and Iraq? Is that the problem domestically in political arenas today where we even slander our own countrymen? Is the root of the problem a hardness in our hearts? Oh, I know there are many, many complex issues to those conflicts. I am simply wondering what the outcomes might have been if we all first looked a little deeper within at the state of our own hearts before we focused too much on the specks in the eyes of our enemies.

Do you remember that old Wendy’s TV commercial where the elderly lady opens a competitor’s oversized hamburger bun only to find a small meat patty inside and cries out, “Where's the Beef?” Today many are beginning to open the bun of Christianity and are crying out, “Where’s the love?”

Photo Credit: Kate Skegg
Flick Creative Commons
All these years later, have we still not learned anything from Vietnam? Have we learned anything from some of the other more recent conflicts? Does our often pathetic attempts at loving our neighbor mean that our children and grandchildren are destined to have to experience those same horrors of war first hand for themselves too? While I hope not, sometimes that possibility really scares me.

Yes, that generation of music that I first mentioned had its own problems too. They weren’t perfect either. Their mantra seems to have been, "Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll." Though the church of the day had plenty of issues with that culture, to their credit they at least outwardly seemed to promote peace and love, even if they had those concepts a bit twisted. (But they did have cool looking vans - grin, grin). Yes, they had their faults, but hasn't modern Christianity's concept of peace and love also become equally twisted in the church today? Hmm, I wonder.

Come on, church. We of all people should know better! Where’s the love? We may never be able to stop wars, and the secular world will continue to fight them. But just maybe we can show the world that, just as God is a God of love, so also His children are children of love too. I wonder what would happen if the world really began to see that in us?
“Blessed are the peacemakers,  for they will be called sons of God” (Jesus; Mt.5:9). 
Maybe peace really does start with you and me. Are you up for the challenge? I wonder. That's the way I see it anyway. Blessings.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Spectators; Part 2

Photo Credit: Mike Collar
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I have been blessed with the honor to serve several families over the years in the incredibly sensitive area of dying loved ones. I’ve done so from preplanning funerals, through the dying process, to the cemetery, and on with grief counseling and support.

Often I have also been heard to say that I would rather serve at a funeral than at a wedding any day. Many have thought it strange that I should say such a thing. After all, how can a funeral be more fulfilling than a wedding? For me it is quite simple. At a funeral, we all come face to face with the reality of our own mortality and the path that we all shall have to travel one day. I do not want to sound morbid, but meditating on that reality is really quite sobering. I believe that we shall all face an eternity. The only question is, will it be with the Lord or apart from Him?

During these difficult times, I would sometimes hear people speak of loved ones who had just passed on as “watching us from heaven.“ Regardless whether that is theologically correct or not, and out of respect for the family in that difficult time, I would never argue the point with them. I reasoned that, if it gave them comfort, then why not? At a time like that, it didn’t matter if that fit well with my theology or not. What always matters most in those difficult times is striving to bring peace, comfort and love to the family.

Still, I’ve often wondered about that. Do loved ones who have gone on before watch us from heaven? Is there a sort of heavenly bleachers where they all gather and watch our race through this life as one might watch a competition in a sports arena? There is one passage of Scripture, which “may” (note the word “may”) lend some support to this idea.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1; ESV).
While the word “witnesses” in the Hebrews text primarily refers to the Old Testament martyrs listed in the previous chapter who “witnessed” (testified) for the faith, some scholars tell us that the Greek word here may also have a double meaning. Here “cloud of witnesses” may also refer to those who have gone before us being “witnesses” (spectators) to our pilgrimages through these lives of ours. If that is true, could those “witnesses” include New Testament saints? Does that include our parents, grandparents and other loved ones who have gone on before? At the very least, that is an interesting question.

Photo Credit: Yersinia Pestis
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Regardless our view of this, one thing is for certain and that is that we are all running the same race, as it were, but we’re not running it in obscurity; there are spectators. These spectators may or may not include our predeceased loved ones, but they do include the spirit world, and most importantly, the list of spectators includes God himself. (For more on this, please see my previous post: The Spectators)

The race is being run. The witnesses from yesteryear have run their leg of the race and have passed the baton on to us. Are they now excitedly sitting back and cheering us on as they watch us take our turn on the field? Who knows? It is all speculation at best, but it does present another incredible picture of the fellowship and unity of believers.

There is another fascinating verse that speaks about the souls of the slain under the altar. They call out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” They were then told that they would have to wait “until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed” (Revelation 6: 10-11; NIV). Are those souls under the altar also spectators to our walk of faith? Again, who knows?

Just as we do not have everything that Jesus said or did recorded for us (John 21:25), the Bible doesn’t seem to say much about this subject either. Maybe I shouldn’t even be asking all these questions. Maybe we should not concern ourselves about such things and rather simply “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Ultimately, that is the bottom line, isn’t it? Ultimately, keeping our eyes on Jesus is the only thing that matters.

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The strange thing about this race is, that though we’re still running it, the race has already been won. Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Yes, we sometimes still do stupid things that we’re later ashamed of, and the spirit of religion does like to highlight those things in order to enslave us still further, if possible, but in truth it can no more enslave us than it can enslave “Christ in us” (Colossians 1:27).

Someone has said, “We may not know what tomorrow holds, but we do know Him who holds it.” I like that. That gives me incredible peace. God holds all our tomorrows. May we all be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7; NIV).

And one final word for my friends who are going though, or who have recently gone through, the loss of a loved one: May you sense God’s perfect peace right now knowing that He loves you very dearly and is also perfectly in control of all our eternities, no matter what our questions may be along the way. Truly, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15; ESV). God bless.
  • So what are your thoughts? 
  • Do you think there are “Spectators” to our lives, a sort of heavenly “Big Brother,” that is watching this race of ours? 
  • And if so, do those celestial bleachers include our loved ones who have passed on before us?

I’d love to hear your take on this.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Spectators

Photo Credit: Yersinia Pestis
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“You are the God 
who sees me”
Genesis 16:13 (NIV)

“There are more eyes fixed on us than we may be aware of, and we do not see as we are seen” (paraphrase of Charles Spurgeon). Though we may often think of ourselves as being relatively obscure and unobserved as we travel through this life, the truth of the matter is really quite the opposite. The fact is that we are seen by beings that we ourselves cannot see.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the spirit realm. This is true of the demonic spirits as much as it is true of the angelic spirits. There is another realm, the spirit realm, that I believe does see every part of our lives. I do not believe that there is anything that you and I can do in life that can be perfectly concealed. Nor do I believe that we need to worry ourselves too much about this. However, the fact is, whether we realize it or not, like ‘Big Brother,’ we are being watched.

The opening verses of Job provide a good example of this. There we read of how even Satan noticed that Job was a blessed man of God. Satan (and no doubt his demons too) saw God’s hedge of protection around Job (Job 1: 9-10), and reading into this a little further, they were no doubt watching Job’s life quite closely. Job was seen by beings that he himself did not see.

The Bible also gives us many examples of how angels walked among men, sometimes seen and sometimes unseen, but always seeing. Just as they did then, I believe they also do now. Though we may see a person standing in a certain place, maybe it’s not really a human that we see at all. Maybe it’s an angel sent from the throne of God. Who knows? In Hebrews 13:2 we are reminded to “entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Could you imagine? You invite a bunch of people over, and one of those fellowshipping around the table with you, though you don’t know it, is actually an angel of God! Wow!

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Paul tells us that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). There is a lot going on around us that we do not necessarily see. Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes to see some of these things. “The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).

Yes, we are seen by beings that we ourselves do not see. And while I am convinced that all this is true, the most important one who sees us is God himself. “You are the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

So important was this concept to the ancient Greeks, that they actually had a word for it. It was the word, “theisthai,” which, as I understand it, means “the God who sees.” What does God see? He sees everything and everyone at every time and at every place. Nothing escapes His notice. God doesn’t miss anything. We cannot pull the wool over God’s eyes. As Spurgeon once said, “strike out the thought that He sees me, and you extinguish deity by a single stroke…He sees you as if there were nobody else in the world for Him to look at.” Scholars speak of this as God’s omniscience.

Does coming to the realization that we are being watched, not just by other spirit beings, but by God himself change the way we run this race called life? I think about that sometimes. When I get up in the morning and begin my day, what does God see me doing? As I travel to work and wrestle traffic, what kind of attitude does He see in me? When I am tailgated and cut off, what does God think about the way I responded to that other driver? Or what does He think about those thoughts running through my head as I take that second look at the scantly-clad beautiful woman walking down the street? How about all those times that God sees me being insensitive or short tempered? Or when I stumble yet again and again, and appear more like a child of the world (or devil?) than a child of God, I wonder what God thinks when He sees all that. Do you ever wonder about that? I do.

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Please understand that I am certainly not trying to be legalistic here. Nor am I suggesting that you and I could ever do anything to earn God’s approval. Isaiah said that, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6; NIV). While the world of religion may use God’s seeing you as a method of bondage to further keep you enslaved, I do not believe that’s God’s purpose in seeing your every move has to do with religious bondage. If not that, then what?

For the true Christian, when we speak of God seeing us, we speak of His looking at us just as He looks at His Son. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), one of my favourite verses, speaks to me of God seeing Jesus when He sees me. His seeing us is the same as His seeing His Son, who is now in us. That is so profound a mystery that I can scarcely wrap my head around it. Christ in YOU! Christ in ME? Wow! What does God see when He sees the true Christian? Bottom line, He sees Christ.

Does that mean that it suddenly doesn’t matter when Christians sin? It does matter in the sense that I don’t ever want to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Unfortunately we Christians do sin all time, and the strange thing is, often we don’t seem to even recognize it as sin. How so, you may ask? We do so by gossiping against other Christians. We do so by an unloving belittling of the doctrines of others that don’t line up with ours (Yes, I’m guilty of this too). We murder and we commit adultery. Now, you may be thinking, “hold on a minute!” Think I’m wrong about this? Maybe we should reread what Jesus said in Matthew 5. Ready for another hot potato? What about divorce? Last time I checked, there was only one acceptable time for this (Matthew 5:32), but we seem to have expanded that list to include any expression from our hard hearts.

Photo Credit: dr_zoidberg
Flickr Creative Commons, "Heart of Stone"
And therein lies the key: our hard hearts. Watchman Nee once put it this way, “God’s will had never altered. From the beginning right on until today it is just the same. Here in is a most important principle. If we want to know the mind of God, we must look at His commands in Genesis and not look at his permissions later on, because every later permission has this explanation, ‘because of your hardness of heart’ (emphasis mine).

So is it important to be mindful of the things that God sees when He looks at me? I believe that it is. I am a work in progress, a man who still tends to have a hard heart, a long way from being perfect in terms of the flesh. “But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

Yet there remains this grand dichotomy. Though I often still seem to have a heart of stone, I also at the same time have the Saviour’s heart beating within me. I am mindful of what God sees in me and “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27; ESV). At the same time I can praise Him knowing that when God sees me, He also sees “Christ in me” (Colossians 1:27), and just as Christ was raised again, I too have already been raised with Him (Colossians 3:1). There remains now only one thing to be said: Thank you, Jesus.

Father God, I thank you and I praise you that “you are the God who sees me.” Thank you for the “hope of glory.” Thank you for “Christ in me.” Help me to be mindful of how I run this race called life. And may my love toward others also be a testimony of your love for them too. Amen.
You may also want to see: The Spectators; Part 2

Monday, 5 March 2012

Putting Our Faith Where Her Mouth Is

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“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
(James 2: 14-17; NIV)

I have the privilege of working for a faith-based organization. While it has Christian roots, and I too am a Christian, we are also very different in our understanding of some of the key doctrines of the faith. For some, that might be a problem. For some, that problem might be severe enough to keep them from even considering working for an organization such as this. For some, it’s all about the differences as opposed to what we have in common. Thankfully, I do not count myself among the “some” for whom this might be a problem.

Sometimes it is more important to focus our attention on the things that unite rather than those that divide.

One of the most profound things that this organization taught me is that Christian “service” knows no denominational borders. Christian service is not about whether you and I agree or disagree in our theology. In truth, real Christian service transcends, and even trumps, all doctrines and theological points of view. Ultimately, real Christian service crosses all religious and even atheistic borders. Real Christian service is about meeting the needs of people where they’re at.

We discovered that one of the needs in our community concerns lunches, or more specifically, the lack of lunches, that many school children have. I still have a hard time understanding how, in this land of plenty, there are still children who regularly go to school without enough to eat. It just boggles my mind. Apparently it boggled my employer’s mind too, and enough so that they chose to actually “do” something about it, as opposed to only talking about the problem.

Talk is cheap. Someone is quoted to have said, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.”

So rather than just talk, talk, and talk some more, something was actually done about it. Faith, however it is to be understood, was put into action. Every school day, several people at work take time out of their regular morning routines to put together twenty healthy lunches. I then have the honour of delivering these lunches to the school that we’ve partnered with.

The thing about Christian “service” is that it is contagious. As it turns out, another affiliated institution is also now on board, and a third is also about to start; each also making another twenty lunches for hungry school children. Together we are now making sixty lunches daily for needy children in three schools. Wow! One cannot help but wonder what’s next.

Could it be that maybe it is time to stop the blame game?

Photo Credit: Jeffery Beall
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Now, we can get mad at the government if we want to. We can balk at education cut backs. We can blame parents for not looking after their children properly. We can point fingers at social service agencies, but at the end of the day, for every time we point a finger at someone else, there are always three fingers pointing back at us.

None of this is about whose fault it is that we have poverty and hungry children in our society. Rather, it is all about the condition of your heart and my heart. Do you really care? Do I? If so, then let’s prove it, and not just talk about it.

What has all this taught me? It has taught me that, though I always enjoy a good theological debate, a time comes when we have to put out faith where little Susie’s mouth is. It has taught me that there comes a time when little Johnny’s hunger is actually more important than whether you or I are right in our understanding of this or that doctrine. It has taught me that there comes a time when, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Is there an application in this?

Yes. Though I have the privilege of working for an employer who, not only believes in giving back to the community, but who actually does something about it, it still also remains my job to do this. But what about my personal life after work? What about those of you who do not work for employers like mine? What can we learn from this?

What I learned from this is that Bible studies and mid week fellowship groups are fine. I learned that there is nothing wrong with following the teaching of a certain pastor or gifted author. I learned that it’s not about what church you go to, or even if you go to a church at all. Jesus taught the disciples and the multitudes, as did the apostles teach those who followed them.

But just as there came a time when Jesus sent them out two by two (Mark 6:7), so too there comes a time for our practicum and the putting into action the faith that we profess to have. Unfortunately for too many of us today, we are content to simply sit there passively week after week going over the same basic lessons, but never getting to the application of the lesson out in the real world.

What has this school lunch program taught me? Besides the obvious that we need to help the less fortunate, and perhaps especially the children, it taught me that it’s time for us to all crawl off the pews, lay the Bibles and theology books down, and start “Putting Our Faith Where Her Mouth Is.”  

That’s the way I see it anyway.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Jesus Loves You, But Everyone Else Thinks You're An *#@%*&#^#!

I saw that on a bumper sticker recently. While somewhat funny, it also bothered me a bit. No, I wasn’t offended by the implicated bad language, but was bothered by the fact that often it is actually true. Often people have a pretty negative view of some Christians, and that negative view, sad to say, is often justified. Have you ever noticed that? Have you ever wondered why?

I remember looking through a Christian Business Directory once and a friend with me said, “Any business listed in there would be the last one that I would contact for anything!” My friend himself is a Christian, and the very directory that was intended to connect Christian shoppers with Christian businesses, actually had the opposite effect for him.

Once I got over the shock of what my friend had said, we talked about it. I learned that on more than one occasion my friend felt burned by business people who, though professed to be Christians, had a lousy set of business ethics. It got so bad that he has actually become quite cynical toward Christian business people. Other people I know have had similar testimonies. How sad.

Obviously not all Christian businesses are like that. Thank God they’re not. It is also obvious that someone who is usually above board could have been having a bad day. In truth, the whole thing is often quite subjective. Right or wrong, to think of someone else as being an *#@%*&#^#! depends more often than not on the individual’s perceptions of that other person. Do perceptions matter? Most certainly they do!

In commenting on the hypocrisy in the church, someone once said, “Christians aren’t perfect; they’re just forgiven.” While theologically true, I also thought, “What a load of crap! That’s just what the world needs; another pat answer!” Why do we seem to think that such responses suddenly make everything OK again? Is it OK to have poor ethics in the workplace because, as we all know, “Christians aren’t perfect; they’re just forgiven?” Is it OK for me to conduct myself in such a fashion that would cause someone to think of me as being an *#@%*&#^#!, simply because, as everyone knows, “Christians aren’t perfect; they’re just forgiven?”

I remember a place I worked at some years ago. There was a young man working there who had a work ethic that left a lot to be desired. I’m sure we’ve all met people like that. The language that came out of his mouth was foul and often negative towards others. His joking was colorful and crass, and was often offensive enough to make even a hooker want to blush. Jesus’ words, “You belong to your father, the devil” (John 8:44) could have applied to him. At least that is the way I discerned his character.

One day this person came to work and said that he was quitting. I wanted to shout out, “Thank you, Lord!” He then explained that he was leaving in order to go on his “mission.” It turns out that he was a Mormon. I thought to myself, what are you going to do, cuss and swear them into the Mormon kingdom? This I’d like to see!

A caveat is in order. Please understand that in no way am I suggesting that Mormonism is or isn't Christian, or that all Mormons are like that young man. Unlike what some seem to think, in my opinion, Mormonism is not simply another in the vast sea of Christian factions (denominations). In truth, most Mormons are decent people. Though I do not agree with them of faith matters, I count several of Mormons among my dear friends. [You may want to check out: Journey Out of Mormonism]

The point I am trying to make is that, if your Christianity and your Christian ethics is simply something that you do and live by for an hour or so on Sunday morning, then besides it being a worthless Christianity, it’s not surprising if you look like the world (or worse) during the rest of the week. Perhaps that is the kind of pseudo-Christian businesses my friend had the misfortune of encountering. Perception is everything. What do others “really” see in us? Do they see a warm-hearted and gentle child of God? Or do they see a cantankerous and difficult person who, though claiming to be a Christian, actually looks like they may have been baptized in vinegar or lemon juice instead of in the Holy Spirit?

They may have perceived us wrongly, but it is still their perception of us. More importantly, if it is their perception of me as a professing Christian, then isn’t it also potentially a perception of my faith and my Lord? Why would someone be interested in my faith if all they continually see in me causes them to think of me as being an *#@%*&#^#! ? Does God receive glory from this? Of course not.

In the book, “Rees Howells: Intercessor,” biographer Norman Grubb tells the story of how one day a visitor arrived at the train station and asked, “Is the man with the Holy Ghost in town?” Though his name was never mentioned, the person at the train station instinctively knew that the visitor was referring to Rees Howells.

How is your testimony? How is mine? What if a stranger arrived at your workplace and asked the receptionist, “Is the man with the Holy Ghost here today?” Would she automatically know that the stranger was referring to you? Does our walk and our talk line up with who we profess to be? I’m ashamed to say that sometimes my testimony needs a little work in this department. How are we perceived by others?

I imagine if Christians really took the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20) seriously, then maybe none of this would be an issue at all. Maybe we would be genuinely concerned for others more than ourselves. Maybe we would be more mindful of what we say and do, lest we be guilty of tarnishing the testimony of Christ. Maybe we would really look and act like the kind of people we “pretend” to be on Sunday morning (ouch). Maybe our workplace ethics would improve to the point where people really wanted to find us in the Christian Business Directory, and do so for the right reason.

Yes, Jesus loves you and me dearly. There is no denying that. Imagine how much sweeter that love of Jesus would be if we knew that everyone else didn’t think of us as being an *#@%*&#^#! Perception truly is everything.

That’s the way I see it anyways.

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