Sunday, 12 August 2018

Fasting for a Lifetime

After eating this lovely meal, I said to my friend that it may be
hypocritical for me to now go home and write a blog post about fasting.

I need to make it clear from the start that the type of fasting that I am advising may have very little to do with one's diet.  This also won’t be a critique on the actual fasting that people generally do nowadays.

I fasted from food once in my life, and I regret doing it.  It was something that I did as part of a youth event through my church.  It was called 30-hour famine, and I believe it was to raise money for World Vision.  For thirty hours I ate nothing.  I drank nothing but water and one cup of apple juice.  Perhaps someone with medical experience could confirm the likelihood of this happening, but I am pretty sure that fast weakened my stomach’s ability to handle spicy foods.

For more than a decade, I was not a fan of fasting, and wasn't very interested in looking into the topic.  I have heard people talk about fasting from other things besides food since then.  One year I gave up spending time on my computer for a stretch.  I ended up concluding that if I was really meant to give something up, I should do it anyway and not simply do it for a stretch and call it a “fast.”

A single sermon (I highly recommend checking it out) got me thinking about fasting in a whole new way.  Often the way we think about fasting today is based on us wanting a result.  We want God to hear our prayers, and to answer us in something that we are serious about, so we fast.  I learned that fasting in the bible was used in a much different way.  It was used not to get a result, but as a result.  Many of the occasions of fasting in the Bible fall into three different categories:
1.  Something with great spiritual importance happens - such as the case when Moses went without food or drink on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28), or when Jesus went to fast in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).

2.  A great tragedy happens - such as in the case when Samuel dies (2 Samuel 1:12), or when the Jews hear of the plot to kill them (Esther 4:15-17)
3.  Turning away from sin - such as the case of Israel when they turned away from their idols in 1 Samuel 7, or in the case of Ezra when he grieves the sinfulness of his fellow Israelites (Ezra 9-10)

I realized something by looking at the similarities between the three categories, and I arrived at something that even the nonChristian should be able to recognize, even if it doesn't mean as much to them as it does to a Christian:

When something big happens, it is appropriate to respond in a big way.

One of the biggest, most recognized tragedies within the last year in Canada was the Humboldt Broncos bus crash which killed sixteen people and injured thirteen.  It wasn't enough to simply mourn the loss of lives, and to offer prayers.  What we also did was raise money for the victims who survived the accident, and for the community that surrounded them.  Many wore the colour green and put their hockey sticks outside in recognition of the tragedy.

Usually when I see people fundraising for a cause, those people have some sort of connection to that cause.  A person handing out yellow ribbon pins for suicide awareness may have lost a loved one to suicide.  A person running a marathon for a cure for cancer may have gone through cancer themselves or know someone who has.  I can't forget the man who donated to the food bank at Sobeys because he himself had benefited from the food bank at one point.

If we truly care for a cause, we will go out of our way in support for it.

Recently I had a coworker die from lung cancer.  I wanted to do my part to fight the reality of the predominance of lung cancer.  It saddens me that despite all we know scientifically about how harmful tobacco products are, the smoking trend is still going strong.  I personally wrote an email to Sobeys - a company known for pushing healthy food and that cares for local communities - explaining that tobacco products really have no good reason to be in their stores, and that they should completely stop supplying them (I haven't yet heard back from them after a couple of weeks, and I wouldn't mind if a bunch of others got on their case about the same thing, in a respectful manner).

I could be accused of focusing too much on the negative.  There is benefits to recognizing the problems in this world and doing our best to change them.  But if that's all we are focusing on we are going to have very depressing and discouraging lives.  What I am trying to say isn't just to connect to the the pain.

What I am saying is that if something is true and that if it matters we should behave like it does.

Something else that is true is that we are surrounded by beauty.  We are surrounded by the beauty of nature, the beauty of human creativity, and the beauty of our relationships with others.  It's often best to connect to those things and be thankful for them.

The reason that Christians should be filled with joy is because we connect with the fact that God loves us, and that He saved us, and that we get to spend an eternity in Paradise with Him.  When we connect to that joy, we should not be as discouraged by the pain in this world or distracted by the pleasures this world has to offer.

The reason that I spent so much time talking about connecting to the pain in the world is that that seems to be a big weakness in myself, as well as in many of the people that surround me.  People know they should connect with the good.  Life is pleasant for many of us, and we don’t want to ruin our happiness but zoning in too closely to what hurts.

A fast is something that affects our lives in a noticeable way.  When we fast, we grow hungry.  When we are hungry, we are generally miserable, irritable, and not as pleasant to be around.

I know firsthand how generous the community I live in is; I see the sheer amount that people raise for the food bank through the Sobeys.  But how much does what we give make our lives more difficult?  How much are we willing to sacrifice comfort in order to connect with the pain, and to live like it is true?

If you are like me, it would take something pretty big to delay a meal for more than a few hours.  But we are living in a world where very important things that matter are happening all the time.  It’s not my place to tell others what to do, but it seems to me that whatever it is, it won’t involve merely living in whatever way makes us the most comfortable.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Garden and Loss of Cynicism

This month I have been learning not to be so cynical.  I had a blog post mostly written before I personally experienced something that made the lesson even more real to me, and so I decided to completely frame this post in a new way.  Before I get into what that experience was, I would like to explain the nature of my cynicism.

The Source of my Cynicism

When I look at the world, I don't just see the good or the bad parts of it.  I see all of it, and I have a decent memory.  Today I walked outside to and from work in the beautiful sun and heat (I live in a part of Alberta, Canada where nice weather is often a big deal), and I smiled.  But when I look at the news, I see death; when I look at my Facebook feed and talk to my friends, I am shown the pain that broken relationships bring; when I look at my own life, I am faced with my own vices and depravity.  I take it all in when I make judgements about the state of the world.

I take it all in, and see the singular thing we can be most certain of is that we will one day die.  There will come a time where we will cease to be able to enjoy the nice things we have on this planet.

What about my Christianity?  How could I be cynical as a Christian?  After all, my life is lit by the light of God's love for me, and His desire for all the people in the world to follow him.  God gives my life purpose, and I see that all of our lives have purpose.  I see my destination is in Paradise.

But being a Christian does not make my life any easier to live.  So while I may not be cynical on a spiritual level, I was having a hard time not being cynical on a physical one.

The Christian life is compared to carrying a cross (Matthew 16:34).  That's a powerful image for those who have some insight into the painful ordeal of Jesus carrying his own cross.  Even more, the Christian life is compared to a lamb being slaughtered (Romans 8:36). 

Most Christians I know do not see their lives in such painful terms.  The example Jesus left for us to follow is so counter to the way the rest of the world operates that it shouldn't be surprising when we either don't get very far by the world's standards or even look backwards to the rest of the world.  After all, putting others before yourselves may give you a lot of internal satisfaction of doing the right thing, but less external rewards.  Plus, when the world sees a sin as acceptable behaviour, you're not going to become very popular by openly taking God's stance on the matter.

When sin entered the world, the world became hostile to mankind, and even more hostile to those who put primarily spiritual values above physical ones.

You might now image my confusion when reading that God commanded Noah and his sons to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the world (Genesis 9:1;7).

If sin came into the world because mankind (Romans 5:12), and the more mankind fills Earth, the more conflict seems to arise (literally the first murder was done by the first person born in history), why would God want us to multiply?  Wouldn't that make the problem worse?

Life From Love

Genesis 1:27 says that God made man (male and female) in his image.  Even though God saw everything in his creation and called it good (Genesis 1:31), it was only mankind that was made in the image of God.

I found that the illustration that was the most helpful in explaining what it means to be made in the image of God is to see ourselves as mirrors.  We are meant to reflect God's glory.  When sin, and thus all the things that makes one like me cynical, entered the world, we became broken mirrors.  The picture of God that we started reflecting became distorted.  It's easy to see the broken, distorted mirrors and grieve at the painful, ugly things that they are.  And yet, even distorted, we are still mirrors, we are still made in the image of God, and so we still reflect a bit of God's glory.  And even the smallest portion of God's glory is a beautiful thing.

I recently had a death in the family:  my Opa (Dutch-grandfather).  As a result, I made a trip across Canada to Ontario attend a funeral.  During that trip I also had the privilege of attending a wedding as well.  Both funeral and wedding were beautiful in their own way.

Love is a beautiful thing.  As a single man, I don't often find myself spending too much time looking at romantic love or the beauty that it is.  I'm happy being single, but I will freely acknowledge that there's probably no physical pleasure greater than what comes out of a healthy romantic relationship.

A romantic relationship provides an astounding example of love.  Love is such a beautiful thing, and when God said for us to multiply and fill the world, love wasn't an accidental by-product.  He intentionally made man and woman so the pleasure of romantic love between two human beings could be fully known, and a natural result of this love being most physically realized is new life:  new image bearers of God; new mirrors.

I watched as my cousin got married and I couldn't help but rejoice at the beautiful thing her union with her new husband was.  I felt humbled by their openness and desire to have many other people share in their joyous marriage by being present and witnessing it, many people including myself.

I would go so far as to say that the greater the love, the greater the pleasure that it is not just for the primary people with that love, but also for the people around them.

My Opa lived a life of spreading that love and beauty.  He loved is wife, and out of that love sprang up new life, including the life of my mother.  He loved his neighbours, both near and far.  When people arrived to mourn his death, I couldn't help but notice that although there were tears, the atmosphere seemed to be one of joy.  It wasn't just the joy of knowing Opa was no longer in pain and that Heaven was what awaited him next in his life.  It was also the joy of being part of the legacy that he left.

Opa loved to have a garden.  I can't imagine the work that he put into that garden, but I visited often enough to see that his yard was always filled with beautiful plants and flowers.

Opa's flowers were used to hep us remember him.  As I looked at the sign that went with it that read "Opa's Garden," I couldn't help but think of the people around me at that moment as also "Opa's Garden."  As a result of a life well-lived, I was surrounded by family - even family that I didn't know that I had - that were loving and beautiful people.

This, I thought, is what God had in mind when he said to be fruitful and multiply.

We are no longer living in the Garden of Eden.  The work that it takes to create a good life is hard.  But the result is a beautiful thing.

Perhaps it would be nice to end this post there.  Because we are broken mirrors, however, I feel that I must say more. 

Reality with Broken Mirrors

Broken mirrors create distorted reflections of truth.  I can't use the terms "loving," and "beautiful" without also defining those words.  What one person sees as beautiful is not the same as what another sees as beautiful.  And in a world of broken relationships, it's obvious that we as a society don't know what love truly is.

Can we even know what love is?  Is there a way that we could call something beautiful and have that stand true apart from our own opinion?

The death of my cynicism depends on love and beauty being real things.  The only way for that to be the case is if God was the source of our definitions of those words, because God cannot be wrong (and if God could be wrong, how could we have any assurance that we are right?).

When God finished creating, he called his creation "good."  God loved the world (John 3:16) and that is why he did something as extreme of coming among us and sharing in the pain of this broken world.

I don't know if I will ever be fully rid of my cynicism in this life.  But now that I see that God made both mankind and the rest of creation as beautiful things, even on a physical level, and that I am both a product and recipient of his love, it will be easier for me to welcome Him and everything He has in store fore me in life with open arms.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Should a Christian Kill a Spider?

A part of me can't believe I was driven to writing a blog post about this.  The morality of killing spiders is something that rarely if ever crossed my mind before recently.  Killing spiders is something that I just did without thinking about it.  Growing up, there was often a spider around the house.  No big deal, all we needed to do is to grab a tissue, pinch the spider with it, and hope it didn't leave too bad of a stain on the ceiling.

Of course, I have seen people go through pains of keeping spiders alive.  I thought I understood why people may take this path.  Spiders make webs, and eat annoying things like flies and mosquitoes.  For pragmatic reasons, it may be worth keeping a spider alive.

Not too long ago my friend spotted a spider while we were sitting down outside eating ice cream.  I casually said something along the lines of "just squish it," without knowing that my apparent heartless attitude would be the cause of a "discussion" that would last longer than the ice cream.  Admittedly, part of me writing this article is for me wanting to put the issue to rest for good.  But I believe that it will be an interesting topic to explore. 

Why would there be anything wrong with killing a spider?
If you're like me, that's exactly the question you're asking right now.  I will be trying to answer that question by turning to the source of absolute morality:  God.  The way I can do that is by seeing what He has to say about the topic in the Bible.

From the time that God created mankind, He set out parameters of what our relationship with animals would be. 

Genesis 1:27-28 (HCSB) –

So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”

We are distinctively different than the animals.  We were created in the image of God, and animals weren't.  At first glance it appears that I am justified in my desire to kill spiders.  After all, we have dominion over them, and it is our right to do with them as we wish, right? 

Animals may not have souls like we do, but they are still God's creation. 

Luke 12:6 (HCSB) - Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. 

If we see spiders as something that God cares about, and we acknowledge this importance and wish to kill them for the sake of killing them, we can be seen as being violent, which God detests (Psalm 11:5). 

So the reasons that it may be wrong to kill a spider could be put as follows:
1. Spiders are a part of God’s creation.  To kill them needlessly could be considered as being a poor steward for what we should be responsible for taking care of.
2. God doesn’t wish us to do anything out of the violence of our hearts.

There is a third reason why it may be wrong to kill spiders, but I will discuss that later.

Why would it be okay to kill a spider?

If you are like me, you are probably thinking “because it’s just a spider!”  I am thinking we can do better than that for a defensible argument.

God created animals initially to be in harmony with humans (Genesis 1:28-31).  Mankind sinned, and the world was cursed, and animals with them.  Snakes were cursed to be on their bellies and get trampled on by men (Genesis 3:14-15), death entered into the world, and animals were chosen to die as a substitute for mankind.  Insects and various bugs were supplied as a plague during different instances in the Bible (Exodus 8:16-17; Deuteronomy 28:42).

If there is now an enmity between mankind and certain animals, it may be acceptable to see them as annoyance.  Killing them may not be ideal, but it’s a natural part of living in the fallen world that we live in.

I mentioned earlier that it would not be right for us to kill a spider as a violent act, but how many of us see ourselves as being violent when we kill a spider?  There wasn’t any commandment or law against killing a beast in the Bible, and so the simple act of killing a spider couldn’t be as inherently wrong or violent.

But we may not see animals such as dogs, cats, or monkeys in the same way as we see spiders.  I have concluded that the more like a person a creature is, the more we as humans tend to treat that creature with dignity.  I see that as a good thing, for if we have in our hearts an innate desire to treat things with human qualities with respect, that means we are more inclined to treat other people with respect since they have those qualities.

I would go so far as to say that when it comes to animals, the violence that God detests has more to do with the health of our intentions than with the act of violence itself.  Otherwise merely killing a creature for food (which God allows) could be considered violent.

Spiders share very few qualities with humans compared to other animals; the thought of violent intent may not even enter a person’s mind when killing them.

If you read my last blog post, you would know that I don’t like asking the question “is it wrong to…” but rather ask, “what is the best way that I can glorify God in this situation?”  For some people, that will mean taking care of spiders as part of God’s creation.  For me personally, that means not getting too distracted by things like spiders to keep me from doing other more important things that I believe need to be done in service to God.

Personally, I can see nothing inherently wrong with killing a spider, when we take everything I have mentioned into account.  But…

Why it still may be wrong to kill a spider… 

It may not to kill a spider for its own sake, but it’s wrong to disrespect others (Philippians 2:3-4).
Romans 14 is a good chapter to read when it comes to what to do when you are with someone who shares different perspectives with you.  It talks about not eating certain foods around people who believe it is wrong, to keep from offending them.  I would like to highlight a couple verses. 

Romans 14:1 (HCSB) - Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues.

Romans 14:13 (HCSB) - Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way. 

So my personal advice is, regardless of what you believe on this topic, keep the other person in mind when you go about dealing with spiders, or talk about squishing them. 
The Bible is more clear on some subjects than on others

Perhaps you disagreed with the conclusions I have shared regarding spiders, but I hope that in the very least I was able to show that one side of the discussion may not have been as obviously in the right compared to the other.  It can sometimes be a challenge to read the Bible and to understand exactly what it is trying to say.  That being the case, I have something I wish to talk about much more than the morality of squishing spiders, and that is what kinds of things we should even be focusing on.

There are truths that we cannot afford to compromise.  Those things are regarding who God is and the core gospel message.  If the Bible is quite clear on a topic, then we have no right to interpret it a different, more agreeable way.
There is only one right answer to how to interpret the Bible, but sometimes that answer is not immediately clear.  As long as we are open to learning new things about how to read the Bible, I see nothing wrong with preferring to interact with like minded people who have a similar belief as you about the Bible.  But I believe that the more emphasis the Bible puts on something, the more emphasis that we should, and the opposite is true as well. 

Let’s get excited for the things that God has done for us!  Let His love for us fill us with a desire to share that love with other people!