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05. December 2016 · Comments Off on ARE CHRISTIANS CHEAP ? · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE · Tags: ,

Are Christians Cheap?  Its one of those dangerous generalization questions.  Of course for precision’s sake it would need to be argued that while some Christians are cheap, not all of them are.  But I would like to suggest, that many people who call themselves Christians are beginning to get a reputation for being cheap, and that gives all of us a bad name. There are three categories of people (including Christians) that I would describe as CHEAP.

  1. THOSE WHO ARE RELUCTANT TO PAY THEIR OWN WAY. Since stories are often an effective way to make a point, here’s a very fresh one for you. This past weekend, the church that I attend put on a Christmas festival for the 19th year in a row.  It is a wonderful musical program that has been performed 4 times a weekend for 19 years in a row, and in years gone by packed out the church each time.  In most years, there was no admission charged.  Free tickets were distributed for crowd control purposes.  This year, they brought in Christian music artist STEVE GREEN and sold tickets @ $25 in advance or $30 at the door.  While the concerts were well attended this year, the crowds weren’t as large – there were empty seats available in each of the 4 performances. What has this to do with Christians being cheap? We know that some who attended in the past did not this time because they balked at paying for a ticket. We also know that many of these belong to other churches, and have enjoyed hearing quality music for free all these years, and they wondered (out loud) why all of a sudden they need tickets.  I wonder whether these people realize that to put on an event such as this costs money.  Who do they think should pay these expenses, to bring in an artist like Steve Green, and the host of other bills that arise to put on a production like this?  In previous years a free will offering was taken with the aim of recovering expenses.  I am told that the church rarely, if ever broke even. If the majority of attendees were Christians, then I suggest that many of them were “cheap”.
  1. THOSE WHO REFUSE TO TIP OR WHO CAN’T SEEM TO TIP GENEROUSLY. I once had a conversation with a restaurant waiter. She told me that she (and others who work at that popular restaurant that is frequented by the church crowd) dread having to work on Sundays.  Here are her very words, “I can’t stand hearing how these people who just came from church gossip about their churches and their pastors, and then leave a gospel tract instead of a tip.” Now, like it or not, tipping is built into the way restaurant staff are paid.  They depend on tips to make a decent wage.  I believe that tips should be earned:  there is a suggested guideline for acceptable service, and the figure can be adjusted downward for rude or inefficient service, or upward for superior service.  But many restaurant patrons send a message of entitlement by their stingy non-tipping habits, and sadly church folk have a reputation of doing this. My advice is, if you fall into that category, then save yourself the trouble of leaving a gospel tract.  It will land in the garbage if you are one of those who give us all a bad name.
  1. THOSE WHO GO TO CHURCH AND DON’T SUPPORT THEIR CHURCHES. Statistics Canada says that among charitable donors, those who are “religiously active make annual donations averaging $1,004. If you think that is good, think again.  If that is an “average” then it means there are a whole lot of people who give either more, or less than that.  The high-end givers account for about $83% of a charity’s annual income. That means that there are a lot of people in our churches who do not carry their share of the load. The prophet Malachi, who lived some 400 years before Christ, wrote: “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.” (Malachi 3:8-9 NIV) Now it may surprise you that I am not necessarily advocating tithing.  Tithing means giving 10% of one’s increase to God.  Those who do not do this because “we are living under the new covenant” overlook the fact that the standards of the new covenant are never lower than the old, but always higher.  The tithe is the bare minimum of the old covenant.  In the new covenant, the apostles never teach people to tithe.  When they urge people to give, they advocate generous and sacrificial giving.  If you are currently giving nothing, then I urge you to begin tithing for the simple sake of discipline.  If you give the tithe right off the top, and treat it like any other bill that you must pay, whether gas or hydro or groceries, you will be amazed by how much farther the remaining 90% goes! And before you know it, you will, as God leads you, be able to dig deeper into your pockets to help advance the cause of the gospel.  It is always sad to read about churches that close because the dwindling number of attendees can no longer keep up with the expenses. (There have been several churches in that cateogory in the Kitchener area recently).  It is sad when churches cut, rather than increase their missions budget to help the cause of Christ move forward.

Christmas will soon be upon us, and one of the lessons it teaches us is the lesson of giving. We celebrate Christmas because in Jesus, God who is love, gave all that He had.  He who was rich became poor, so that we might become rich.  Come on, don’t be a cheapskate!

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08. July 2016 · Comments Off on “RETIRED” · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE · Tags:

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It seems like everyone who speaks to me  these days is asking about how I am enjoying retirement.  One reader of this blog was fishing for a “retirement musing” [you know who you are!]  To be perfectly honest:  I really have no idea.  Its only been 2 weeks – much too soon for any “insights”.    I don’t think that retirement has really “hit” me yet.  Right now I feel the way I always do at the beginning of a vacation: trying to decompress from a stressful ministry that hasn’t become any easier with time and experience.  Retirement as such, will no doubt hit me when it is time to go back to work, and there will be no job to return to.  Nevertheless, I do have some convictions and thoughts about retirement, and only time will tell if these convictions become reality.

  1. I do not plan to be busier than I was when I was working. I don’t know many times retirees have said that to me over the years and decades. When I replied that it was their own fault if they could not say the mono-syllabic word “NO”, they usually retorted, “just wait until you get there.  You’ll see.”  Well, I guess I am “there” but I still feel the same.  Now it is true that I do not have children nor grand-children who typically take up a lot of retirees’ time.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing.  Young people do need role models and other things that grand-parents can provide better than anyone else.  But too much of a good thing stops being a good thing.  I believe retirement should be a time to decide what activities will fill our time; a luxury that we didn’t always have in our working life.
  1. I do not plan to be Inactive. I am not yet ready for a rocking chair, nor a retirement community. And while our family cottage is close to a wonderful beach, I can’t imagine spending ALL of my time on the beach, not a northern nor a southern one. I have other things that I would like to do, and I won’t disclose all of them here.  But I plan to live up to the advice that I have given many retirees over the years, and that is to do the things that you want to do while you still can.  I cherish the ability to make decisions about where to go and what to do, but realize that to all of us will come the words that Peter heard from our Lord:     Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)  Watching my parents in the sunset years of their life has taught me that this can happen very quickly and sometimes without warning.  Time should never be wasted or frittered away, and certainly not in this stage of life.
  1. I would like my life to continue to count for God’s Kingdom. Being the full time pastor of a church is not the only way for that to happen.  As they say, “Been there, done that” and I would add, have the scars to prove it.  But ordination is a lifelong commitment to minister God’s Word, and I will do that wherever opportunities present themselves.  Not everyone has that calling, of course, but if we are a Christian, we do have a calling to contribute our abilities as best we can to the Lord’s work, whether we are paid to do so or not.  It has always troubled me to observe many retirees “wasting” their retirement by coasting along from one golf course and tennis court to the next and contributing nothing to the work of the Lord’s body.  Maybe the work in your life’s vocation in business or some profession is done, but your spiritual life needs to grow deeper.  When God calls us home, either by death or by Christ’s return, He does not want to find us in an arm chair waiting for Him (unless we are disabled of course!) He wants to find us doing what He asked the church to do, and that is to make disciples. And yes, even when you are retired, there is something that we can do to help others grow in the Lord. But the attitude of so many seniors in our churches is, “I’ve done my time, paid my dues, now let others do their share”.
  1. Answers to Some Questions I am being asked. No, I don’t have a “bucket list” but there are some things I still want to accomplish. Stay tuned. No, I am not planning to run for political office.  Yes, I will continue this blog.  Now that I am no longer employed by a church, I can be a little more outspoken about my views, including my political ones.  Yes, I also plan to write other stuff, perhaps even a book, but no, I’m not ready to tell you about what! (No, it won’t be a “memoir” for almost 4 decades of ministries has produced some memories that ought never to be repeated).
  1. I am open to advice from other retirees who know more about this than I do. Feel free to leave your comments.
04. June 2016 · Comments Off on DON’T BE THE “CUSTOMER FROM HELL” · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE · Tags:

Today I feel led to write a few lines in support of cashiers and retail sales people, after I recently saw one of them abused by an inconsiderate customer.  But first let me say that having myself worked in retail years ago, and knowing from first hand experience how unreasonable some customers can be, I feel a great sense of empathy for people who work in retail sales.  Many readers may not know that these people do not earn a lot of money.  Large retail stores, particularly the chain stores that we like shop  for bargains, will pay people as little as they can get away with, often only on a part time basis to avoid having to pay them benefits.  In turn, many of these sales people struggle to make ends meet, and some hold down more than one job to do so.  Like everyone else, they have bills to pay!

Now back to something I witnessed in the check out line while grocery shopping.  Someone ahead of me was trying to pay with a bank card that was declined.  He then began to argue with the cashier that “there must be some mistake” because he had just sent in a payment to his credit card company last week etc. etc.  When the sales clerk (who behaved very professionally) politely told the man that there was nothing that she could do, the customer became more irate and raised his voice at the unfortunate woman.  Finally, when she was close to tears, people in the lineup began to speak up and told the man to “knock it off”. He demanded to speak to the manager who promptly appeared (another cashier at the next register had alerted him).  As the manager quietly took the man aside to deal with him, the line began to move, and it seems everyone in the line made a point of saying something to encourage the distraught clerk.

I had to reflect on how many customers like that the clerk might have faced in one day, and that nobody should have to put up with that nonsense. I also had to ask myself how often I had not treated sales clerks particularly well (though I’ve never done what this customer did).  So here are a few things to remember when dealing with clerks and sales people in a retail setting.

  1. If you can’t find what you are looking for, by all means ask for help. But if the store doesn’t carry what you are looking for, don’t take it out on the clerk.  S/he does not decide what the store carries and what it doesn’t.
  2. If your credit or debit card is not honoured for whatever reason, don’t take it out on the clerk. You need to take up the issue with your bank or credit card company.  If you think that the electronic equipment of the store is at fault, then politely ask if you can try the transaction again, perhaps at another register.
  3. When being denied an exchange or refund, remember that the clerk you are dealing with does not make store policy, but s/he is obliged to administer that policy. That’s their job.  If you don’t like the policy, politely ask to speak to someone in management.
  4. Sales people are human. You have no idea what the person you are yelling at is going through in his/her personal life, nor is that your business.  But it could have an effect on how that person is doing their job.  Cut them some slack.  After all, you have bad days too.  Why should anyone else have to suffer for that?
  5. True, sales people are sometimes inattentive and perhaps even not as knowledgeable about the products they are selling. Sometimes they are outright rude.  No, you don’t have to take that. As a customer you deserve to be treated with respect.  If you are not, you have the right to walk away, or ask to speak to another sales person, or ask to speak to a manager.  But you don’t have the right to be abusive.  Nobody does.
  1. Most workplaces nowadays have anti-abuse policies in place to protect people, both customers and staff from all kinds of harassment, be it verbal, sexual, or violent. Don’t be the “customer from hell”.

Something to think about: How many Christians “lose their testimony” at the supermarket, the gas bar, the bank ?  Hint:  it doesn’t help if you wear a tee shirt with a pious slogan on it while behaving like an idiot.

 

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02. May 2016 · Comments Off on YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE, General

 

hearseWhile I was  getting ready for moving, I faced an age-old problem.  What to take along? What to give away? What to throw out? Some of that was easy.  The necessary things and everything that belongs to “my favourite things” goes with me.  A second category was a little harder, but I’m proud to say, I made it through it.  There were boxes that had not been unpacked since the last move.  Years ago I made a hard and fast rule: if I haven’t used it, looked at it, or otherwise dealt with it in a certain time frame,  then I won’t miss it.  Out it goes. A quick look inside those boxes to make sure they weren’t concealing something valuable and then the old heave ho.  That really felt good come to think of it.

Then there were the harder choices.  Things that have no monetary value, but they are so valuable that you couldn’t put a price on them.  There are the bundles of letters in my mother’s handwriting that date back to my college days.  The main contents of those letters were the update of what family members were doing  and other goings on to keep me up to date. In that sense they are an historical record of all sorts of things that I have long forgotten.   I was in Edmonton Alberta for college – my first move away from home.  This was before the days of computers being accessible to the general public, so there was no FACEBOOK, no SKYPE and no cheap long distance plans either! And in those days it seemed like Alberta and Ontario were worlds apart geographically. (They still are in other ways but that’s another topic)! But mom’s letters contained something else of course, and that is the encouragement and support and the assurance of prayer which meant so much.

Other items were harder to judge what to do with them, and it suddenly dawned on me how very much we are tied to material things.  It was a much more difficult task going through my father’s things.  As oldest son and executor of his will, it was my task to clear out his house and decide what would be done with everything in it.  To be more exact, it involved going through my mother’s possessions, since Dad didn’t have the heart to get rid of anything after she died. There were family heirlooms that will stay in the family.  Among the furnishings were useful things that we moved to the family cottage. But we couldn’t “save” everything.  Some of it had to be disposed of, and it was really hard to throw out something that was important to someone. But finally reason had to triumph over emotion. I was reminded of the words in the Bible, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

I would say that should put things into perspective.  But in our materialistic world, I’m afraid many people just don’t get it.  We put so much time, energy, and money on the things that will pass away, and that includes our own body.  Sure it is good to get enough rest, to eat a proper diet and all the other things that we do to keep ourselves healthy and fit.  But even those with the healthiest and fittest body will one day pass away.  What have we done for our immortal soul to be sure that it is healthy and well?  I wonder what kind of people we would be if we put as much energy into our spiritual life as we do to health, wealth, and the pursuit of pleasure? Perhaps we would not have as many social problems, because truly spiritual people care about others and their well being as much as if not more than their own.

Harry Emerson Fosdick said it well in one of his hymns, asks that God may “shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul.”

I experienced what he might have meant by that twice when I travelled to parts of the world that are not as affluent as we are: once to Brazil some years ago, and last year to Africa.  In Africa, particularly, life is quite different from here.  For one thing, there is no middle class.  People are either very wealthy or very poor, and most are the latter.  But I think that most North American churches couldn’t hold a candle to the churches in Kenya or in Cameroon in terms of their spiritual zeal.  And people generally seemed more content than we are. Maybe that is because they know of no other life than what they have. It made me more determined to be thankful for what I have on the one hand, but not to value my possessions as much as before.  There are more important things in life than keeping up with our neighbours, or even trying to get ahead of them. I would like to some day get to the point where I can say with Paul, “for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” (Philippians 4:11-12) and “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1. Timothy 6:8).  Because where I am going, I can’t take anything with me. And neither can you. “I’ve never seen a haul behind a hearse”. (Billy Graham)

 

 

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11. September 2015 · Comments Off on PRAYING FOR YOU · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE, Prayer, SPIRITUAL LIFE · Tags:

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Microsoft Word - Document1For the last several days a song has been playing in my head over and over.  It is a hymn that is probably found only in the older hymnals: “For you I am praying, for You I am praying”.  I first learned it in my native German language, in the church that I grew up in while the services were still in German.  The subject of the hymn is the Great High Priest, who as Christians believe, “sits at the right hand of God and makes intercession for us”.

Those words are comforting, because if Jesus is praying for us, can there be any doubt that the prayer will be heard — and answered?  What about when others tell us that they are praying for us?  I have heard the words, “I’m praying for you” or “you and your family are in my prayers” often in the last several weeks and months.  For those readers who don’t know, my father is dying of cancer and other related illnesses as I write these lines.  As a family, we have been on a roller coaster of emotions for most of the summer.  We have walked beside Dad through three hospital stays, each of which lasted weeks at a time and  involved many uncomfortable tests with disturbing results.  We heard his wish not to go back to the hospital, and not to accept further aggressive treatments.  We accompanied him into palliative care and are currently helping him transition to a hospice.  Dad, and also we as a family have been and are in need of prayers.

The words, “I am praying for you” mean a lot to me.  I have heard them said in church, in emails, in phone calls, in face to face conversations.  These words mean more to me than the platitudes about how Dad will soon be “in a better place” and other assorted empty words. But in the lowest times, even these words give way to questions and doubts, “does prayer REALLY work?”  Do they really go beyond the ceiling, and what should we do when it seems that is as far as they go?

A book that I have found helpful, and that I have used when teaching about prayer is Philip Yancey’s PRAYER: DOES IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE?  Prayer, of course is the intimate place where God and humans meet in dialogue. It should be a nourishing and uplifting experience for the Believer, but it is often a frustrating, confusing experience that is fraught with mysteries like: why does God answer some prayers and not others?  Why does God seem so close on some occasions, and so far away on others?

Yancey also goes into some interesting questions like: what kind of things should we or should we not pray for?  If we go for a medical test, should we pray for a positive result?

If you are a Christian, you will probably be able to point to some answered prayers in your life, and these questions may have crossed your mind also.

It is said that some 90% of all people pray in some way at some point in their life, and someone else has said that their are no atheists on a sinking airplane or ship. I would go beyond that and say that most people have things going on their life at one time or another that need prayer; our own prayers and those of others.

I close with two pieces of advice on praying for others:  First, if you are praying for someone, its alright to let them know.  It will be a great encouragement to them.  And secondly, if you tell someone that you are praying for them, make sure that you actually follow through and do it. Otherwise you have told a lie.


05. July 2015 · Comments Off on REST FOR THE SOUL · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE, General · Tags: ,

REST In our childhood memories, the last day of school was the best day of the year. The thought of two long months of not   having to get up for school, no homework, just fun fun fun was exhilarating.

As we got into the higher grades, the summers changed with the reality of summer jobs and other responsibilities. There also was the reality of getting ready for new schools and higher education that awaited at the end of the summer. Sooner or later everyone grasps the reality that while school might be out, learning never stops. But summer is for rest and relaxation, and rest and learning are mutually exclusive, aren’t they?

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus invites those who are weary and carrying heavy burdens to come to Him.  He promises, “I will give you rest”. But then He follows that up with a strange statement, Take my yoke upon me, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29)

Most people think about rest as being  inactivity, relaxing, hanging out by the beach, the pool, the backyard, or maybe just the couch. Freedom from responsibilities and chores. All of these things are good, and they will help us ease the weariness and fatigue that comes from stress and hard work.  But about “rest for the soul” ?

Jesus uses the very rural image of a yoke which was a farm implement of His day that was used to restrain and guide beasts of burden who applied their enormous strength to pull the plough or other primitive tool. Often the animals were yoked in pairs, and their combined strength would be guided by the yoke. Escaping the yoke was not an option.  That only brought about chafing.

Jesus tells us that his burden is light, and his yoke is easy.  It is a mystery that rest for the soul comes not from the soul’s fanciful flights, but in the image of the yoke, being close to Jesus. Restraint from the yoke does not bring hardship, but rather the proximity to Jesus – close enough to watch and observe Him, brings a rest that is deeper and longer lasting than the most expensive vacation trip ever could.  I pray that your summer will bring you all the relaxation that you need, including the quietness to reflect on this mystery.

19. March 2015 · Comments Off on EVERYONE HAS TO PAY UP! · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE, CIVIC LIFE · Tags:

Death_and_Taxes_2Two things in life are certain, and one of them is taxes.  Since “Tax Season” is in full bloom, people are thinking more about tax than death. Those who received or expect to receive a healthy refund have probably already filed their taxes.  Those who owe the government are understandably holding out as long as possible before the April 30 deadline (that’s Canada. The deadline for American friends is April 15). Of course you Americans have something that we in Canada do not have, and that is you can request an automatic 6 month extension to file your form, but not for paying your taxes.

A popular conversation theme in coffee shops is whether you’ve got your refund back, and perhaps even who had the higher one, and what people are going to do with that money.

What is not so smart however, is talking about how you cheated the tax man in order to get that higher refund.  Here in Canada, we have what is called a “snitch line”.  That’s right – a special number with which you can call the CRA a.k.a.Canada Revenue Agency in order to confidentially report someone else’s suspected tax fraud or tax evasion. While the person at the next table in the coffee shop probably can’t harm you unless s/he knows your identity, the buddy that you are boasting to can.  And yes, that’s right.  The person who “snitches” on you, is likely to be someone you know, or perhaps even are close to.  Why would they do it?  The reasons are too many to list. They may be jealous that your refund is higher than theirs, or perhaps there is another more sinister motive for exacting revenge on you.

Someone has twisted Benjamin Franklin’s saying to assert – “there is nothing more certain in life than death and tax evasion.” Yes, it happens, but it is not very smart. What always bothers me is WHY anyone who calls themselves a Christian would either contemplate, or actually engage in tax evasion or fraud. Did not our Lord Himself say, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:25)?

That familiar statement is an answer that Jesus gave to people who had been sent to entrap him.  His enemies were looking for reasons to put him to death so they were hoping to trap him in his own words.  So they asked Him whether it was right to pay taxes to the Roman emperor.  In reply Jesus asked them to bring a coin to Him and asked them whose image was on the coin.  Just as our money shows the face of our queen, so did the coins in Jesus’ day have a likeness of Caesar stamped on them.

The answer that the spies sent to Jesus were hoping for was one of two that would have put Jesus into hot water. Had he said, “no” then he would have been advocating breaking the law, as we do when we try to avoid paying taxes.  Had He said “yes” however, then a case could be made that Jesus was in support of the oppressive empire that had invaded the land that God had given to Abraham and his descendants. Jewish people in Jesus’ day lived under the hard yoke of Roman occupation – a thorn in the people living in what was already then regarded a “holy land”. Of course those same people were not beneath using that same system to their advantage when they later brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate and asked him to sentence Him to death.

All this happened more than 2000 years ago. But some things have not changed.  People today also still wonder why they should pay taxes to a government that they perhaps didn’t vote for, and perhaps spends the taxpayer’s money in ways that they don’t agree. These same people will often treat their contributions to the church the same way:  they will give when the cause is one that they agree with, and withhold their money when they don’t agree with how the church spend it.  That is called voting with your pocketbook.  Every church in every denomination has them, and the next stage is voting with your feet which involves either staying home or taking your business elsewhere. Both of these practices are rampant today, but neither of them is a spiritual approach. To both kinds of people – the tax evader and the pocket-book voter, Jesus would say the same thing today: Give to the Queen’s government what belongs to her. (By the way, apparently even the queen pays taxes now! And…. Give to God that which is His due.

In churches like the congregation that I serve, the people do have a say in how the money is spent.  The congregation approves the annual budget, and there is a process in which people can have input even before the budget reaches the floor of the annual meeting. But after that it is our obligation to give – not only to support the ministries of the church, but because God commands His people to do so.

To be honest – I don’t like how much of my paycheck goes to the government. As for contributing to the church, there is some very helpful biblical advice in 2. Corinthians 9:7,   “ Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

I have sometimes told people to try and smile as they put their gift on the plate.  Smile as you whisper a silent prayer that thanks God that you have something to give.  See if that doesn’t make a difference!

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11. March 2015 · Comments Off on FRIENDLY FIRE · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE, Christian Unity, MINISTRY · Tags: ,

imagesX9LILXHOYesterday the body of Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron, was returned to Canada as the latest casualty in our armed forces.  The 31 year old soldier from Dieppe, New Brunswick lost his life in Iraq.  What makes this especially tragic, is that Sgt. Doiron was not killed by the enemy, or by terrorists, but by what is called “friendly fire”.  The facts of this incident are still being investigated. But generally, “friendly fire” – a most ironic expression – is defined as “is an attack by a military force on friendly forces while attempting to attack the enemy, either by misidentifying the target as hostile, or due to errors or inaccuracy.” Sometimes this results in injury, or as in this case, in death.

There is nothing “friendly” about death but the term is used to distinguish it from fire that comes from enemy attack, or criminal malicious firing on one’s own comrades, such as in mutiny, or other forms of outright murder.  In other words there is no sinister motive behind the friendly fire, but unfortunately that does not change the outcome.

It was the word “friendly” that caused me to stumble however, and I had to think about another realm of warfare, the warfare in the spirit world.  The opposing forces are good and evil, and each has its own commander-in-chief, its own army, its own individual minions.  As Christians, we are reminded by Paul that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NKJV)

This is to remind us that our enemies are not human, but spiritual. Our weapons are not destructive and deadly, but the Good News of Jesus (the gospel) which is more powerful than any sword as Hebrews 4:12 reminds us. But sadly, there is plenty of “friendly fire” among us as Christians. The church, so someone has said, is the only army that shoots its own wounded. I would add, not only its own wounded, but good and strong co-workers are often wounded and taken out of battle by what could be called “friendly fire”.

Using the military explanations, one of the causes of friendly fire is what strategists call “errors of identification” – in other words someone fires on a target that is thought to be the enemy but is really one’s own comrade.

I had to think of the many ways that occurs in church conflicts where people spend time, energy, and expense even to fire at – you guessed it – other Christians. I remember being on a road trip and tuning my car radio to a Christian station.  I happened to stumble on a program that purports to “spread the gospel”. But the speaker was on a rant about some obtuse doctrinal position, which while apparently very important to him is something that really doesn’t matter.  He went on and on about how all others who preach differently on this subject are “deceivers”. I angrily turned the radio off and shouted to nobody in particular, “man, why are you wasting precious and expensive air time ranting about something like THAT?”  There was no possible good in that (other than those who agreed with him) but a lot of harm.  In the first place, no self-respecting unbeliever would listen to such nonsense let alone become a Christian because of it, and many listeners who are Christian would be alienated by the comments. (But I must not digress here into my thoughts about Christian radio and TV).

Christian friendly fire is even worse when it is up close and personal.  Years ago, when the denomination that I am a part of experienced what I would call a “rash” of church splits, I did a personal investigation of their history.  My research may not have been formal or even scientific, but it was eye-opening.  I spoke to inviduals involved in both sides of the controversies.  I read voraciously any written material I could get my hands on.  And I came to an alarming discovery.  Almost none of the splits had been caused by anything that really mattered.  Almost never was there a doctrinal issue, or even a difference of vision, but virtually always a matter of personalities that clashed.  There are churches that have split over such things as what version of the Bible should be read in public services!

And speaking of personalities, the friendly fire is particularly sad when it hits the front lines.  Conflict on the pastoral staff – how awful is that? Sadly, it happens more frequently that we want to know.  Sometimes it cuts into family and other close relationships. Usually it destroys the ministry of all the staff in question, and churches have sometimes had to dismiss everybody involved in order to move forward.

Personally, I am very thankful to be involved in a ministry situation, where despite the inevitable friction that sometimes arises when humans work close together, we have been able to continue to work together in most cases.  Of the five churches that I have served as pastor, in only one did the situation become so toxic that I felt that I needed to leave in order to heal.  I have been in the church where I am now, for 12 years.  From time to time I encourage the leaders and the congregation to remember that they have never had a church split, nor fired any of their pastors (and I work hard not to become the first!)  In three churches where I have been I have worked with associate staff members. In my present church I have had the same associate for the entire 12 years.  Have we ever had disagreements?  Of course we have.  But by God’s grace we have always been able to remember who our real enemy is, and that we need each other’s very different gifts in order to join forces to do combat against that enemy.  Bottom line? Don’t shoot at your fellow soldier in Christ.  There is nothing friendly about being mortally wounded.

Comments to my “Musings” are always welcome. Just click on “add comment” above, or the guestbook. Your email address will NEVER be published online. I reserve the right to delete comment that is uncivil or off topic.

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16. February 2015 · Comments Off on IS OUR FAITH STRONG ENOUGH FOR PERSECUTION? · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE, General, LIFE AND DEATH, Martyrdom

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Actually I had planned to write about another subject today, but the horrific news about 21 Egyptian Christians being forced to kneel at a beach and being beheaded by ISIS terrorists, with the video being posted on the internet changed all that. In fact I’ve been thinking about little else on this Family Day holiday.

The response of the Egyptian government was swift.  But what should the response of Christians be?  Sadly, one response that I have already heard is one of apathy and indifference. One reason for that might be that we are desensitized by the increasing frequency of these reports. Many will simply pray a superficial prayer of gratitude that we live in a part of the world where such things don’t happen (yet) and move on.

I liked a post that I saw on FACEBOOK this morning best of all. The suggestion was made to read each of the 21 names, and remind ourselves that these men (at least the victims in the picture appear to all be men) were someone’s husband or father, or son, or brother, or friend.  So 21 deaths created a multiplied agony and horror.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to lose one of my family members to such a death and for such as senseless purpose.

Perhaps we are not as familiar with the Egyptian Coptic Church to which these Christians belong. Their beliefs and their way of “doing church” may be different from ours, but if they confess Christ, then we have an obligation, I think, to share in their suffering by at the very least praying for them in this hour of need. Perhaps we would want to do more, but we feel so helpless doing so.  And still others would wade into the ideological differences and perhaps become activists for some cause relating to this conflict.  I’m not sure I want to go down that direction.

But something I do want to do, and I think all of us should do this, is to examine our own faith, and whether we think it is worth dying for. In the early days of Christianity,  I mean the days that are recorded in the New Testament, Christianity was literally a life and death matter. On the first Easter Sunday, the disciples of Jesus were hiding behind locked doors for fear of suffering the same fate as Jesus.  Already during Jesus’ trial, the question of guilt by association was raised. That proved to be with good reason.  It didn’t take long in the early history of the church for a man called Stephen to be stoned do death for expressing his beliefs.  Since that day, the stream of blood has not stopped.  It has flowed through the centuries and millennia even into our day. The fact that we are not called upon to shed our blood for our beliefs does not mean that it won’t happen some day. What would our churches look like if it did?

Perhaps the statistics of Christianity in North America would look even more grim than they do today.  On the other hand, history had shown that whenever persecution took place, Christianity was at a high water mark of spiritual power and potency. One reason the secular world in our neck of the woods pays so little attention to us as Christians is that for the most part, we are no different from secular society.  We really are not very different from everyone else when it comes to lifestyle, affluence, values.  But the early Christians were people who swam against the current.  They had the audacity to proclaim that the Jesus who been crucified by Pilate was alive, and that faith in Him was the ONLY path to salvation – to peace with God.

Many 21st century Christians have watered that down to making Christ and his teachings, one of many paths that lead to God.  We uphold the values that Jesus taught when it is expedient to do so, and the rest of the time we blend into the wood work of being like everybody else. What would happen if it became illegal to spread a teaching that declares that Jesus is the “Way the Truth, and the Life, nobody comes to the Father but through Me.”  How would we choose if we were given the options of either recanting our faith or death?

That’s hard to predict with accuracy, but if we look at how little it takes in our day to make us back down from our commitment, the prognosis is not very good.  If we shrink back from commitment because it is inconvenient, or we are upset with something that other Christians have said or done, or the myriad of excuses that we have ready, then I shudder to think about what would happen if the stakes were as high.

On the day that I was baptized, as the candidates entered the church dressed in white robes as was the custom in those days, the choir sang “The Song of the Martyrs” from Revelation 17:13-15 “Who are These in white robes and where did they come from?”“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore,“they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.”  The pastor then preached a sermon directed primarily to the 11 of us where being baptized that night: that living as a Christian is serious business; not for the faint hearted; full of rewards and blessings, but also hardship that must be endured.  Then we were asked for our profession of faith, and before we descended into the water the choir sang a haunting tune to the words of Jesus, “Be Faithful unto death, and I will give you the Crown of Life.” (Rev. 1:10).

Somehow, I think back to that now more often than I did before, especially after seeing the easy-believe-low conviction-hold the commitment brand of Christianity that is so popular today. Will that brand get us through when the crunch comes?  And would they be able to say of us,

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11

15. February 2015 · Comments Off on FIFTY WAYS PORN MIGHT BE SNEAKING INTO YOUR CHURCH · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE, General, Pornography · Tags: , , , ,

hiddenpriceofPornToday’s guest post is written by Dannah Gresh.  Danna Gresh is a sought after speaker and author who has studied sexuality in the Bible for more than fifteen years.  In this bold article, Greh shares her concern and wisdom to help ministry leaders and Christians approach the book “Fifty Shades of Grey” with savy

By Dannah Gresh

I’m not reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

I wasn’t planning to announce this, but I can’t help myself. I told my husband, Bob, that I didn’t really want to get involved. But then, I found out my girlfriend’s 70-year-old mom has her name on a long wait list at the library to borrow Fifty Shades of Grey. And then my mom told me that a relative I love and respect for her strong faith had already devoured the book. She regretfully “can’t get the images out of her head.”

So here I am. In an attempt to keep the images out of yours, I’d like to explain to you why I’m not reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

Reason #1:

Let’s start with the facts. Fifty Shades of Grey is classified as erotic fiction. According to one online dictionary, this genre of literature is defined as that which has “no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire.” I’ve been studying what God says about sexuality for fifteen years. According to Him, there is only one who should stimulate sexual desire in me: my husband. Since that’s God’s plan for my sexual desire, anything other than my husband creating arousal in me would be missing the mark of God’s intention. (Translation: it is sin.)

Jesus said it this way: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The same is true of a woman looking at or reading about a man.

Reason #1? I believe reading erotica is sinful.

I guess I could stop there, but it won’t be enough for some of you. So let’s go to reason number two.

Reason #2:

The Bible has said for thousands of years that lust is hurtful and harmful.

Guess what? Biopsychologists and others are studying the effects of lust, pornography, and erotica on the brain and the body. They are finding that the Bible was, in fact, right. Over time, your body becomes conditioned to self-stimulation and gratification. It’s not just a preference. It’s physiological.

The lust cuts a literal pathway in your brain tissue that’s kind of like a rut. A rut you better be prepared to get stuck in. While at first a little bit of erotica might give you a taste for your spouse, overtime that rut reminds you how great you are at self-stimulation and how powerful your imagination can be.

You’ll become less interested in real sex with your husband. (Both SELF magazine and The New Yorker ran articles on this phenomenon in recent years. They both suggested that if you want to have a great sex life, you better push pause on porn!)

The fact is erotica robs you of real sex. It’s not good for your marriage or future marriage.

Reason #3:

OK, we’re girls. And sadly, a few of our guys have looked at porn. How’d that work for ya? How’d it make you feel? Did it cross your mind that you could never compare to the perfection created by lights, camera, and Photoshop? Well, he can’t compare to a plasticized, vanilla interpretation of manhood either.

Reason #4:

Do you know what BDSM is? Bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism. If you don’t know what those words mean, be glad. If you do know, you should understand that the most damaging part of Fifty Shades of Grey is that God created sex to be a partnership that’s fueled by love and self-giving, not pain and humiliation.

It’s not just that this book misuses sex; it redefines it into something evil and transgressive as the lead character dominates in a hurtful manner. How women can enjoy that, I can’t understand! But I do have a theory. It seems to me that in our emasculating culture there is a hunger so great for strong men that women will stoop to bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism for just a taste. Do yourself a favor, don’t!

You might be wondering if I’ve read the book. I haven’t. I don’t need to. There are many things in this world I need not partake in to discern that they are going to be harmful to me.

God has given me more than fifty shades of truth in His Word and when just one of them is in conflict with my entertainment choices, I choose to pass! To be clear: I wouldn’t drive my Envoy into the front of an oncoming semi-truck any more than I would open the pages of Fifty Shades of Grey. I love my marriage, my God, and myself too much.

If your heart resonates with mine, please take a moment today to post these words on Facebook or Twitter: “I’m not reading Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Dannah Gresh, a best-selling author and sought-after speaker. Her best-selling titles include And the Bride Wore White and 2010’s best-selling CBA youth book, Lies Young Women Believe co-authored with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. She says the most important book she has or will ever write is What Are You Waiting For: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex, which traces the Hebrew language of sexuality from Genesis to Revelation answering every question a heart could ask. She has long been at the forefront of the movement to encourage tweens and teens to be modest and to pursue purity and is the founder of Secret Keeper Girl a live tour event for tween girls and their moms. Visit Dannah at http://purefreedom.org 

Comments are welcome, but please note: we reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, uncivil and off-topic.

 

 

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