Saturday, 28 July 2012

Ancient Word Brings Modern Blessing

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"A Bible that's falling apart 
usually belongs to someone 
who isn't" (unknown)

Have you ever gone through a difficult time and God seemed to have a verse of scripture ... just for you? I'm sure we all have had experiences like that from time to time.

As amazing as that seems, sometimes the greater amazing thing is that often we are even amazed by the whole turn of events in the first place. We ask for God's hand in a certain situation, and when He answers, we sometimes stand amazed that He would answer, or that He would answer in the fashion that He did. Ever noticed that? Peculiar, isn't it? What a fickle people we can sometimes be. What an unbelieving people we can sometimes be.

The other night it happened again. I was at home sitting at the table when I drifted into prayer concerning a certain situation in our lives that was particularly troubling for me. With my eyes closed (not always are they closed in prayer), I reached for a Bible that I instinctively knew was sitting there at my left hand. As I prayed, I opened the Bible, not knowing where I was opening it to; it all just sort of happened. When I eventually did open my eyes, my eyes immediately fell to the top left hand of the page to this verse:
"Peace I leave with you: My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.]" (John 14:27; Amplified)
I confess that I was getting a little fearful and unsettled concerning this particular situation, and during prayer, it was as if God turned the pages of the Bible to exactly the verse that He wanted me to see. I couldn't have picked a better verse if I had tried. This one perfectly calmed my spirit and blessed me. Though countless generations have passed since originally penned, though language and culture differences abound, my experience was proof once again (at least for me it was proof) of the relevance of the ancient scriptures to modern man. Sometimes it truly does seem almost as if God put certain verses in the Bible just for me. What an awesome feeling! What an amazing God we serve.

Anyway, that's the way I see it. Peace.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Church Camp for Gays?

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I have mixed feelings about an article that appeared in our local newspaper this weekend entitled, "Church Camp Caters to Gay Teenagers." Why do I have mixed feelings, you might ask? Well, there are two reasons. Let me try and explain.

But before I do that, please allow me to first digress a little say that I personally do not agree with a gay lifestyle. There, we've gotten that part out of the way; I've gone on record and said it. No, I am not "homophobic," as some have suggested. I am in no way afraid (as the "phobic" part of the word suggests) of the homosexual community, and at the end of the day, I will also be the first to say, "Live and Let Live." To each their own.
So what's the problem? 
Maybe everything; maybe nothing. Having been raised in a conservative evangelical church community, and having been the pastor in a couple such communities myself, I grew up with a pretty rigid anti-gay opinion. I believed that God was against homosexuality, and if we take to a literal interpretation of the Bible, then we could still argue that God does not agree with homosexuality, and therefore, by extension, we could argue that the church's involvement with homosexuals should not be. Therefore, too, a church camp that caters to the gay community, we could argue, is also wrong. There's one part of my dilemma. As someone has once said, "Truth is what you were raised with."

But there is another side to all this that is gaining ground lately in my "Rethinking Faith and Church." That is, God loves people. Period. It continues to be true, I believe, that homosexuality was not a part of his plan for humanity. A quick look at the anatomy that God created each of us with, and I would argue that God created male and female for each other; not male for male and female for female. But I do not want to make this a biology lesson; you know what I'm talking about. Yet, despite this, God's love for humanity remains.

When I look at the Gospels, I see Jesus challenging the religious mindsets of his day, just as stories like this newspaper article have challenged my (sometimes, still) religious mindset as well. There is the prostitute that Jesus sided with against the venom that the Pharisees spewed out at her. There is the calling of the hated tax collector (Matthew) to be a disciple. There is the appointing of a thief (Judas) as guardian of the common purse. As being God himself, Jesus knew who these people were. I am going to go on the limb and say, it really wouldn't surprise me in the least if one of the twelve were a member of the Jerusalem gay community, if there were such a thing back then. At any rate, thus was the crowd that Jesus ministered to and hung out with.
The point is, GOD is LOVE.
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As a father, there have been a number of things my children have done that I do not agree with. Do I love them less because of it? Of course not! As I look back in my own life, I know too that there have been a number of things that I did and believed in that my father did not agree with. Did he love me less because of them? Of course not. He still desired to see me whenever and wherever possible. Likewise, does God agree with the choice (I realize that some won't agree with my use of the word "choice," but I'm not going to argue that point here) of homosexuality? No. Does he desire to hang out with the homosexual? Yes. Why? Because he loves him; because he loves her. Such is the nature of our God. If we add anything more to that, we run the danger of becoming legalistic.

And therein lies the other half of my mixed feelings. Is it right for the church to hold a camp that caters to gay teenagers? Yes, I think it is. Some opponents might ask, "why cater to it?" Others, like the camp organizers quoted in the newspaper article have said, "we try to provide a space in which youth can comfortably discuss the intersection of their spirituality and who they understand themselves to be." Is that really such an bad and evil thing? No, I don't think so.

I used to use terms such as "conservative" and "liberal" when it came to matters of faith. I would argue the pros and cons of "Calvinism" versus "Arminianism." I would often delve into various eschatological (end times) debates. And I would argue the whole heterosexual versus homosexual view points. But at the end of the day, is that what God would have us to do? Is he interested in our theological debates? Is he interested in how well we have been able to parse those Greek verbs? Or is he interested in how well we have been able to put our faith into action and LOVE our neighbour? In case we've forgotten, the "our neighbour" also includes the people who think differently than we do.

At the end of the day, this too is one of the reasons why I chose to call this blog, "Rethinking Faith and Church." Is it time that we rethink a few things? Maybe. Peace.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

of Worship and the Fear of the Lord

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Has the modern church lost its “Fear of the Lord?”

The subject once again came up in a conversation recently in which it was suggested to me that the “Fear of the Lord” was only an Old Testament concept that really doesn’t belong in the church today.

Excuse me?

As I thought about that, it occurred to me that my friend either did not know that there was more than one way to define “fear,” or he was simply using the word in a way that I was not.

In the New Testament, the word often translated as “fear” is the Greek word “phobos,” which means not just “fear” (as in terror or phobia), but it also means “reverence” and “awe.” Therefore, if someone says that they do not believe that the “Fear of the Lord” has any place in the church today, are they suggesting that they do not believe that our God is worthy of our reverence? Are they saying that there is nothing about our Lord that brings them into a state of awe? I hope not. Likely, though, they’ve simply misunderstood the word.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr.9:10)
We all like to think of ourselves as being wise, and perhaps especially so when it comes to matters of faith. Assuming the opposite of wisdom is foolishness, have some inadvertently chosen to be counted as fools by their rejection of the fear of the Lord in their own lives? Ouch.  Do we want to be counted among the wise? Of course we do! True wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.

Jesus spoke of the necessity for his followers to be in a state of awe at the power and majesty of God. This is not to be taken lightly. He said,
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12: 4-5)
This in no way diminishes the love of God, as some might suggest, for obviously God is a God of love. It simply reinforces that He is also sovereign and all-powerful, and ultimately, controls everything. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). At the end of the day, God gets the last word, regardless of our doctrines and opinions. The Lord God is the Almighty God, and as such, reverence is due Him. This is what it means to “Fear the Lord.”

I would argue that any proper Christian response to the love of God must also include a fear and reverence of God. In other words, it must include a fear of the Lord. There are several New Testament scriptures that support this. Let’s briefly consider a few of them. 
“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31).
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear(1 Peter 1:17).
“Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).
“The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name (Revelation 11:18).
It is true that in the Old Testament, mostly because of the law’s legal requirements and sanctions, true religion was often viewed as synonymous with the fear of the Lord. However, by the time of the New Testament, the concept of the fear of the Lord didn’t suddenly disappear; reverent fear remained. Why? Because the awesomeness of God has not changed, and one day there will be a day of judgment to be met by all.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience” (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
Worship and the fear of the Lord are intertwined
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Holy fear is a God-given fear, enabling you and me to properly reverence God’s authority. It enables us to obey his commandments (love one another) and to hate and shun all that is evil. I would even go so far as to suggest that we cannot even properly worship God without first having a God-given fear of the Lord, for does not all worship rightly include reflecting on God’s greatness and majesty and holiness? Does not worship include elements of awe and reverence? Of course it does. As we earlier quoted Proverbs 9:10, it is “the beginning of wisdom.”

This begs a couple important questions for which I do not have an answer. If the church today still hasn’t learned to obey God’s commandments (see Jesus’ Greatest Commandment in Matthew 22:37-39), if we continue to embrace an ungodly and worldly lifestyle (as evidenced by the fact that often Christians look just like the world), does that mean that we then do not have a proper and holy fear of the Lord? Secondly, if worship and the fear of the Lord are as intertwined as I suspect they are, can someone who does not fear the Lord even worship Him at all? I wonder sometimes.

Do fear, reverence and awe have a place in the church today? Based upon the preceding verses, and the many examples from the early church, I believe it does have a place. Strange, though, that such an important concept seems to be less and less accepted by many today. Now I’m not interested in judging anyone’s faith profession, for God alone will do that. However, if someone cannot fear the Lord and still believes that they worship Him, then at the very least I will sit up and say, “Hmm.”

Anyway, that’s the way I see it.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Heresy Helper

Photo source: unknown 
I found this picture on Facebook and, while I was amused by it, it also holds a more serious side. The more I looked at this, the more I thought of all the "junk" that has ever been, and continues to often be, mixed in with true Christianity in order to (as I sometimes see it) try and make it more palatable to both us and to the masses. Have you ever done that? Have I? I wonder. Truth is, most of us would probably never admit it if we did.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "heresy?" For some reason, there was a time when I used to think of "heresy" almost on the same page as the unpardonable sin (Hmm, maybe that in and of itself is a heresy on my part). Sometimes I've thought that the word "heresy" has become archaic. I mean, who even uses that word anymore? Doesn't it belong back in the Dark Ages with those strange stories of witches being burned at the stake by people blessed with a twisted sense of humour? Isn't it better kept in the history books? What is "heresy?" Maybe this helps:
"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves." (2 Peter 2:1; NIV)
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OK, so we've established that the word "heresy" is at least biblical. Likewise Paul said to Timothy,
"Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:16; ESV)
Was Paul's admonition here to Timothy because he was concerned that Timothy not fall into heresy? When we read between the lines, that does at least seem probable. Serious stuff to be sure!

I suspect that when most of us think of "heresy" we think of the images from church history classes in which the institutional church of yesteryear condemned all sorts of heresies, such as Gnosticism and Montanism, and a host of other "ism's."  Many of these people faced a gruesome death, even by the "loving(?)" hand of the church, simply because they thought differently than the orthodox status quo.  Fact is, to be viewed as "heretic" could, and often did, cost the perpetrator his or her life. The point is, "heresy" has historically been viewed as a pretty strong word and it is quite complex, but should it be?

Now, we could argue back and forth the validity of burning someone alive at the stake for being a heretic (Yes, I'm being facetious), but have arguments ever really solved anything? Just like at times of war, are there really any victors? Even the winning side has many dead.
Aren't we all heretics in someone else's eyes?
But exactly what is "heresy?" I am convinced that often we tend to complicate things unnecessarily. Maybe we would do well to start with a basic definition. According to my dictionary, "heresy" is defined as "1. a belief different from the accepted belief of a church, school, profession, etc. 2. the holding of such a belief."

If we use that dictionary definition as a guide, is it not possible to say that the church is full of heresy and heretics? One denomination holds to a certain set of doctrines, whereas the next one does not. According to our definition, each views the other as being guilty of heresy, even if they don't say so in exactly those words. If I think differently than you, then what I say is viewed as heresy. If you think differently than me, then your views become heresy in my eyes.

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Look at online chat groups. As sincere as people no doubt are in what they post, to others it makes the hair on the back of their necks stand on end. Maybe some of my own posts have even had that effect on you. Going back to our dictionary definition, that's "heresy," is it not? Aren't we all ultimately heretics in someone else's eyes?

The problem is, truth is subjective. Even if it's wrong in the eyes of another, truth is often simply that which we've grown up in. Sit a Mormon down and ask him about a particular doctrine. Ask the same questions to a Buddhist and a Hindu, and what do you get? At the very least, you get three different definitions of truth. Now ask the Evangelical, the Charismatic and the Liberal the same questions, and you're likely as not going to end up with three more definitions. It all depends where people are coming from and the environment in which they were raised.

Still, God's truth is absolute, despite all our heresies to the contrary. So why the countless different understandings, definitions and heresies? Perhaps because "Now we see put a poor reflection" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Is that too simplistic an answer? If so, why does it have to be more complex?
The child factor
Maybe we need to pause for a minute from all our ideas and theologies of what does or doesn't constitute "heresy" in order to consider another factor. After his transfiguration, Jesus said something really quite profound that I suspect most of us still haven't gotten our heads wrapped around. He said,
"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:3-6; NIV)
When I think of Jesus and the little children, I also think of that old Sunday School song, "Jesus Loves Me." I'm sure you remember it.
Jesus loves me! this I know, For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong, They are weak but He is strong.
From the back of a t-shirt that a friend gave me.
What more needs to be said?
How do little children come to Jesus? They do so with a simple faith that Jesus loves them. They look into his loving eyes; they feel his loving embrace. They completely trust him that everything's going to be OK. I'm taking some liberties here, but notice what they don't do? They don't argue theology. The don't discuss Jesus' recent transfiguration; they don't discuss his recent healing of the boy with the demon. No, for the child, it is enough to simply know that Jesus Loves Me.

Do you know people like that? Simple and humble people for whom Jesus Loves Me seems to encapsulate their entire theology? What do we do with people like that? Ignore them and fellowship only with deep-thinkers like us? Ridicule them for being too simple? Or do we welcome them as Jesus welcomed them? Hmm, I wonder. Heaven help us, though, if we ever do anything to destroy that simple child-like faith of theirs! Jesus' warning for such offenders is pretty severe.
Is it time to take a pill and chill out?
Photo Source: unknown
Now I am not saying that doctrines aren't important, but if I "can fathom all mysteries and have all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). I am also certainly not advocating Universalism. However, what I am saying is that maybe we all just need to take a pill and chill out a bit. Maybe we need to put our theological carts back in their proper place, namely behind the horses as opposed to in front of them. Maybe before we worry ourselves too much with the heresies of others, we should be a little less hypocritical (Jesus' word) and take the plank out of our own eyes first (Matthew 7:3-5).

Maybe we really do need some "Heresy Helper." Maybe that "Heresy Helper" is really called LOVE. Maybe if we all focussed a little more on that, then each other's heresies would strangely become less and less evident too. Maybe that's even being a little more like Jesus.

Anyways, that's the way I see it. Peace.