Saturday, 21 December 2013

What if we evaluated peoples Christianity differently?

I don’t know if it has something to do with growing up a Protestant, but I tend to categorize people by the beliefs that they hold to. For example, the first question I would normally think about someone is “Is this person a Christian?”, once that is confirmed I may ask something like “so where do you go to church?” This question is not so much about the location where one fellowships as it is about finding out what kind of a Christian someone is (Catholic, Baptist, the TBN type etc).

Apart from where dodgy things are being taught and practiced, I have grown to appreciate the variety within Christianity and actually seek out ways that we can learn from each other. But I have also started to realize that the beliefs we hold are not the way that scripture defines ones faithfulness and walk. It is true that our doctrines are important; I don’t think anyone would deny that. But maybe we have placed a little too much faith in our intellectual understanding of Christianity rather than in the fruits that reveal genuine signs of a living and growing faith within us.

Jesus never said that we will know who his followers were by their creeds, even if there is value in defining our beliefs. What he did say was that we would recognize his own by the fruits evident in their lives (Matt 7:20) and by the love they have one for another (John 13:35). Nowhere are the signs of this more clearly illustrated than in Acts chapter 2:44-46

Now all who believed were together and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.

The longer I am a Christian, the more I realize that charity and love are the surest signs of a genuine relationship with God. Jesus spoke much where the religious were portrayed as outsiders while the meek and despised ones received his praise, think of the Good Samaritan or the poor widow who gave the last of what she had at the temple. Think of how it says in scripture that even the giving of a glass of water to someone does not go unnoticed. Think of Hosea 6:6 that says God desires mercy not sacrifice. Think of how James spoke rather tongue in cheek about religion and pointed out that pure and undefined religion is not about rules or regulations, but about visiting widows and orphans in their trouble and keeping oneself unspotted from the world.

Think of the final judgment where the sheep are separated from the goats (Matt 25:32-46). Once again we are not separated by denomination or creed, but by works that were the evidence of an authentic relationship with Jesus.

Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you visited me... inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.

When I evaluate my walk by intellectual standards, I hold my head high, sure there is a heck of a lot that I do not know and I am probably wrong in a few places where I think that I am right but I still think that  I am pretty well educated when I start comparing myself to others. But when I start evaluating my walk by Galatians 6:2 which says “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”, then I start to get a little anxious and humbled. This may sound like a works oriented gospel to some; it’s not intended as one. God is slowly stripping me of my selfishness, self righteousness and self centeredness so that I can start to look more like the only person who ever lived that was truly “others centered”. Love for God and for others are not just commandments, they are the true marks of a believer.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Christian war on Christmas

Let’s face it. Christmas is a bizarre holiday with a weird history and is celebrated in some crazy ways around the world. If you don’t know what I am talking about you can read about some of the weirdness over here  to see just how strange things can get. But as foreign as some other peoples traditions may be, one could argue the point that eating KFC in Japan on Christmas Eve is pretty mild in comparison to us telling our kids that a fat bearded guy from the North Pole will break in on xmas night and leave some presents under the tree that we dragged inside and decorated, he will then fly away in a reindeer powered sleigh. If we are lucky, he may even leave some sweets for us in the sock hanging up (not in your sock drawer but in the living room) that must have previously belonged to a one footed man with a giant foot.

No matter how we rationalize it, Christmas is undoubtedly a worldwide and worldly holiday which has roots going back way before the birth of Christ. There are even those few verses in Jeremiah 10:2-4 that speak about not being like the pagan nations who “cut down a tree and decorate it with silver and gold”, something eerily close to our modern practice. So what should our response as Christians be to the Americanized version of Christmas that merges Christ and consumerism? Some seem to embrace it wholeheartedly while others are ready to smack you over the head with their metaphorical placard if they catch you humming along to a carol.

All I can do here is share my own opinion on this which I consider to be not necessarily a middle ground, but a third perspective. I don’t necessarily feel that we should celebrate Christmas, at least not every aspect of it. There are those few verses in Jeremiah I mentioned earlier, but I am not really sure if they are any different than the ones found throughout the Old Testament that say things like “don’t shave the corners of your beard”. The pagan aspects originally associated with Christmas have all disappeared just like the ones associated with the names of the days of the week have ( think SATURNday, SUNday, MOONday etc). As for my family, we have ditched the tree and accessories but not because I think we are under the old Hebrew law but more as an act of being sensitive toward the beliefs of some of our friends who are against it.

Although we still get together with family and exchange small gifts with each other, I would like to think that we avoid making the day about just getting stuff. One of the scariest things I read recently was that Americans alone spend $450 billion on Christmas annually; to put that in perspective, $20 billion would be enough to give water to the world for a year. That means if America alone spent 5% less on buying gifts and donated that money to the right people, the entire would have access to clean drinking water. So why not cut back a little on our spending and donate to a good cause? I personally like GFA  because 1) I know one of the leaders and can vouch for their ministry and 2) 100% of your donation goes to what you gave it for, plus you can even choose the gift. You can pick anything from a water purifier to a pair of chickens which means eggs and income to a poor family. These are life changing gifts that come with the message of God’s love.

While I am not super eager on celebrating most aspects of Christmas, I do feel that we should celebrate Christ always, and the 25th December does present some unique opportunities to do this. It certainly offers up opportunities to share the Gospel, it is also an annual reminder of the birth of Jesus and everything that that entails and I love reading the blogs and scriptures on the subject that pop up this time of year. It is also a chance to be charitable as opportunities for giving are everywhere we look.

So yeah, to those who love the holiday, great, but let’s keep perspective. Many of us scoff at the prosperity preachers, but in reality we still live very comfortable lives and when our bank account looks healthy, we normally spend the money on fancy holidays or small shiny things and call it God’s blessing without really  considering our needy brothers out there in the world. I’m not saying we can’t go on vacations or buy nice things, but rather that we should examine our hearts more carefully.

And to those who oppose Christmas, I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 14

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord, and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it...but why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?...Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brothers way.

Some would say that we are called to be holy and separate from the world, but when we judge others motives or lack grace then how separate are we from the ways of the world? It’s better to err on the side of caution with ourselves while extending grace to others.

Happy holidays all! May the life of Christ capture your hearts this Christmas. :)

Monday, 16 December 2013

Salvation from the perspective of a Kingdom centered Gospel

Poor doctrine tends to have a ripple effect on the rest of our theology. For example, Christianity started out as a group of Christ centered Kingdom people in which its followers were expected to turn the other cheek and bless those who cursed them, even to the point of laying down their lives for their enemies (just as their leader did). Yet when Augustine came along in the 4th and 5th century, he reasoned that if people (a different Christian sect known as the Donatists) were forced into embracing his brand of Christianity it would be for their own good in the larger scope of things. His views helped to justify the church’s right to use political power to assert spiritual control. This line of thinking would eventually lead to things like the Inquisition where the “church” killed countless numbers of people who refused to submit to Roman Catholicism and the Pope. Unfortunately, the early Protestant Church carried over this same kind of reasoning and had just as much blood on its hands. Many of the early reformers like Calvin, who is today considered by many as a hero of the faith, were guilty of having other Christians killed over doctrinal differences. The story between him and Servetus is horrific and if you have not heard about it before you can read about it here.

Sometimes our errors are less obvious and can be more subtle. For example, in a previous post I touched on the gospel which today is being taught as a salvation message. This is not so much wrong as it is a half truth, but half truths lead to half revelations, a wrong emphasis in evangelism and half hearted conversions. Let me explain, a Gospel that says accept Christ as your savior but neglects to tell you that Christ is Lord has lead to what some call “easy believism”. The Kingdom road has been replaced with a one minute prayer for salvation from hell. And the fruits of this are churches full of people who look more like the world than they do like Christ. But how can we expect anything more of them when statistics reveal that the people who are leading them (not all of them) have higher or equal divorce rates, addictions to alcohol and pornography and burnout than the people out in the world.

So what’s missing in the salvation message? Salvation as Greg Boyd puts it, is about manifesting God’s fullness of life by cultivating a counter-cultural lifestyle that revolts against every aspect of society that is inconsistent with the character of God and his will for the world. It’s about living and praying in a way that actualizes the fullness of the Lord’s prayer that the Father’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven”(Matthew 6:10). That is a radically different way of looking at it than the way most of us have understood it.

Additionally, the error of penal substitution theory which is embraced in most Western Churches has lead people to believe that this salvation message basically means that we are saved from Gods wrath and hell. What Penal substitution neglects to tell us is how we are saved from the evil one, from the Adamic nature which brings death rather than life and also that one day this broken creation will be restored as well. PS theory also fails to harvest any kind of trust in us that God is loving, merciful and just when you really start to think about it.

Some have said that salvation carries past, present and future aspects in that we have been saved from darkness into light and from death into life, we are being saved from the Adamic nature as we are slowly conformed into Christs image and that we will be saved on the day of judgment from destruction. This is maybe a nice way of thinking about it. Salvation is not something that we can simply put in the past but that is manifested in us daily.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Healed of stage 4 cancer

This post was meant to follow directly on from the 4 views on the work of the Spirit article but things just never worked out that way. Anyway, the lady pictured above is a work colleague of mine and her name is Magda. Two years ago, almost to the day, she fell down at work and had a seizure. It was only a month later that we realized the full extent of her situation. Below is the her story in her own words (but translated into English).

"On 14 January 2012 I was diagnosed with a 4.7 cm large glioblastoma - a tumor situated on the right side of my brain. A biopsy was done and the results showed that I had stage 4 brain cancer. On 24 January 2012 a neurologist performed a 6 hour long operation and most of the tumor was removed. Only three days later, on 27 January, I was released from the hospital. During the months of February, March and April I had to undergo numerous sessions of radiation as well as chemotherapy.

In April I ended up in ICU due to a faulty signal between my brain and lungs which caused me to stop breathing. The doctor refused to put me on life support and informed my husband that it was time for the family to come and say their goodbyes as there was nothing more they could do for me. My husband and sister-in-law however walked out of my hospital room to go and pray for me. They lay it all at the Lord's feet. A mere 10 minutes later I started breathing again and was released the very next day! The doctor estimated my last days on earth to be between three months to a year, but nobody is in control of my life except the Lord. I prayed each day and believed that God had already healed me. On 7 January 2013, a year later, I received confirmation that I had indeed been healed of the cancer and that the glioblastoma had shrunk to a mere 1 cm. The doctor, and everybody else, were dumbfounded because these tumors usually tend to double in size over a time span of two weeks, and very few people actually survive this type of cancer. But God is big and almighty, and if you ask and believe He will answer your prayers. It was a year in which my faith was tested and it was a year which brought me so much closer to God. We really do serve a great and living God! Two years have already passed and even the 1 cm sized tumor is gone! I don't have cancer anymore!"

Magda's husband explained to me in more detail just how rare her recovery was, people don't just come back from stage 4 brain cancer and the doctor himself described it as a miracle. The only realistic hope here for them was in God. May her story be an encouragement to others going through rough times! And may it be an encouragement to all that our God still operates in signs and wonders and is very much involved in the present. And may it serve as a testimony, not to the power of prayer, but to the one whom we are praying to!

PS - If anyone wants to watch a short video of her sharing this story with a few photos to show the extent of the journey she endured you can watch it here , it is in Afrikaans though.

PSS - Today is Magda's birthday, Happy birthday Magda! :)