Tuesday, 23 June 2015

of Subtle Conformity to Worldly Values

"For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son."
(Romans 8:29; NIV).

I remember once reading the story of how a psychologist brought several groups of ten students at a time together in a room for a little experiment. The instructions were simple enough; raise your hand when the psychologist pointed to the longest line on a series of charts. However, unbeknown to one student in each group was the fact that the other nine students in that group hand secretly been told ahead of time to raise their hands on the second longest line, regardless of the instructions given to the group.

In virtually every case, the one student who knew nothing of the ruse would glance around in confusion and ultimately, despite his/her better judgment, also raise a hand at the second longest line instead of the obvious longest line like the group had been instructed to do. This happened time after time; rather than confront the error of the group, that one poor self-conscious student simply went along with the rest of the group.

As I reflected on that psychologist’s experiment, I wondered if the same doesn’t also often happen with the church; not the institution, but rather individual Christian lives. Do we too tend to sometimes self-consciously go along with the group, even if we know deep down inside that they’re wrong? As I wondered about this, I was reminded again of one of my favourite Scriptures, Romans 12:1-2, which in the ESV reads:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by the testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
I don’t know about you, but every time I read those verses, the one thing that stands out loud and clear is the question of exactly who is being “conformed,” or “transformed,” by whom? Sometimes I feel like that one lone student being duped into raising my hand at the second longest line, rather than the longest line that I know is correct.

Sometimes, instead of being beacons of light that, with the Spirit’s leading, draws the unsaved to Christ, I cannot help but wonder if the reverse is not true instead. Like that lone student in the group of ten, could it be that the world has subtly “conformed” and “transformed” many Christians (myself included) into its version of pseudo-light instead? After all, sometimes it seems virtually impossible to tell the believer and the non-believer apart. It’s almost as if everything now somehow has become acceptable and there is no longer a recognized morality versus immorality, even in the church. Have you ever wondered about that?

I think about these things every now and then.

Now I realize that I’m talking about outward appearances, which obviously does not necessarily represent the condition of the heart within, but is it not logical to assume that the inner condition would somehow also manifest itself externally? If the joy of the Lord is truly in my heart, then why does it not show itself more than it does? Is my faith a secret? Am I self-conscious too like that lone student in the psychologist’s experiment? If so then haven’t I seriously misread my New Testament and seriously misunderstood the teachings of my Lord and His apostles? Jesus once told His hearers,
Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Let’s take that verse apart a bit.

“Let” is the same as saying to “allow” or “permit.” It’s something that we have control over. It’s a choice we make; I choose to “let” it happen or I choose not to “let” it happen. It’s completely up to me. If it were not so, then Jesus would not have given us the admonition to make it so. But He did; He said, “Let your light shine.” Still, the choice is mine, but how I choose then also brings with it the question of obedience versus disobedience to my Lord.

At the risk of digressing too far, this begged another question and that is, if I choose to deliberately disobey, then can I still rightly call Him Lord? Hmm, I wonder, but that’s a topic for another post.

“Shine” is more than simply being lit. There can be light, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bright. We can drive in the light of the day’s sun, on both cloudy and non-cloudy days, and see reasonably well; certainly better than driving at night. But try driving east as the sun comes up over the horizon, or driving west as the sun begins to set, and it “shines” so bright in your eyes that you can hardly see anything else around you. It’s in that sense that I think our Lord would have us to shine; so that the world can barely see anything else because the light of the "Son" is right there in their faces and in their eyes that they are essentially blinded to everything else.

This kind of reminds me of Moses who used to have to cover his face with a veil after having been in the presence of the Lord, because his face just radiated God (Exodus 34: 29-35). Ever meet Christians whose faces just seem radiate Jesus, no matter what the circumstances? I know a few like that. One would almost have to veil their faces too in order to keep from being “Son-burnt.” I confess that sometimes I’m even a little envious, wishing I too had such a witness.

“Good deeds” implies just that; our actions matter and we will be doing good deeds for the benefit of others. In other words, our walks will line up with our talks. Someone once said something to the effect of, “I won’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” Deeds do matter. James went so far as to say that “faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). Furthermore, if we can speak of “good” deeds, then it stands to reason that there can also be “bad” deeds, or maybe better yet, “evil” deeds. As Christians, ours are always to be of the “good” variety.

“Praise your Father in heaven” is the ultimate purpose of what Jesus was driving at. The goal is that my life and profession of faith be of such a nature as to lead others (and by that I include non-believers) to “praise your Father in heaven.” Again, please understand that I do not mean this as a guilt-trip for others, but rather I see this as an exercise in my own walk of faith. Does my day to day lifestyle, my “deeds,” my activity and “light” lead others around me in my circle of influence to “praise your Father in heaven” or not? If I were honest with myself, I would have to admit that it probably doesn’t happen as often as it should. I wonder why that is.

Where do I go from here? Well it’s a good thing that Jesus isn’t a baseball umpire; I would have struck out long ago. Where I will go from here is to not dwell on the "would-have’s, should-have’s, could-have’s," but to move on in His grace and love, striving to listen a little more to the leading of the Spirit, and to let my light shine a little more before men, striving to excel a little more in the “good deeds” department, all so that God may be glorified a little more as others come to the place where they too “praise your Father in heaven.”

I wonder how many experiments that psychologist would have had to perform before she found one student to stand up and choose the longest line, regardless of the fact that the other nine chose differently? Furthermore, despite their earlier instructions, I wonder if some of the other nine might not then have “transformed” their earlier vote and become “conformed” to the vote of the one lone student.

It’s easier to go along with the masses, there are plenty of examples in society of this, but it’s better to “not be conformed to this world.” Something to think about. Peace & Blessings.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Are You Just Another Brick in the Wall?

Are you a Mason?

Yes, I'm talking about a secret society, but it's not the Freemasons. This society is so secret that most of its adherents don't even know they are members.

Has anyone ever said to you "you wouldn't understand?" Have you ever said something like, "He has built a wall around his heart?"

What if I told you that you might have contributed to the construction?

I have recently found out that I may have built a wall around someone else's heart, or at least contributed a few bricks. You see, I found out that someone that I care about dearly has been suffering in silence. This person has made some choices and mistakes in life, and has been regretting them. Unfortunately, I have been rather outspoken about my opinion on these subjects. So, while this person was hurting, I was probably one of the last people to be considered for the role of confidante.

Can you relate? Have you ever found out that someone close to you has done some of the things that you preach against? If so, then you might know the feeling of shame that I must now endure. It makes me realize I have been far less like Christ than I should have been. So what do we do with that?

How do we express our thoughts on subjects that we feel are important without contributing bricks to someone else's wall? There must be a way to express our opinions without causing someone else to feel that we are not approachable. After all, the situation is not improved if we are the ones behind the wall. I think the key may lie in one detail from the situation that sparked this post: I have known this person for almost half my life. You see, I have been making a concerted effort over the past several years to tone down the religious rhetoric, but this person has known me during a part of my life when I was regularly opening my mouth long enough to change feet.

It seems to me that the problem may lie in the use of absolutes when discussing what we understand to be "truth." We Christians can be the worst at this. We make statements, often publicly, based on the combination of our personal story and our reflections on scripture. While those statements and observations may be valid, we must remember that the only way to prove that matters of faith are correct (or false) is to die.

Perhaps we should learn a lesson from Socrates. One of the things that have caused him to remain relevant over the years is that he would ask probing questions that would cause his fellow interlocutors to consider evidence and eventually discover "truth" on their own. This has become known as Socratic Questioning. So instead of saying some vice or choice is wrong, we should perhaps lead those around us on a journey of questioning that will help them to find the truth. Occasionally, we may even find out in the process, that it is what we understand to be the truth that needs correcting.

I hope that people who have gotten to know me over the past decade or so would find it hard to believe that I might be unapproachable. I am still a work in progress. To the person who sparked this post (you know who you are), I'm sorry. Please forgive me, and give me a chance to pull down the bricks that I have laid.

God help me to abandon this society of Masons.

by Guest Blogger: Waldo Rochow
Photo Credit: Rose Morelli, Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Graciousness: Leaving the Stones at Home

Friends, here's another guest blogger post that we've entitled:

"Graciousness: Leaving the Stones at Home."

A big "Thank You" to my little brother for sharing. Peace & Blessings to you and yours.

Are Christians called to be gracious? I suppose it depends on what you mean by gracious. I asked Google to "define: gracious" and interestingly, it provided me with two definitions for the adjective "gracious." One in common vernacular, and the other from a Christian perspective.

1. courteous, kind, and pleasant.
"smiling and gracious in defeat"
synonyms: courteous, polite, civil, chivalrous, well mannered, mannerly, decorous;
2. (in Christian belief) showing divine grace.
"I am saved by God's gracious intervention on my behalf"
synonyms: merciful, compassionate, kind;

I believe we are, but not specifically in the common definition (though, I do believe that the second builds on the first). We are not merely called to be the "hostess with the mostess", but gracious in the way that Christ was while He was with us.

Now obviously, Christ didn't walk around the Middle East being followed by a stenographer who was feverishly writing down his every word; so we have limited data from which to draw our opinions. However, it seems from my readings of scripture that the only people that Christ criticized were the people in the religious community. He lambasted them regularly, I believe, because they should have known better. I think the only time that Christ used harsh language was when he was addressing the church. Toward the unchurched and uneducated He was soft and tender. He used language that was simple, and non-confrontational.

Many people have made a big deal about the fact that Jesus ate with various "sinners". We have (...ok, I have), always viewed that as an example of how tolerant Jesus was toward the lost sheep of Israel. But it occurred to me today that He was invited to their table. It doesn't seem to be very likely that Christ knocked on the door and said "let me bless you with my presence." It was more likely that he was speaking to some of them close to mealtime and they invited Him to dine with them.

I can't imagine the religious leaders of the day being invited to dine with prostitutes and tax collectors. Of course, it wouldn't be a problem since the religious folks wouldn't likely have accepted such an invitation anyway. But my point is, the "sinners" felt comfortable enough with Jesus to invite Him to dinner. They obviously didn't feel that they would be "lectured at" for their lifestyle or the choices that they've made. They likely felt a rapport with Him. When I think of the people I've met, whose company I enjoyed the most, they were the people who let me tell my story. Chances are good that Jesus was the same way. (Can you imagine being in the presence of the living God incarnate, and having Him ask you about the things that are important to you?).

So here's the bite: Do we follow in the footsteps of Christ, or in the footsteps of the "good" religious folks? Do we have pet sins about which we cannot keep silent? Is there a particular group of "sinners" who would never invite us to dinner? Alcoholics? Drug users? Profaners? Homosexuals? Transvestites? Adulterers? The corrupt? The inhumane? Convicted criminals? Moslems? Jews? Jehovah's witnesses? Atheists?

If you ask most Christians today, (and they answer honestly), I'll bet that they feel that God wants them to point out the error in such sinful lifestyles. But my question is this: Why would God expect that of us, if He didn't expect it of His own son? If His own son could make these people so comfortable that they would invite Him into their homes, why would God expect us to shame the same types of people into repentance? Now, God does expect us to root out such lifestyle choices in the body of Christ. Of that I have no doubt.

When we see someone professing to be a follower of Jesus, especially if they are leading others, and they have obvious sin in their lives, they should be lovingly corrected, and coached to bring restoration. But even there, I feel that the rebuke must be gentle and compassionate, because none of us deserve the salvation that Christ offers. (Let him without sin cast the first stone). But those that are sinning against a God in whom they don't believe first need to be introduced to Him. They need to experience His grace first hand... and since we are His hands and feet (and mouth), it falls on us to show them the mercy, compassion, and kindness that Christ himself would have shown had He been here today.

May God grant us a tongue that is still enough, and ears that are open enough, to hear the concerns of His elect; and patience enough to make the introduction.

Twelve Life Lessons from Noah's Ark

I came across the following recently, and while its authorship remains unknown to me, I thought it worth sharing. It's not overly profound, nor is it theologically deep, but it is cute. And besides, sometimes I think it's healthy to insert a little cuteness, fun and simplicity into all that seriousness that we call life, and sometimes likewise, into all that seriousness that we exhibit in our Rethinking Faith and Church.

Having said that, what are the twelve life lessons from Noah's Ark? They are these:

1. Don't miss the boat.

2. Don't forget that we're all in the same boat.

3. Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark.

4. Stay fit. When you're 600 years old, someone might just ask you to do something really, really  big.

5. Don't listen to critics. Just get on with what has to be done.

6. For safety's sake, travel in pairs.

7. Two heads are better than one.

8. Build your future on high ground.

9. Speed wasn't always an advantage. After all, the snails were on the same ark with the cheetahs.

10. When you are stressed, float a while.

11. Remember, the ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals.

12. Remember that the woodpeckers inside are a larger threat than the storm outside.

Photo and List Source: Unknown