Sunday, 23 February 2014

That's NOT Funny

"There is a time for everything ... a time to laugh." (Ecclesiastes 3: 1,4)

I love a good laugh.

I have always viewed myself as somewhat of a humorist. I think I come by it quite naturally, as I grew up in a home where everyone seemed affected by the jokester bug. I can find humor in a lot of places, but one place that I think I’ve always been careful with is jokes pertaining to the Christian faith. It’s one thing to tastefully joke about some of the funny religiousness of faith that ultimately has no biblical support to it; it’s quite another to joke about the things that God takes seriously. That is a line that I hope I have never crossed, and one that I certainly never intend to.

Perhaps it is wisest to avoid faith-based jokes all together. There are more than enough other things to laugh at, and besides, if someone gets offended, then maybe I also haven’t acted in love.

One of the things I’m reading right now is a fascinating two-volume set of books called Tozer Speaks. One part of this collection contains several short chapters taken from his pulpit ministry. One of those is a chapter that Tozer entitled, “Don’t Let the Devil Make a Joke of Conscience.” Given my humorist tendencies, it made me think a bit. Since I’m obviously not alone when it comes to being a jokester, I thought it might be worth sharing Tozer’s thoughts on the subject here on Rethinking Faith and Church. So without further delay, here’s Tozer:

One way the devil has of getting rid of things is to make jokes about them.

There is a legitimate humor, and we all admit that, and I think it is in us by the gift of God. But whenever any humor takes holy things for its object, that humor is devilish at once.

One of the sick jokes you hear is that the conscience is that part of you which makes you sorry when you get caught.

Now, that’s supposed to be funny. It’s not funny – it’s tragic that anybody should yield so to the propaganda of hell as to joke about that which is no joke.

There are some things that are not the proper objects of humor, and one of them is conscience.

That power of conscience that God has set in the human breast suddenly can isolate a soul, and hang it between heaven and hell, as lonely as if God had never created but one soul – that’s not a joking matter.

The Light that lighted every man that comes into the world is not a joking matter. The eternal, universal Presence of the luminous Christ is not a joking matter.

Joke about politics if you must joke – they are usually funny, anyway. But don’t joke about God, and don’t joke about conscience, nor death nor life, nor love, nor the cross, nor prayer.

We have become in our day the greatest bunch of sacrilegious jokesters in the world. I have seen pictures in the paper of people who thought it was a very humorous thing to show a little spotted dog with its paws crossed and his eyes shut, bowing his head as if in prayer.

The Bible says, “Beware of dogs,” and I might add: “Beware of the fools who teach dogs to pray.”

God wants you to have a whole world of pleasant things – birds singing in your backyard and kids romping over your lawn, and a thousand things to happen in the day that can be dismissed in a pleasantry. Your sense of humor won’t die. There’s plenty to laugh at in the world.

But, remember the conscience is always on God’s side – always on God’s side! It judges conduct in the light of the moral law, and as the Scripture says, excuses or accuses.

Be sure you don’t laugh at something that God takes seriously. Conscience is one of those things!

  • Does the devil use humor to get rid of the serious things of God?
  • Have Christians become the greatest bunch of sacrilegious jokesters?
  • If someone is offended by our humor, does that mean that we’ve failed to act in love?
  • Do you think that maybe sometimes God also gets offended by our sense of humor?
  • When it comes to joking, is there a line best left uncrossed? If so, what is it?

Something to think about. Peace.

Quote Source: Tozer Speaks, Volume One, Book One, Chapter 33, Page 90
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Theophilus Photography

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Lent: When Mardi Gras Gets Religious?

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17)

Rarely have we approached an Easter season whereby I do not hear someone speak of “giving up something for Lent.” I must confess that I’ve never understood that religious self-sacrificial custom.

What am I giving up for Lent? Really? I’m a Christian. My Mardi Gras is Easter Sunday, my Lenten season is 365 days long. The only thing I want to give up is any semblance of the idea that I can still earn brownie points with God. My Jesus already paid it all.

Now perhaps you’re wondering, what does Mardi Gras have to do with Easter? Believe it or not, in religious circles there is a connection. Easter, immediately preceded by Lent, is in turn immediately preceded by Mardi Gras; they’re all linked. I like how Donald Barnhouse explains it:

If you know French you know that the word for “Tuesday” is mardi, and the word for “fat” is gras. Mardi gras means “fat Tuesday.” It is the last day before what is called Lent. On that day there are thousands of people who make carnival, and drunkenness is rife in many places. “Carnival” is of Latin origin. You have heard the word carne in the Spanish menu, chili-con-carne, chili with meat. The latter half of the word val you know well from the high school graduation where the valedictorian speaker makes his speech. Carnival, literally, means “farewell to meat.” The unregenerated world with its idea of self-inflicted sufferings in some sort of payment for one’s own sins knows that it is about to go into a forty day spree of religious wallowing. So there is a gorging festival on fat Tuesday as they say farewell to meat. But the abstinence of most people is like that of little Johnny who, when asked what he was giving up for Lent, answered that he had decided to give up soap.

I know it sounds harsh, but I cannot help but think that the way some folks give up things for Lent is like they’re slapping the face of God. Do we dare insult our God by trying to create our own pseudo and human payment for sin? Of course not! Yet that is the way I see some of these pre-Easter fasts. Why do we need to give up anything if Jesus truly has already paid it all? Who are we really trying to impress? Who are we kidding?

Easter is about God’s plan to deal with man’s sin. It’s about the ultimate sin-sacrifice, Jesus paying my debt, paying for my sin with His own life. It’s about God on the cross … for me. Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Talk about giving up something for Lent! The way I see it, when we hear some people religiously giving up something for Lent, maybe they aren’t so sure that “it is finished,” and just to be sure, it’s like they’re trying to add to or improve on the sacrifice.

Granted, there are several things in my life that I would do well to give up, or at the very least, cut back on a bit. But to watch some folks tie such activity to Easter seems almost sacrilegious, unless it’s a permanent yearlong “giving up.” To choose to only temporarily give something up for Lent, and then when Easter comes, to go back to the old ways, almost seems like a mockery!

Harsh? Maybe. Did I offend? Probably. However, I deliberately tried to paint an ultra right-wing picture of Lent in an effort to try and bring back some balance to what I see as a potentially dangerous left-wing religious exercise. For me it all comes down to a question of motive. Why are we giving things up? Why do some who go through this exercise leave us feeling that they’re trying to impress God?

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

Ultimately what we’re talking about is fasting. The Bible endorses fasting, and it is counted among the spiritual disciplines. I certainly don’t have a problem with fasting, unless it’s done for show. I do have a problem with it when the whole exercise becomes a public display and it becomes mandated to a specific timeslot on the calendar. The bottom line is, “when I fast” is nobody’s business any more than it is their business when I pray; fasting is a private matter between the Lord and myself.

“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6: 17-18).  

I guess what it all boils down to, and with this I will close this rant of mine, is that so much of what I see seems two-faced and double-minded (James 1:8). We run around in our Mardi Gras’ of over eating, over drinking, and questionable living up until the beginning of Lent, then we religiously go into a season of fasting and giving some up some of our indulgences of recent days, we pause for a brief observation at the cross of Good Friday, mellow out through the Resurrection Sunday, and then go back to the godless immorality that has become our lifestyle until we graduate at the next Mardi Gras. And so it all begins again. This should not be for a real child of God for whom the Lord Jesus died.

My encouragement to you, my friend, is to rethink this ungodly tradition of revelry followed by pseudo-repentance, especially if that has been your practice. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked” (Galatians 6:7). “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Even now my heart grieves for those who think they’re saved because of their religiousness, but to whom the Lord Jesus will one day say, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). Oh, my dear friend, may you never hear those horrible words from our Lord. Let’s lose the religious games.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

What am I giving up for Lent? Let’s not go there; I want more than that. I want Jesus and Him alone … everyday, and not just during the prescribed season of Lent. Peace.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, gnuckx

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Nothing Fishy About This Taxation Story

I confess that I am not much of a fisherman.

I’ve often thought about it. Fishing seems like such a relaxing and stress-free pastime, and who couldn’t use a little less stress in their life? Maybe one day I will get around to actually taking it up.

This morning I was thinking about another fishing trip, one that Jesus sent Peter on. As a fisherman, I have my doubts that Peter needed to be told twice to grab his tackle box and head to the water. However, this particular fishing trip would turn out like no other. This trip would end up illustrating one of the foundational truths about Christianity, namely that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. In the same story we see both humanity and Deity interwoven in one. This trip would end up giving Peter the ultimate fish story.

It was tax time again, a time that I’m sure none of us particularly look forward to. Likewise, for the people living under Roman occupation, I’m sure that it was even less pleasant. It was bad enough that their land was being occupied, but to add insult to injury and have to pay a head tax to the occupiers, well, that just plain sucked!

One day the despised tax collector asked Peter, “Does your Master pay taxes?” Interesting question, given that only the commoners paid taxes; royalty didn’t. Did the tax collector recognize something different about Jesus? I’d like to think so, but then again, maybe he was just looking for an opportunity to trap Jesus like others had also done. When Peter later asked Jesus about it, Jesus told him that he didn’t want to offend and to just go ahead and pay the man.

It’s one thing to pay the man when you have the money; it’s quite another when you don’t. While we aren’t told, I don’t imagine that Peter had much of anything on him, much less than enough to pay Jesus’ tax and his own. And so, Jesus sends Peter fishing, and along the way, he gets a little theology lesson.

Let’s listen in to a bit of the conversation:

“Go down to My sea of Galilee, which I created. I have had one of My creatures lose a coin in the water, and My law of gravity carried it down where I had one of My fish take it into his mouth. You go fishing and I will have that fish come to your hook. You will take the fish and take the coin out of its mouth, and it will be a coin of sufficient value to pay your taxes and Mine.” 
What a human thing to pay taxes! And what a divine way of paying them! Humanity and deity in the same story. Humanity is subject to the laws of the land. Deity knows the movements of a fish in the sea, knows the whereabouts of a lost coin, regulates the power and movements of the fish. I sometimes hope that Peter had faith enough not to use any bait. That fish would have climbed the string, if necessary, to fulfill such orders as these.

Anyone want to go fishing? My Lord knows all the best fishing holes.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

of Alcoholism and Separation Anxiety

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:21; ESV)

I recently received an email in which the distraught sender reminded me of something I had apparently said somewhere before. It concerned my musing on the idea that maybe some of our problems are there because something is not right in our relationship with God. Interesting, I thought, how the words we use follow us.

However, perhaps that’s a topic best saved for another day. Today, in this post, I’d like to reflect a little on one specific section of that email. (For the record, the sender of the email did give me permission to use its theme as blog fodder.)

Can anything separate us from God?

That question probably sums up the email. On the one hand, we all know the answer to that; it’s Christianity 101. If we are in Christ, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Period! Paul makes that pretty clear (Romans 8: 38-39). But what about when we get ourselves side tracked, taking our eyes off the Lord, and before you know it, we’ve essentially shipwrecked our lives? We all know people like that; maybe you’ve even done it too. I know I have, and I know that the person who sent me the email wonders if he hasn’t done so too. Can anything separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? No, absolutely not! List the ten worst sins you can imagine and then ask yourself: If I committed any of these, would that cause separation from God? Again, not from His perspective, for sin is sin; but maybe it does from my perspective.

While nothing can stop the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus, my correspondent wondered if there is something in us that potentially could cause us to stop loving Christ, and thereby create a separation of our own making. Could a life that was shipwrecked by our own hands make the love of God one-sided? “Maybe there is something that can separate Christ from the love that is in us,” suggested the email, as its sender went on to describe his grievous and gut-wrenching progressive journey into the depths of alcoholism.

As I thought about that, I also thought about how many other things so many of us wrestle with day to day. While for some it is alcoholism, for others it might be pornography. For one it might be prescription drug abuse, for the other it is a family broken apart by infidelity. For yet another the problem is depression or overwhelming stress. The point is, there are a plethora of demons in our fallen world whose mandate from their father, the devil, is to keep us so inwardly focused on these problems that it becomes difficult to keep our eyes on Jesus. Is it possible that there are a lot of things that can separate us from the love of God … if we allow them to? That was essentially the question that I was being asked. If we allow something to separate us, can we still be one with Christ? Yes, but while we separate ourselves, let’s not forget that, thankfully God doesn’t separate Himself.

“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” (1 Samuel 12:23; NIV)

So what is the answer to the heart-cry behind the email I received that day? Well first of all, it is acknowledging that, there but for the grace of God go I. Having said that, I am not immune either; I too wrestle with my own demons. Secondly, I believe that the church needs to, perhaps ironically, recapture the idea of praying for one another. I alluded to this in my post,  Intercession: Can We Pray for You? Perhaps, if one sin can be called greater than another, high on that list is the sin of not earnestly praying for each other. Thirdly, it may be that we need to revisit the idea of being “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:21) and all that is implied with that.

If you are a Christian, you are “in Christ.” It has nothing to do with denominations, institutions, or whether or not you believe in speaking in tongues, or whatever other doctrines there may be that historically divided us. Even alcoholism and other addictions aren’t a determining factor. The question is simply do you believe in Jesus as God’s only plan for your salvation (Acts 16:31). If so, then you are “in Christ.” There is no other magical formula; there are no other conditions. I like how Watchman Nee once illustrated being “in Christ.” He said:

The Lord God Himself has put us in Christ. Our destiny is therefore bound up with His. When preaching in the villages of China one must often use very simple illustrations. I remember once I took up a small book, and into it I put a piece of paper. “Now look carefully,” I said. “I take this paper. It has an identity of its own, quite separate from this book. Having no other use for it at the moment I put it into the book. Now I do something with the book. I mail it to Shanghai. I do not mail the paper, but the paper has been put into the book. Then where is the paper? Can the book go to Shanghai and the paper remain here? Can the paper have a separate destiny from the book? No, where the book goes the paper goes. If I drop the book in the river, the paper goes too, and if I quickly take it out again I recover the paper also. Whatever experience the book goes through the paper goes through with it, for it is still there in the book.” To be in Christ is just like that. It is to be identified with Him in all He has gone through. He was crucified. Then must I ask God to crucify me? Never! My Saviour’s destiny is already become mine.

Not seeing does not equal not being

Deep down inside I know that my correspondent knows all these things too; he’s been a Christian for many years. It could just as easily have been him saying these words to me as the other way around. Then what is the issue? While alcoholism, or any other consuming addiction (or lower-case “g” god), can easily mean that something is not right in our relationship with God, perhaps at the heart of the problem is the separation anxiety caused by the alcoholism.

The Bible does not forbid alcohol consumption; Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:9), and Paul actually encouraged Timothy to drink some wine (1 Timothy 5:23).

One form of tithing even goes so far as to permit “fermented drink” as a part of worship (Deuteronomy 14:26), so long as it was done in the context of fellowship (I dare you to preach that one from the pulpit next Sunday – LOL).

I realize there are some Christians who feel that these were references to non-alcoholic beverages, but as I’ve already discussed my views on that in a previous post, WWJD: What Would Jesus Drink?, I will not do so again here. However, while the Bible doesn’t speak against having the odd alcoholic drink, it does speak to abusing alcohol and allowing it to become a problem in our lives.

Still, God has not separated Himself from the alcoholic; the alcohol can, however, separate the drinker from God just like a clothes rack in a department store can separate a young child’s view of her parent. Mom and Dad are still there, it’s just that the clothing carousel is suddenly now between them and caused a separation anxiety. Alcoholism can do that too; it can cause separation anxiety in us by making us think that God is no longer there and has abandoned us. But not seeing does not equal not being; it may be just a case of something clouding our vision, such as the alcohol itself.

Can anything separate us from the love of God? Are you in Christ? If so, then nothing can separate us. Sure, we all have our demons, but Christ is already victorious over them too, even if we cannot always see it manifested in our day-to-day lives. Can we rest in that? That’s both where I want to be, and where I am; granted not always perfectly on my part, but that doesn’t change the truth of the matter on God’s part.

Be encouraged, in Christ God has forgiven you; now go and forgive yourself. He’s there; check the other side of the clothing carousel, rest in His love, and receive His peace. Oh, and by the way, I am praying for you too. God bless.

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

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