Saturday, 15 March 2014

Where Does Your Faith Lie?

Credit: Andrea Nissolino (Flickr Creative Commons)
"Where is your faith?"
(Luke 8:25)

Every once in a while I come across a little nugget that makes me pause and say, “Hmm.” That happened again today as I made my way through the last chapter of a book I received this past Christmas.

The question, though simple, is at the same time really quite profound, and one could easily ask all sorts of other similar questions.

Where does your faith lie?

Does your faith lie in your church? Does your faith lie in your constitutional right to bear arms? Does your faith lie in the legalization of marijuana? Does your faith lie in the rainbow flag and all that it represents? Does your faith lie in your nation's flag? Does your faith lie in sports? Does your faith lie in that shinny new Harley? Does your faith lie in Jesus and Him alone?

Like I said, a simple question, yet at the same time, really quite profound. However, for me it begs another question: Does our faith sometimes lean towards idolatry? Hmm.

Where does your faith lie? 
Does your faith lie in the belief that the universe was created in six twenty-four-hour days?
Does your faith lie in there being an ark on Mount Ararat?
Does your faith lie in the notion that the next politician you vote for will not support the next war?
Does your faith lie in the hope that heaven is full of people like you?
Does your faith lie in the free market?
Does your faith lie in scientific rationalism?
Does your faith lie in your own ability to discern the mind of God?
Does your faith lie in your tradition being closer to the truth than another?
Does your faith lie in the virgin birth?
Does your faith lie in a balanced diet and exercising?
Does your faith lie in maintenance of the status quo?
Does your faith lie in your beloved eventually coming to their senses and taking you back?
Does your faith lie in a hell beyond this life for those who didn’t accept Jesus Christ?
Does your faith lie in your job?
Does your faith lie in financial savings?
Does your faith lie in liberalism?
Does your faith lie in your own good intentions?
Where does your faith …
Where does your faith …

I didn't see that coming. “Where does your faith lie?” or “Does your faith lie?” That’s what I call an interesting and yet troubling double-entendre.

Source: Jon Hatch, as edited and retold by Peter Rollins in “The Idolatry of God,” (p. 186-187)

Friday, 7 March 2014

Buddha-Phobics, Gay-Bashing, and Other Tales

As I look at the news and world events around me, it’s hard not to see that homosexuality is becoming more and more open today’s society. Though I personally do not agree with the lifestyle, at the end of the day, all I can say is, to each their own. I’m sure there are many who do not agree with my lifestyle too, and I’m OK with that.  Whatever.

What I find strangely interesting, if not downright amusing, is that while some are, as the old expression goes,  “coming out of the closet,” others appear to be going into it. What do I mean by that? Let me try and explain, but before I do, a caveat is in order.

Though this is normally a faith and church themed blog, this post has nothing whatsoever to do with faith, church or religion of any kind. The arguments here are entirely non-religious in every way. What I’m interested in exploring here is not homosexuality or religion, for in truth I couldn’t care less one way or another about either. Again, to each their own.

What I want to talk about here is the question of freedom of speech.

Are the rights and freedoms and equalities the one side is claiming that they’re being denied, ironically also being denied by them to the other side? The one side claims that the other is intolerant because it has not accepted their choice of lifestyle, whereas I have heard others also wonder if they too haven’t had their rights and freedoms and equalities trampled on simply because they have a different point of view. How interesting.

Again, let me reiterate, this is not a pro nor anti homosexuality post; I really couldn’t care less one way or another what people call themselves, nor how they choose to label themselves. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter to me; no one is accountable to me, nor am I accountable to them; end of story.

To my gay friends, I have only one request: PLEASE stop calling people who do not agree with your lifestyle “homophobic.” I don’t know why that bugs me, but it does. Maybe it has something to do with my tendency to be somewhat of a grammar cop. “Phobic” properly defined means “scared of.” Why is it that someone who has a different opinion from another person is said to be scared (phobic) of the other person? That is about as logical as a Buddhist saying that all who don’t embrace Buddhism are “Buddha-phobics,” or a Christian claiming that all who do not embrace Christianity are “Christ-a-phobics.”

I said that this post had nothing to do with a Christian view of homosexuality, and it doesn’t, but please allow me one Bible verse. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Are you a homosexual? Strive to live “at peace” with those who aren’t homosexuals. Are you a heterosexual? Strive to live “at peace” with those who aren’t heterosexuals. There, wasn’t that easy? Problem solved!

What is wrong with giving each other room to have different opinions? Now there’s a concept worth fighting for! Forget the idiotic notion of fighting with neighbors and relatives, using the “intolerant” and “phobic” cards. Did not our forefathers fight and die to leave us a country that valued freedom of speech? Why are we so bent on being the generation that dismantles it?

Have you “come out of the closet?” Good for you. Just please don’t force others who think differently from you to go into the now vacated closet because they’re scared to voice a difference of opinion.

Finally, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “An eye for an eye, will make us all blind.” Something for all of us to think about, regardless which side of the closet door you're standing on. Peace.

Photo Source: Unknown (via Facebook)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

14 Traits of Our Old Nemesis: the Devil

Many of us will no doubt remember the “Flip Wilson Show” which aired in the early-mid 1970’s. One of Flip Wilson’s characters in the show was that of Geraldine Jones in which he dressed up as a woman. It was hilarious! It was the character Geraldine Jones who popularized the phrase, “the devil made me do it.” While funny in the context of the comedian’s TV show, there is a serious side to that phrase too. There is more to “the devil made me do it” than simply something by which to get laughter from the masses.

I don’t normally give the devil the time of day; his days are numbered, and he knows it. Besides, in Christ we already have the victory. Having said that, however, doesn’t mean that the devil has just rolled over and buried his head in the sand; until that last moment, he will continue to create as much trouble for you and me as he can. Still, I also believe that God is still very much in control, and when the dust settles, it will be God’s will and plan that prevails.

As I thought about all this, and since I haven’t considered the topic for a while, I looked through the Scriptures to see what kind of ways the Bible describes Satan and his antics. Though I’m sure I missed several, here are some random thoughts on fourteen characteristics of Satan, or if you’d prefer, the devil.

The Devil as Persecutor
Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury” (Revelation 12:13). Think about that for a moment. He’s “filled with fury” which means that there’s nothing but fury in him. You couldn’t put anything else into him if you wanted. “Fury,” a word that my dictionary defines as “intense, disordered, and often destructive rage,” and he’s “full” of it. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

The Devil as the False Accuser
The devil is the “accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before God day and night” (Revelation 12:10). Could you imagine endless accusations by someone who has a grudge against you? Endless, day after day, night after night, every time you turn around, there’s that guy with a giant chip on his shoulder, making all sorts of accusations against you. It would be one thing if the accusations were valid, but these are all false. Being accused of something you’re not guilty of, that’s the devil for you.

The Devil as Liar
For he [the devil] is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). When we think of someone as being the “father” of something, what we’re saying is that the “something” had its genesis with that person. He or she was the inventor of it, and as the inventor, that person is likely also an expert in the operation of the invention. As the “father of lies,” the devil is an expert. I would dare say that he’s probably forgotten more about lying than all of us put together ever knew about it. The point is, we need to be aware that in this life we will regularly face a barrage of lies.

The Devil as Warrior
The devil “makes war” (Revelation 12:17) against the children of God. At the risk of sounding critical, sometimes I think that here is where we often have our heads buried in the sand; we don’t know that we’re at war. There’s shrapnel flying all around us, and we scarcely seem to notice. Have we become desensitized to the barrage of our old enemy’s attacks?

The Devil as Murderer
He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). It is interesting that the second generation of mankind on the earth already witnessed the first murder. Right before Cain killed his brother Abel, the Lord warned Cain, “sin is crouching at your door” (Genesis 4:7). Who is behind sin? The devil. Who is ultimately behind murders is the same devil that crouched at Cain’s door, and every other murderer’s door since him.

The Devil as Prison Warden
We’ve all heard stories of people who have gone to prison for their faith. Their only crime was that they were Christians. “The devil will put some of you in prison to test you” (Revelation 2:10) speaks to his control and involvement in the institutions of men.

The Devil as Road Block
In speaking to the Thessalonians, Paul said that “Satan stopped us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18) from visiting them. What’s stopping us from blessing and ministering to others in the name of Jesus? Perhaps it’s the devil himself who sometimes also sets up roadblocks for us today.

The Devil as Sickness
Obviously we would never go so far as to suggest that there is a demon behind every illness, but as in the case of Job’s misfortunes, it’s clear that the devil is behind some of them. “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head” (Job 2:7). Likewise, in speaking about the crippled woman He had just healed, Jesus said that, “Satan has kept [her] bound for eighteen long years” (Luke 13:16).

The Devil as Promoter of Betrayal
The devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot” (John 13:2). Later that evening Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me” (John 13:21). Have you ever betrayed anyone? Have you ever felt betrayed by someone? Guess who was likely behind it. That’s right, the devil.

The Devil as Deceiver
Is it only some people who are fooled by the devil’s antics? No, he “leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9). There isn’t a person alive today, or one who ever lived, that hasn’t been deceived by the devil at one time or another.

The Devil as Worker of Miracles
It is interesting that when we think of miracles, we always seem to think of the good.  However, the truth of the matter is that often it is also the “spirits of demons performing miraculous signs” (Revelation 16:14). The devil can “even cause fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men” (Revelation 13:13). Here too is where we often error; not every miracle or healing is from God. If it serves the devil’s purposes, he can physically heal us too.

The Devil as Bible Scholar
In the temptation of Jesus, the devil said, “throw your self down, for it is written” (Matthew 5:6). If the devil knows the Bible well enough to quote (and misquote) it back to Jesus in an effort to tempt Him, how much more so can the devil do likewise to us? It’s not only Christians who like to quote Bible verses.

The Devil as an Angel of Light
Paul spoke of people “masquerading as apostles of Christ” and that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” He then goes on to speak of how in such cases even righteousness becomes a masquerade (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Think about that for a moment; why would someone pretend (wear a mask) to be righteous if they were not trying to fool and deceive others? This in turn means that even the pastor himself could really be a demon in disguise. Ouch!

 The Devil as Possessor
Satan entered Judas” (Luke 22:3). Think about that. One of the twelve was “entered” and possessed by the devil. Is it really too farfetched to think that others who we think of as Christian leaders cannot also be “entered” and possessed by the devil? Of course that then raises the whole question of being simultaneously possessed by the Holy Spirit and the spirit of the devil at the same time, which I do not believe is possible. The only answer then is that, going back to our previous point, maybe that person masquerading as a Christian leader really isn’t even a Christian at all. Being possessed of the devil is not just fanciful fodder of Hollywood horror films; it can be an unsettling reality.

So Where Do We Go From Here?
I do not mention all these devilish characteristics to strike fear. Though Satan will use every possible means to deceive and destroy, as I said at the beginning, we who are in Christ are already victors (1 Corinthians 15:57). Though skirmishes from the devil’s camp do still remain, the battle is already won. Thank you, Jesus.

I mention these biblical references to the satanic antics simply to encourage discernment, and perhaps for some of us, to wake us from our lethargic slumber. Let’s not be fooled; not everything that sounds Christian, nor everyone who claims to be a Christian, really is. Don’t fall for “the trap of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:26). As Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). We would do well to meditate on that verse.

I mention these things because I believe that “even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18), and I sometimes fear that one of the ploys of the devil is to cause people to embrace a spirit of universalism, which I see as becoming more and more prevalent in the world today. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Finally, I mention these things because like you, I too am looking forward to the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as such I also want to encourage us all to be ready for that great and wonderful day. “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Revelation 22:20-21). That day could be today. Are you ready?

All Bible quotations taken from the New International Version (NIV).

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Losing My Theology?

Have you ever been blindsided by a comment that another Christian has made and wondered what Bible they’re reading from? I’m sure we all have. I am not talking about Bible versions, but rather belief systems or doctrinal points of view that are way out there. I mean, I’ve heard and read some things from well-meaning Christians, things they treat as biblical truth, but which I read completely opposite of what they’re espousing, and sometimes even completely unfounded in the Bible. We shake our heads in bewilderment and facetiously wonder, “What were they smoking?”

Sometimes I’ve wondered if you couldn’t put five seminary trained professing Christians into the same room, give them the same few verses of Scripture, and get five completely different interpretations from them. Have you ever wondered about that? Thankfully there is a lot more that unites us as Christians than that which divides us, and yet I have often mused over questions like that.

I confess that historically I have tended to be a bit of a literalist. Granted, there are several sections in both Old and New Testaments that are obviously not to be taken literally, but for the most part I have tended to believe that the Bible – and by extension, God – means exactly what it says. By way of example, when the Bible says, “Do not sin,” I interpret that to mean that God does not want us to sin. Pretty straight forward, wouldn’t you say? I do not think that there are some other subliminal messages attached to the verse. Likewise, when the Bible says, “Jesus is the way,” and “no one comes to the Father but through Him,” I interpret that to mean pretty much what it says, that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and not simply one of many different options available to us. Again, when the Bible says that “Not all professing believers are known by Jesus” (Matthew 7:23), while I don’t pretend to necessarily understand, I do take it at face value and believe that some confessing Christians may not really be Christians at all. Now, I didn’t say that; Jesus did. Thankfully God alone will judge that, and we don’t have to. For the most part, I believe that the Bible means what it says, and it says what it means … or does it?

Now here’s the dilemma

Only God can give revelation, and He does so through the Holy Spirit. In retrospect, I sometimes still scratch my head in bewilderment as I think of how many people I’ve known who have tried to teach on the revelation of God, as if they somehow knew His mind. But I’ve digressed. His anointing teaches us all things, even to the point that we do not need teachers (1 John 2: 26-27), though He certainly also gifted some to be teachers. Where I struggle is thinking back in our scenario to those five professing Christians, each claiming to be Spirit-filled and born-again, coming up with five different interpretations of the same Scripture. If those five individuals were really anointed by the Holy Spirit as they claimed, would it not be logical to assume that they would come up with identical interpretations of those same few verses of Scriptures? Not to do so would seem to suggest that, either some of them had not really heard from God as they claimed, or that God changed His mind. What do we do with that? Does God change His mind? A quick trip through any good concordance will show us that He does not.

I have a little book in my library called, “Has the Church Misread the Bible?” In it author Moises Silva says that preunderstanding plays a role in biblical interpretation, and he suggests that we need to take that seriously. He writes,

None of us is able to approach new data with a blank mind, and so our attempts to understand new information consist largely of adjusting our prior “framework of understanding” – integrating the new into the old. … Could it be that it is impossible to shed our presuppositions precisely because it is they that mediate understanding? If so, do we drown in our subjectivity and abandon the goal of objective exegesis? Is every interpretive effort destined to be relativized by the reality of our situation?

Now, I am not even going to try and unpack all that in this little post, for one would be far better off going to Silva’s book for the unpacking of it if you were so inclined. However, I do like the idea of preunderstanding; I think it has some merit.

Perhaps the reason our five friends sometimes come up with five different interpretations is because of some measure of preunderstanding brought about by such things as culture, language, pre-conversion religiosity or even denominational indoctrination. Maybe somewhere along the line they were even exposed to a devil in a pulpit, for the Bible also says that Satan often poses as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), but we’ll leave that topic alone for another post.

Someone has said, “Truth is what you grew up with.” While that statement no doubt raises some red flags, the fact is that a person from another faith believes that theirs is the truth, whereas you and I are certain that we have a correct grasp on the truth. There is a certain preunderstanding that comes into play when people hear new or conflicting ideas. Even Pilate asked, “What is truth” (John 18:38)?

Let’s not go crazy over all this

Obviously there's a place for theological studies; I too hold a seminary theology degree. However, if a guy's not careful, he could go crazy trying to think through all these things. Just like when Festus accused Paul of going insane because of his “great learning” (Acts 26:24), maybe we too sometimes tend to overthink our theology to the point of bordering on insanity. Maybe the answer isn’t so complicated after all. Maybe it simply is a case of, as Paul said, “Now we see but a poor reflection” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Maybe, rather than stress over these things, we should celebrate our common understandings, knowing that none of us necessarily sees the whole picture anyway, and go on in love and relationship with one another.

Maybe that’s what true worship is all about. Maybe what really matters is the “whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40), as opposed to the “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these [because you had your head in a theology text?], you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). Could it be that sometimes our theology and “great learning” actually keep us from being the kinds of Christians that God desires that we be today? I wonder.

Maybe the words of this grand old hymn still says it all,

My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device or creed;
I trust the ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

Maybe that really is enough. Maybe if the church focused more on really learning to trust the “ever-living One,” and to love one another regardless of doctrines, the fathoming of all mysteries (1 Corinthians 13:2) would become less of an issue. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” we all sang as children. Maybe it’s time to lose some theology and come as little children (Matthew 18:3). Maybe that really is enough.

Something to think about. Peace.

Hymn Credit: “No Other Plea,” by Lidie H. Edmonds