Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Religion of Being Non-Religious

Recently I was dialoguing online with an old friend. The conversation took on a context of speaking about 'the religious' people and how they are sometimes offended by the 'non-traditional' people. There were a couple of things written that made me think. One comment was about a 'religious spirit'. Another comment was 'being religious about not being religious'.  What needs to be addressed is what religion is thought to be, what religion really is in God's perspective and what we as believers really need to be concerned with regarding religion.

The fact is that there are many religions in the world. So really, what is religion? A definition of 'religion' is "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.' The second part of the definition of 'religion' is critical as it contains the phrase 'as agreed upon by a number of persons or sects...". In reality, when the 'non-traditional' people all get together and agree to either practice or not practice certain 'traditional religious' activities, then they, in essence are being just as religious as the 'religious' people. Get it? While the religious and non-traditionals fight over what their preferences are in style, they forget how much they have in common in their devotion to the God they love. Westernized Christianity has not helped this schism as it has caused 'brands' of Christianity that taste good to some and not so good to others. This leads to what one of my former college mates feciciously reffered to as the church 'franchise'.

So what does God think about religion? Surely he has weighed in on the subject.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:27

There are really two types of religion or religious activity. Religion is either pure and undefiled before God and religion that is impure and defiled before God. James explicitly and simply explains it. The kind of religious activity that is pure and undefiled before God involves caring for those who cannot necessarily care for themselves and to keep oneself unstained from the world. This religion that pleases God isn't simply a liberal theological position that teaches us to tolerate, reach out and care for all, nor is a religion of spiritual segregation. It's a 'salt and light' religion. It's a religion of touching human needs with our hands while God touches our impure hearts with his grace. It's a religion where we don't help people in need to feel good, rather we help them because our hearts have been made right by God.

So whether you brand yourself as 'religious' or 'non-traditional' be aware of one thing for sure...God doesn't give a rip about what you do in the name of (insert your church name here).  He cares that you care about what he cares about.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Within a matter of hours I watched a creek turn into a river and cause millions of dollars of damage to homes and infrastructure.  Even worse is the suffering of the displaced families.  People I know, business owners I patronized, families we've fellowshipped with, my own brother, sister-in-law and neices; locked down, unable to leave their own neighborhood.  My children's school friends are living in a shelter the last couple of days.  This is only one town affected by the Alberta flood of 2013.

I write this post from a time of crisis.  Currently the city I live in for the last two months is under water.  Almost 100,000 people have been displaced.  The town I left to move here is completely under water with major damage to infrastructure.  I'm very blessed because for some reason the home I reside in in the city is high, dry and life is as normal.  The property we own in the flooded mountain town is also high, dry and unaffected.  The feeling of blessed assurance however, is clashing with the feeling of frustration as I am personally unable to rush to anyone's aid, unable to give tangible help with my own two hands.  I pray.  I will give.  I will help somehow.

It would be easy to assume a patronizing air and begin to tell everyone that God is at work in people's hearts through suffering.  I mean, this is the time right?  Right smack in the middle of someone watching their $800,000 house flow down a creek with their wife and kids likely homeless, now's the time I tell them that God uses suffering to speak to people.  I could get myself to the middle of the most affected and damaged areas and declare at the top of my lungs that God is using this for his glory.

I think I will refrain.

This morning in church we sang a hymn.  "Great is Thy Faithfulness" seemed so appropriate.  One verse in particular struck a chord in my heart, and one part of it in particular:

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.....

This is what I want to leave with people. 

Do I believe that God allows and uses suffering?  I do (Read Ravi Zacharias' "Jesus Among Other Gods" for a great explanation of suffering).  Do I believe it can and is redemptive?  Most certainly.  But is this the message for right here, right now?  I'm not sure.  I think it's supposed to be 'strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow'.  Why?  Because this is what people need, right here and right now.

In the coming days we will see people coming to grips with their losses.  Those that have lost loved ones will be left asking 'why'.  Those that have lost all of their earthly possesions will be trying to figure out where to go from here.  In the middle of all of this there will be people, just like them, giving and offering the only thing  And from this come the seeds that will grow into strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

The very last words of the hymn 'Great is Thy Faithfulness' are found when the chorus is sung.  It's not a song about God using suffering to teach us a lesson.  It's a song about the reminder of the fact that no matter what happens, God is faithful to bring us through.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How You Should Speak to a King

What is the expectation that Jesus has of his followers when it comes to a person's response to undesireable political circumstances and leaders?  Rebellion? Sarcasm? Hatred?  Love? Tollerance?  How are we to speak of and to political leaders?  We should all know how to speak to a king.

By reading Facebook feeds or watching national news, it is evident that not everyone is in agreement as to what is acceptable.  The Bible instructs us to 'Let no corrupt communication come from our mouths.'  What is corrupt communication?  It's not merely profanity nor simply coarse speech.  It goes to what comes from the heart.  From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Perhaps you've heard or read Facebook quotes concerning a certain prominent U.S. politician.  If your experience has been like mine, you may have noticed something.  I noticed that the hateful, malicious words of Christians sound just like some of the hateful, malicious words of unbelievers.  Where is the difference?  Where is the divine life of Christ displayed?  Can Christians oppose values and differing political ideologies and remain Christ-like while doing so?  The answer should be 'yes'.  But sometimes I wonder.

We cannot model unkindness. We cannot be consumed with disgust and hatred toward a person we don't agree with. We cannot separate our political rhetoric from our Christian conversation.

What is the biblical basis?  The Old Testament has great examples of how people spoke to kings.  Read Daniel 6 and listen to Daniel's response to Darius whom, after being deceived, had Daniel thrown into the lions den to face certain death.  When Darius checked to see the fate of Daniel, he was greeted with "Oh King live forever!"  The result was Darius decreeing the power and grace of the Hebrews God to his kingdom.

Earlier in Daniel's account we learn of the three Hebrew 'children'.  As the story goes, they refuse to worship Nebuchadnezzar at the appointed time and they now face the fiery furnace.  When brought before the king and questioned, their response wasn't to denigrate the political establishment.  They said, ' we don't need to defend ourselves before you in this matter...even if God doesn't deliver us, we refuse to worship (you).'  Of course the refuse, God delivers them and Nebuchadnezzar declared the majesty of their God throughout his kingdom and even promoted the three young men.

The account of Esther has the Jews oppressed under Xerxes.  Esther, taking her life into her own hands attempts to save the Jews, her countrymen, by seeking an audience with the king.  As she opens her dialogue with the man that, while deceived, authorized the destruction of the Jews, she begins with, "If it pleases the king..."

In the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested, a disciple takes a sword and goes for the head of one of the guards, missing and taking his ear off.  Jesus' response was to chastise the assailing disciple and heal the man's ear.

John the Baptist was opposed to King Herod for his immorality.  He preached the good news and rebuked evil.  In doing so he never stooped to name-calling and insults.  he stuck to the gospel and represented Christ.  John the Baptist was put to death.  He was not delivered like our previous examples.

So while living under undesirable political circumstances, facing and dealing with political entities with unacceptable policies, how is a Christian to respond if and when they have to?  Look at Daniel.  Remember the three Hebrew young men and above all remember Jesus.  To them the political opponent wasn't the enemy.  To them it was always about their God to love, and when the goal is to love and please God in everything, the biblical testimony is that God gets far more accomplished for his purposes.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Search for the Body

Last June I was personally informed by the company president that the branch where I had made my current career and earthly living was closing...for 30 days. In that same meeting I was offered a position at the main branch in another city, an hour and fifteen minutes away. To make a long story short, I accepted the offer, packed up my family and moved from the middle of the Canadian Rocky Mountains to a city of over a million people. Big change. I'm sure there are many out there that can identify with job loss, job change, moving etc. It can be a trying yet exhilarating time. We trusted God's leading and away we went.

One of the first things we had to do after being settled was to begin our search for a gathering of the Body of Christ where we could fellowship. That search is all but complete but to be honest, it was a bit pain staking. So the 'search for the body' was on. What local church fellowship would we associate ourselves with? For fifteen years when I was the pastor, I didn't have to ask that question. I never had to look for a 'new church'. I was never faced with the decision of where to go. By going online and weeding out several choices and attending others, I found out that finding 'a church' to go to isn't as easy a task as I thought it might be. I found that several churches out there focus on a doctrine or a teaching. It was evident in their online presence as they listed what they believed in, sought after in their gatherings and expected from their adherents. Without actually saying it, my impression was that if you didn't agree, well, don't bother. Some churches were very traditional 'high church' experiences. Some churches were of the smaller, home group type of experience. Some churches were of the emergent bent where, after listening to an online sermon, I found it to be intentionally making things 'grey' instead of what I firmly believe to be more 'black and white' when it came to some things. Some churches, after listening to online sermons as well as attending one Sunday morning service, were very seeker-focussed. This was disheartening to me as the gospel of Jesus Christ wasn't even mentioned. These were the churches where, in the delivery of the message, the scripture wasn't cracked open and expounded upon, but rather, used as backdrop stories to make a topical point.

But there's one church we've frequented on a number of occasions. It's different. The Bible is opened, taught, explained and delivered to people. Christ and his gospel are the core, the center, the main thing. The people go out of their way and lend a hand, help and assist with needs if they know of any. There's something that feels familiar about that. The word "familiar" means "acquainted with". But it can also mean "closely intimate or personal". How could I be a stranger somewhere among people I do not know yet feel acquainted? The answer to that is simple. We are all part of the Body of Christ. It is his divine life that runs through all of us. When we run into a group of people that share the same DNA, the same life, the same Father, well, we all know what that is. It's called "family".