Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Make-Believe Faith?

Does it ever seem to you that many of us have bought into what is essentially a "Make-Believe Faith?"

If you watched television forty years ago, you probably tuned into "The Flip Wilson Show" a time or two. There you would have met a couple of his characters that brought America to their knees in laughter; "Reverend Leroy" and "Geraldine Jones." Reverend Leroy was from the "Church of What's Happening Now," and the Geraldine Jones character made popular the phrase, "The devil made me do it."

I was thinking about that phrase; "the devil made me do it." Certainly the Bible does speak about the devil being a tempter. His temptations are recorded as far back as the Garden of Eden. Not that it did him much good, for "God cannot be tempted" (James 1:13), but he even tempted Jesus. You and I, on the other hand, can and often are tempted by him. However, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13,
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (NIV).
What are some of the things that tempt you? Alcohol? Tobacco? Sex or pornography? Self mutilation? Anger or violence? Or maybe some of the more socially acceptable forms of temptation: Workaholism, physical fitness, social media or television addiction? Maybe there's something else that tempts you and to which you might even be inclined to say with Flip Wilson, "The devil made me do it." Whatever your temptation, it "is common to man," so you're not alone.

But if we leave it there, we would be in danger of having little more than a "make-believe faith." Those temptations are true in part, but they're only the first part of the story - the devil's part. The most important part of the story is the part that describes what God has done. What has He done? The good news is,
"And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to the head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1: 22-23; NIV).
The good news is that Christ has overcome the devil's temptation. The good news is that, though the devil may tempt us, those temptations are firmly "under the feet" of Christ. Jesus has made our temptations a doormat, as it were. I think that sometimes we carry on as if we believe that we have to overcome, or work at overcoming, those temptations that plague us. On my own strength, I can't do it. It's like spinning my wheels on an icy road or in a mud bog if I think that I can do it on my own. On my own, I will never arrive, but in Christ, I'm already there. I like how Watchman Nee once put it:
"Do not look at Christ in heaven as an ideal to be arrived at. See Him as God's gift to you. You feel the things of the world pulling you down, but they can no more pull you down than they can pull Him down. You are just as secure in the heavenlies as Christ is. Do you doubt this? There are some yellow flowers on my desk. I did not enter the room and repeat: 'There must be some yellow flowers here, there must be some yellow flowers here,' and by some kind of auto-suggestion bring them magically into being! No, they were there all the time. I just opened my eyes and looked! 
Our faith is no make-believe. It is based on the eternal facts of what God has done in Christ. If we dare to venture our own faith upon those facts, the Holy Spirit is here to prove them true. See ourselves there in Christ, and instead of going down, we are sustained by His power."
My problem is that I still often tend to look to myself for strength to overcome. My problem is that I do still sometimes seem to "look at Christ in heaven as an ideal to be arrived at." My problem is that I have sometimes inadvertently bought into the "Make-Believe Faith" of Reverend Leroy and Geraldine Jones.

Is it time to stop looking at only the devil's temptations and to start focussing more on God's gift to you and me in Christ Jesus? Is it time to give up on our make-believe faiths? Where are your eyes turned?

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grown strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion,
For more than conquerors we are!

His word shall not fail you He promised;
Believe Him and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

So what is the point of all of this? My point is simply to encourage and bless you if you're wrestling with temptation right now. Likewise, my hope is that you will go forth in your day seeking to encourage and bless someone else who may also be wrestling with temptation.

As for the devil, he's already lost. Though the temptations may still come, through faith you and I "are just as secure in the heavenlies as Christ is." Be encouraged. 

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
Hymn: "The Heavenly Vision (Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus)" by Helen H. Lemmel

Saturday, 23 February 2013

My Mind ...

If you're looking at this post for something profound or spiritual, I'm sorry to disappoint you. This time it's just a casual, and maybe somewhat funny, observation at best.

For some reason this cartoon reminded me of me. I cannot begin to tell you how many times, regardless what time I get to bed at night, that I am wide awake at between 3:00 and 4:00 am. I always thought it was just a random symptom of getting older, and maybe it is.

But maybe there is more to it than that. My dear wife once told me that I don't know how to turn my mind off at night. Maybe there's something to that as well. Or maybe it's just that often, it seems like God chooses those wee hours of the morning to speak to me.

I used to keep a notebook beside the bed for times like that. I figured, if God wakes me up in the middle of the night with some profound thought or dream, I could at least jot down a few notes and revisit them in the morning. That idea didn't last long, as I rarely found myself drifting back into a decent sleep.

Consequently, nowadays it's fairly common to find me simply crawling out of bed at some previously unheard of hour, make some coffee, curl up with my Bible, and prayerfully try to discern what God is saying. Many times blog posts have been birthed at those times, while other times, the best I can do is write some random notes, hoping that perhaps later, God will give illumination to that which at the time seems like little more than a jumbled mess.

Well there you have it. What's significant about the cartoon? Oh, that's "just my mind."

Great tune. Sort of says it all, doesn't it?
"Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2)
"Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

Photo Source: Unknown (via Facebook)

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Pope Calls it a Day

When news of the Pope's retirement was announced, my son asked me if I was going to write a blog post on the subject. I mentioned that I had thought about it, but suggested that he consider doing so instead of me. The interesting thing about that proposal is that in some ways this is an extension of the type of discussions he and I would likely be having anyway if he were home for a visit. Though we do not always see eye to eye on theological matters, we both love discussing them. In that sense, he really is a "chip off the old block"

So without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to welcome my son, Nick Rochow, as a guest blogger here on Rethinking Faith and Church.

Recent news of the Pope’s retirement has troubled me quite deeply, and I cannot help but feel as though it should trouble Christians around the world, Catholic or not. This is an event that has not happened in 600 years, and that in and of itself is significant. Pope’s don’t retire; they are … called home, so to speak. So what would make this Pope want to call it a day?

The cited reasons are health concerns, which don’t get me wrong, are reasonable. He is 85 years old, after all. And yet, when one looks at the bigger picture, it is difficult to not imagine that there are more reasons than that, or at the very least, more reasons that would lead to such high health concerns. Our world has been changing rapidly for the last couple hundred years. The Catholic Church was once the universal church, and part of me wishes it was still so … but that is a topic for perhaps another time.

What was once a very theistic world changed to a more deistic one – a more secularized world that the United States, coincidently enough was founded on. Deism, the belief that God created the world and then left it to its own means, worked fairly well with the new scientific theories coming about in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Yet it was a far too natural progression to go from deism to atheism, after all, if we want to say a divine being created the world then left it, why not just take the divine being out of the equation altogether? That is the world that the Catholic Church, and all of Christianity, for that matter, finds itself in. It has been taken out of the public sphere and thrown into the private one. It has been made into a free enterprise along with the rest of the Western world, leading to tremendous conflict amongst churches, and even more between religion and the rest of the world.

Now that I have bored you all with a historical review of the issue, I will say why I think we should be so concerned with the Pope’s retirement and the state of the Catholic Church in general. Whether it likes it or not, the Catholic Church is probably the greatest representation of the Christian faith to the outside world. It is an incredibly broken entity, but nonetheless, when people think of Christianity, the Catholic Church is one of the first things that come to mind. The Pope was placed into a situation where he needed to try to make the Catholic Church relevant in the face of the forces of secularism and modernity that have been trying their best to eliminate it. The fact of the Pope's retirement shows a failure to be able to do that. If there was no way for the Catholic Church to right itself, what would that say for Christianity in general in today's world? Would it remain relevant? Or has it already lost that relevance too, and it was just not as noticeable because the massive entity that is the Catholic Church was overshadowing it?

Some might say that the greatest problem with the church is its quest to be relevant, and that the last thing we need is the sort of power and authority that the Catholic Church try to enforce. But I am not convinced. I am all for a church that takes the New Testament seriously, and as literal as possible, but I also refuse to believe that we should sit back and accept our failures in this world and let the forces of modernity eliminate the necessity for religious belief.

Yes, the Catholic Church is broken, and has screwed up on numerous occasions. But maybe that is the best ministry we can give to a broken world: that we are broken too. That is why I believe in the institution that is the church as being an incredible force in the world. It is a failure, and the people with it are failures. Yet we love each other enough to keep on trying to make this "church" thing work. Religion has been constantly falling apart because of the forces that are consistently working against it. If one of the most significant leaders of our faith feels the need to abandon the post, I think maybe, just maybe, it is a call for us to get over ourselves and find some semblance of unity, so that the world can see the church as it was meant to be. Broken. Hurting. Yet unified in love for one another.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Sunday, 17 February 2013

My Integrity Mirror Test

"But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever."
(Psalm 41:12; ESV)

I have been thinking about "Integrity" lately, and specifically, my own. The word "Integrity" seems to have gotten itself lost somewhere in the archives of yesteryear's vocabulary.

"Integrity" seems to have become one of those words that leaves a dumb blank stare on a lot of people's faces today, as if they really have no idea what we're talking about when we speak of it.

My dictionary defines "Integrity" as:

"1. firm attachment to moral or artistic principle; honesty and sincerity; uprightness, 2. wholeness; completeness, 3. the condition of being unmarred or uncorrupted; the original, perfect condition."

I have become convinced that, just as we look at ourselves in the mirror to make sure that we look just right before walking out the door in the morning, so too we would do well to test ourselves with a look in the Integrity Mirror. It can be a very sobering exercise. What kind of people are we really?

"The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them." (Proverbs 11:3; ESV)

I've often joked that, "I once thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken." While perhaps cute when said as a joke, the truth of the matter is, a lack of integrity is no laughing matter, and is no joke. According to Proverbs, a lack of integrity can actually lead us to our own destruction. In other words, this is serious stuff, and probably shouldn't be taken too lightly.

There once was a time when a handshake confirmed a man's word; that was all the guarantee that anyone needed. Unfortunately that handshake is completely worthless in the vast majority of cases today. People are no longer good to their word. Too many handshakes today are done with crossed fingers in the opposite hand. No wonder there is so little trust in the world today. Likewise, no wonder there is so little trust in the church today. Nobody seems to believe in Integrity anymore! The new philosophy today says, "He who dies with the most toys wins" (anonymous), regardless how one comes to possess those toys, and regardless who gets stepped on in the process. How sad. Does anyone really care for anyone other than themselves anymore today? I wonder.

The following poem is called, "Am I True to Myself?" and was written by Edgar Guest. It truly is a good look into an Integrity Mirror.

I have to live with myself, and so
I want to be fit for myself to know,
I want to be able, as days go by,
Always to look myself straight in the eye;
I don't want to stand, with the setting sun,
And hate myself for the things I've done.
I don't want to keep on a closet shelf
A lot of secrets about myself,
And fool myself, as I come and go,
Into thinking that nobody else will know
The kind of man I really am;
I don't want to dress myself in sham.

I want to go out with my head erect,
I want to deserve all men's respect;
But here in the struggle for fame and pelf
I want to be able to like myself.
I don't want to look at myself and know
That I'm bluster and bluff and empty show.
I can never hide myself from me;
I see what others may never see;
I know what others may never know,
I can never fool myself, and so,
Whatever happens, I want to be
Self-respecting and conscience free.

I wonder how many of us are still prepared for such an Integrity Mirror Test today. I wonder too how many of us can honestly and truly say this poem is what we aspire to be ourselves. I wonder how many of us still believe in that old fashioned word, Integrity. I wonder how many of us even care.

"Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity
than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool."
(Proverbs 19:1; ESV)

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Please Accept My Condolences, Not My Opinions

"Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints."
Psalm 116:15

Have you ever noticed that the older we get, the more the subject of our mortality comes up? It never used to be that way. As a matter of fact, throughout my 20’s and maybe 30’s too, I doubt I ever thought about it much at all. I was, after all, young and still had the better part of my life ahead of me. To think of my own death and mortality in those years might even have seemed bizarre, unnatural and maybe even, somewhat unhealthy. But now that I am well into my 50’s, and now that some of my own generation seems to be finding their way into the obituaries with greater regularity, I cannot help but think more on my own mortality as well.

Having been to a few funerals again lately (two in as many weeks, and a third friend having just passed away in another province), I was reminded of a couple things that people say at difficult times like that. What are those sayings? We often hear people say things like, “They’re in a better place now,” or “there is no more pain,” or perhaps, “they are now smiling on that great golf course in the sky,” or some other earthly activity that the deceased used to enjoy doing.

But are these things that we tell each other at funerals and memorial services really true? Oh, I know why we do it; we want to try and offer comfort to one another during those difficult times. Doing so is admirable. But if the things we say in an attempt to comfort each other are false, is it right to continue saying them? Do the ends justify the means? Do we really believe what we’re saying, because if we don’t, are we not being deceptive and dishonest, despite our good intentions? And if so, call it what we will, but are we not then essentially lying to one another? Could there be a better way to express our condolences?

Is it all simply subjective?

For many of us, the whole “life after death” question is based on large part on biblical teachings, and thus, on faith. Having said that, we can either accept those teachings, we can outright reject those teachings, or we can modify them by way of our own interpretation - thus rejecting the interpretation of others - to essentially give us what, as the Apostle Paul so bluntly put it, our “itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). Those are pretty much the choices we have before us when it comes to any biblical teachings. In the end, regardless which way with look at what the Bible says on the subject, it still comes down to our own personal faith and beliefs on the matter.

Likewise, many eastern religions and cults also have some pretty different ideas on life after death, but we won’t get into those here. Suffice it to say that, perhaps in the end, maybe the whole life after death question is simply a subjective one after all. If it all comes down to faith, regardless of the religion, is that not then subjectivity?

Obviously all of us will die one day. That much is a given. No one gets out of this world alive. As the old saying goes, “the only certainty in life is death and taxes.” The question, however, is one of what happens after that. A friend of mine used to say, “You haven’t been to heaven and back, and I haven’t been to hell and back, so we don’t really know.” That much is true. So how do we know then if the things we tell one another concerning life after death are true or false? Again, ultimately it comes down to a question of personal faith.

The Traditional Christian View

Using the Bible as a guide on the subject, the traditional Christian view holds that there is hope for a resurrection of the dead for all of us, regardless of our faith or lack of it. But here is where it gets complicated for many. The Bible also says that some will rise to life (heaven, glory, etc.) whereas others will rise to face judgment (hell, wrath of God, etc.). The Bible speaks of both eternal and everlasting bliss and joy in the presence of the Lord, but also of eternal and everlasting punishment, agony, and separation from the Lord. According to the way Christians have historically interpreted the Bible, our personal destiny depends upon Jesus and our personal choice of either accepting or rejecting Him as God’s only means of reconciling the world to Himself. We either accept that assertion, or we reject it; but I doubt we ever really see ourselves on some sort of spiritual middle ground.

The Question of Hell

Regardless what the Bible actually says, many dismiss the hell option because they feel it inconsistent with the loving nature of God. But God is love, and God proved His love for us on Calvary. The offer to receive His love is open to all, and He does desire that all of us do just that, but in the end, He lets us choose. However, if we chose to reject that love, and assuming that hell is a real place, then is it not then logical to assume that, if we also end up there, the fault is ours alone and not God’s? Having said that, is it not logical to assume that, if we end up in hell, we do so by default through our own choosing?

For me personally, the argument to reject the hell option simply based upon the love of God is itself illogical. Doing so speaks to me of people who want to do what they want to do, all the while taking no responsibilities for their own actions. Doing so also speaks to me of how we seem to have believed the devil’s lie by downplaying, or outright eliminating, the concept and need for repentance. But then again, that’s maybe just my own view and interpretation of the Bible on this subject. In the end, I won’t argue the point here.

A Parable by Jesus on Hell 
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.  
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’  
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’  
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’  
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’  
“ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’  
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “ (Luke 16: 19-31; NIV).

What If We’re Wrong?

So when we say of the dearly departed, “They’re in a better place now,” or “there is no more pain,” are we being truthful? Certainly we all want to believe that we are, but what if we’re wrong? Is it possible that just maybe, “they’re NOT in a better place now,” or maybe, “there IS more pain,” and maybe even more than there ever was before? What a horrible thought! Still, those teachings can, and have been, developed from the pages of the Bible by many well-meaning Christians. Are they wrong? Are they right? Eventually we may each have to wrestle that question for ourselves.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’” (Lamentations 3: 21-24; NIV).

Peace with God

In the end, I suppose it comes down to the fact that we each need to make peace with that question for ourselves. In the end, it comes down to the fact that what each of us really needs, is to make our personal peace with God. Only then will we not have to concern ourselves with this difficult subject any more. Only then can we really begin living, knowing that whatever the future really holds, it is God alone who holds it.

Would I ever say anything at a funeral or memorial service to correct what I perceived was an error by others who believed differently than I do about such things? Of course not! That would not be the time or the place. Perhaps there is never really a suitable time or place for that discussion. Why? Because of the pain and the hurt that so easily comes along with it. Again, as my friend once said, “You haven’t been to heaven and back, and I haven’t been to hell and back, so we don’t really know.” The fact is, as in all walks of life, there are also lots of opinions concerning death and the possibility of life after it.

It’s OK to have our own opinions on these things, and like all of us, I have my own too. But it’s not always OK to share them, and sometimes, our opinions and views are quite uncalled for. As a matter of fact, Paul’s words to the Romans may apply here too. He said, “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22; ESV). In context, this verse falls in a section in which Paul deals with ensuring that we maintain a spirit of peace and mutual edification with one another, and especially so in areas in which we may find ourselves thinking a little differently on certain subjects. Perhaps we all would do well to ask God to give us wisdom to know when to shut up and offer a heart-felt hug, instead of only our divisive and often painful opinions. Just a thought.

The Bottom Line

Are we acting in love, and especially toward those who are grieving? At my friend’s memorial service recently I was asked to read 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter that has often been called “the love chapter.” Though we’ve often heard portions of it read at weddings, somehow it seems very appropriate on the sensitive subject of offering our condolences towards those who mourn.
 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 
“Love is patient and kind; it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (ESV).

Discussion Questions:
  • If the deceased clearly did not believe in God or have faith in the Lord Jesus, is it lying on our part if we speak of them as being “in a better place now” or as having “no more pain?” If so, are such little “white lies” justified under the circumstances?
  • Can God still be a God of love and allow for the hell option? 
  • Is the ultimate choice of eternity yours and mine? 
  • How do we reconcile differences of biblical interpretation?
  • Does “Love” really trump all opinions, religious or otherwise, of man?

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Angels Among Us?

"Some have entertained angels unawares"
(Hebrews 13:2)

Are there angels among us? I have no doubt of that. How are they manifested? Of that I am less certain. I am sure, however, that even as the devil himself reminded Jesus, God does "command his angels concerning you, to guard you" (Luke 4:10).

Even as I think back on a couple events in my own life, on how I managed to escape a couple of potentially lethal situations, I am sure that I survived simply by the fact that God had commanded His angels concerning me to guard me. I can come up with no other logical explanation.

Having said that, does this video capture an angelic rescue of an individual who is most certainly about to be run over by a truck? Is this some other paranormal activity we're looking at? Or is this perhaps nothing more than the manipulation of film?

One thing that does seem certain, though, is that the timer on this traffic camera does appear to continue counting off the seconds as if it were a legitimate video clip. I guess we will each have to decide for ourselves.

It only takes a quick look through any good concordance to see that there are several instances of angels being mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments. I also believe that, since we do not understand them, we have essentially (and perhaps unfortunately) relegated them to myth and folklore.

The bottom line for me, is that God loves me intensely and in a manner that words cannot even begin to properly convey. That being said, does it really seem inconceivable that such a love would not include divine protection in accordance with His sovereign plan?

Some might still wonder why that only seems true some of the time. Some might wonder why some people still do get run over by trucks. I cannot even begin to answer that. However, if I get run over by a truck, or if I get pulled safely out of the way by one of God's angels, the fact remains,
At the end of the day, I can rest in that. Sure, it might be interesting to know the answers to some of those other difficult questions, but maybe that's where faith comes in. "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see." (Hebrews 11:1; 'The Message').

The video title asks, "Is he superman or an archangel?" Yes, No, Maybe ...

The more important question is, "Does God love you and me?" Unlike the previous question, this one has no uncertainty. The answer is a resounding "Yes."

Photo Source: from our personal collection