Is Christmas Rooted in Paganism?

A friend recently told me that she and her family don’t celebrate Christmas because it began as a pagan holiday. Is that ‘pagan root’ thing true and if it is, does that mean that we all shouldn’t celebrate Christmas? What is the truth of the matter?

Personally, I look forward to the season. I see it as a natural opportunity to share Christ with the world – especially given that for the most part there is an ‘openness’ to the gospel message during this time of the year like no other time on the calendar. Think of all the Christmas carols being played on the radio, in malls, and in movies, many with the gospel being proclaimed. But still, does my friend have a legitimate point? Was the event we now call Christmas originally a “pagan holiday”?

And if so does it mean then that the gifts we exchange are to be shunned because some Druid somewhere in time offered a gift to his goat as part of some pagan ritual? And does it mean we must edit C.S. Lewis’ classic ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ to cleanse it of Father Christmas and any other reference to the season? And does that mean the church should discard all of the Christmas season, along with its lights, tinsel, Christmas carol re-runs and increasing commercialism?

There is no doubt that some of what we now refer to as Christmas traditions can be traced back, in some form, to pagan cultures and celebrations. In fact, it is true that December 25, which Christians now herald as Jesus’ birthday, was actually the date on which the Romans celebrated the birth of the sun god.

After the Roman emperor Constantine ‘converted’ to Christianity at the Milvian Bridge in 312, he combined the worship of the sun god with worship of Christ. Many of the Christian leaders at that time accepted Constantine’s conversion in a positive light, irrespective of whether he was sincere or only converted for political purposes and seized on the opportunity to celebrate the “Christ-mass” as a vital part of the process of converting the pagan world.

But even long before Constantine, Christians found ways to redeem local cultures and salvage elements in those cultures that naturally pointed to Christ, whether Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, or Roman. They denounced inhumane pagan practices, but at the same time took over pagan temples and converted them to churches. They replaced the old gods in popular devotion with heroic martyrs of the persecutions. And they replaced the holy days of paganism with festivals of the Christian year.

An example could be the early pagan ritual of lighting candles to drive away the forces of cold and darkness. The Christians of the time adopted that tradition making it their own. After all, the devil doesn’t have the corner on the candle market. Today, is it highly unlikely that our hearts are drawn to those early pagans as we light our candles, rather we rejoice in our Saviour, the Light of the World as John speaks to in his gospel.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” – John 1:4

As for the Druid offering a gift to his goat and in turn offering the goat as an imperfect sacrifice to his god. I think it’s safe to say that instead of giving any credence to the history of idolatry, we remember, as we should, the gifts given to the Christ-child by the Magi. Jesus was the perfect and final sacrifice and the greatest gift ever given, and therefore his birth is worthy of celebration and gifts worthy to be shared as a symbol of God’s generously giving heart.

Facts are however, that the beginnings of many Christmas traditions are so obscure that reference books and internet sites contradict one another on the details. Some of our most popular and beloved Christmas symbols are in fact entirely Christian and were never part of any pagan religion anywhere. At the same time, some Christmas traditions undoubtedly do have their origins in the pagan past.

So, what do we do – or not do? If you are like my friend and are fully convinced that you cannot, in good conscience, observe a particular Christmas tradition, then please, by all means do not observe it. If you are fully convinced that a particular tradition is too steeped in paganism to honour God in any way, by all means forsake that tradition. At the same time, if you are fully convinced that you can honour and worship God through a particular tradition, then please honour and worship God.

I believe that this is an example where the Romans 14 passage applies. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” – Romans 14:5

In the end, what is important is not the origins of traditions, but their significance to us today as believers in the Son of God. For Christians, we celebrate because of the significance seen in the birth of our Saviour, and the traditions remind us of that momentous event that changed the world forever.

But more importantly, the traditions we share help tell the Christmas story about God tracking us down to find us and reveal himself to a sin filled world because he wanted us to know him. Words weren’t enough and so he came to be with us because we could not get to him. He took the form of man, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, and lived among us to show us a better way.

Image that, God came as a baby who grew to be a man and walked, talked, and fellowshipped with humanity in the person of Jesus – the prince of peace. And as the Prince of Peace we can finally be reconciled with God the father and enjoy peace with him as we were originally created to enjoy.

Why Saying ‘Love Is Love’ Cheapens Real Love

Why Saying ‘Love Is Love’ Cheapens Real Love

If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, you’ve probably seen a phrase being used which simply says, ‘Love is Love’. The meaning behind the statement is that falling in love is not about the gender of the person, nor important if it’s monogamous or polyamorous. The sentiment is that you can be gay, bi or straight and pursue a monogamous or polyamorous relationship as long as you’re getting the love, affection and companionship that you need to be happy and fulfilled emotionally as well as satisfied sexually.

The understanding is that when someone makes the statement using the three words, ‘love is Love’, that should settle the matter. After all, how can you argue with someone else’s choice to love? For that matter, it might not even be a choice anyways if I have ‘fallen in love’ because that’s an uncontrolled physical and emotional response to chemistry between two people that just happens. Is it though?

There are a few issues that need to be addressed that come along with the blanket statement ‘Love is Love. For instance, where do we draw the line? Does it only include ‘love’ between two consenting adults, or could it include love between an adult and a child or a human and an animal?

To most of us, including those who promote the current idea of the phrase ‘love is love’, those suggestions would be unthinkable. However, only a few short years ago the majority would have been aghast at the idea of the love is love ideology as it is promoted today. Yet there are movements afoot to normalize both pedophilia and bestiality as we speak, who’s to say that one day they wouldn’t be ‘normalized’? It’s happened before in past cultures – Rome & Greece are just two examples of many.

Who set’s the boundary of this love is love ideology anyways? After all, ‘Love is love’ isn’t it? It comes down to the simple pursuit of happiness and that sense of being needed, wanted, and cared for – isn’t that what we all want? If the answer to those questions are in the affirmative then I’d say, ‘go for it!’.

But what if it is not an enlightened way to live but is instead a foolish lie? What if it leads to unhealthy places for one or both involved; emotionally, spiritually, and yes even physically?[1] If that’s the case then we need to be extremely careful in making a case for what we might think should be normal and accepted in our culture.

Before we go on, let’s look at this falling in love idea…

IS FALLING IN LOVE A REAL THING? 

I’ve heard the statement used, “Well you can’t help who you ‘fall in love’ with”. Falling in love is an expression describing someone’s emotional state when those puppy dog, googly eyed, happy feelings of what’s assumed to be love, start to grip the soul and make you feel like you just can’t breathe another moment without that person being in the same room with you. But I think we need to ask whether or not ‘falling in love’ is even a real thing.

The idea of “falling in love” relies on warm emotions and (more than likely) surging hormones. However, the idea that love is all about feelings is more of a western cultural, 20th century invention than anything else. The biblical view of love is that love can exist apart from feelings. Think about it, no hormones are needed to obey the command to “love your neighbour as yourself” – James 2:8. In other words, we choose to love; that is, we commit ourselves to act in the best interests of another person.

Of course, nice emotions often accompany love, and we naturally have warm feelings toward someone we’re attracted to. And of course, it’s good and proper to have positive feelings and surging hormones when in the company of your spouse. But if that’s all there is to “falling in love,” then we’re in trouble. What happens when the feelings fall away? What about when the hormones stop surging? Have we fallen “out” of love?

Love should never be seen as dependent on feelings or expediency or romantic attraction. The “falling in love” concept places undue emphasis on the emotional condition of those involved. The wording of the phrase almost makes it sound as if love were an accident: “I can’t help falling in love with you” makes a nice song lyric, but, in real life, we are responsible to control our emotions. Many marriages have been ended (and many foolishly begun) because someone “fell in love” with the wrong person.

Love isn’t a state that we stumble into; it’s a commitment that we grow into. It’s probably more accurate to say that those who “fall in love” actually “fall in lust” or “fall into infatuation” or “fall into co-dependency.”

So my answer to that question, ‘is falling in love a real thing?’ can only be no, but rather an invention of the western world’s infatuation with a ‘fun’ emotional sensation.

LOVE IS LOVE STILL… ISN’T IT?

Even still, someone may not have experienced the emotional sensation of falling in love but have instead grown into a love commitment with someone other than their spouse, with more than one partner at a time or with someone of the same gender. If that’s the case then can we not say that for them at least, love is love? If loving is a choice that means I can still love someone of the same gender, or more than one person… after all love is love – right?

Ephesians 5:31 is a quotation of Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” Paul adds in verse 32: “This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church.”

The union of one man and one woman in marriage is a mystery because it presents a parable, a true story, a picture of Christ and the church. And hidden in this allegory of marriage is that God ordained a permanent union between his Son Jesus and the church. In other words, marriage Is not simply an ancient cultural definition that we haven’t ‘evolved’ away from yet, nor is it an accident that marriage between a man and woman provides the church with a language to explain Christ’s relation to the church.

God had purposefully designed human marriage to be an earthly reflection of his celestial plan. Do you see that picture? God willed it that Christ and the church become one body, and then willed it for marriage to reflect that pattern. That is why we see the blessing and encouragement of a husband and wife becoming one flesh as stated in Genesis 2:24.

Paul paints the picture for us even further about this being the image for the church when he says, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 11:2

Now, understanding that – when people say that “love is Love” – we can’t help but see how it cheapens what true love is. It doesn’t allow for the full expression to be experienced as God intended, and we see it for what it is (or is not). It’s not an enlightened understanding of love at all but is in truth a bad copy at best.

Of all the ways we might think about love being expressed, biblical love gives us the best definition. In fact, it’s described as “the most excellent way” – 1 Corinthians 12:31. Paul says that “Love is patient, love is kind” – 1 Corinthians 13:4. I don’t think that it should be lost on us that we don’t find too many people, if any at all, “falling into” patience or kindness, do we?

“Falling in love” or saying that “love is Love” are nice phrases and make for great soundbites to use in the moment or in songs on a soundtrack. They appeal to the emotions and give us nice fuzzies, the goosebumps, the enjoyable feelings of having entered the ideal romance. Please understand that I think that those feelings are fine, in and of themselves, and it’s possible that those who are “falling in love” have actually found a perfect match.

But we need always remember that love is more than emotional involvement based on physical attraction. It’s more than finding a person or persons to ‘enjoy’ experiences with. Truth is that those who are falling in love are sometimes blinded to the reality of their situation and can easily mistake the intensity of their emotions for genuine love.

But there’s some good news…

REDEMPTION BRINGS RECOVERY

God created marriage between one man and one woman to be THE image of Jesus’ relationship to the church. But the problem has been that sin has so confused the image as to make it unrecognizable. If contemporary culture succeeds in redefining and reimaging the purpose of love relationships, the meaning of the image we are to reflect to the world of Christ & his bride, seen as love between a husband and wife will be obscured for many years to come.

That is why we, who are committed to God’s definition of marriage, must live out the true meaning of authentic, committed love relationships, with our spouses if we’re married, within the church in authentic ways, with our neighbours representing Jesus to them, and even more importantly with Jesus Christ himself, growing to know him intimately.

As we grow in these love relationships, we need to commit to living out our true love publicly and joyfully, so that the world sees it and begins to recognize the depth of love they are missing out on. We need to live it out in such a way that our love displays Christ in all his beauty. That’s the Gospel being put on display! And pray that those who see our love in action will be so attracted to Jesus that they soon become counted among the redeemed and recover the life they were created for – a love relationship with our Heavenly Father, through his son Jesus, accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

True story – It’s only as our lives are redeemed that true recovery back to reflecting the image of Jesus can be realized just as those ‘some’ were redeemed and recovered who Paul wrote to in the Corinthian church so long ago.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

[1]A telling statistic is that HPV infection is found in about 90% of people with anal cancer: https://www.medicaldaily.com/does-anal-sex-lead-anal-cancer-3-facts-and-myths-400561

Should Christians Care About Drag Shows?

I don’t think it’s just me, but it only seems like we (our collective culture)  blinked and then, what was once a part of the gay subculture, men dressing up as drag queens, have now become a common and celebrated feature of pop culture.

They’re featured prominently in Pride parades and other LGBTQ+ celebrations. Events promoted as “family friendly” are easily discovered in places like the public library for story time readings, elementary schools, family time brunches, beauty contests, and talent shows.  And of course, there are a number of current TV shows focused on drag, like RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1), We’re Here (HBO), Call Me Mother (OutTV), and Legendary (HBO Max).

As the world of drag becomes more mainstream a question has begun to be asked. Is this type of entertainment ok for the Christian to enjoy? Isn’t it just another form of acting? After all, the ancient Greek actors were only men who’d dress up to act the various roles of women in their plays. We have watched Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie and Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire without watching the world blow up – even had good laughs while watching those movies. Totally innocent fun – isn’t it? 

Well, I personally think that the ancient Greeks probably shouldn’t be held up as the moral standard, and Hollywood should not be the litmus test for right or wrong about anything. Instead, let’s explore a little about what message is being sent via this current entertainment craze – ‘drag shows’ and what if anything the bible says about it and why or if a Christian should care.

Let’s begin by exploring a term that has been gaining traction lately to describe the actual purpose of drag shows – ‘Queering’.

What is Queering?

The term Queer itself has become an identity label as well as a point of pride and celebration. Hence the Q in the LGBTQ+ acronym. Queer can be a collective label for anything within the LGBTQ+ spectrum – that is, any person or thing that falls outside heterosexual or stereotypical gender norms.

As academic scholars began using the word queer to define their radical social theories, the word gained additional power. These theories were aimed at elevating non-traditional sexuality and devaluing heterosexuality as the normalized good in society. One way of combating what these scholars labeled heteronormativity was by a specific disruptive process of queering. Through this use, queer had become a verb – an action.

Queering is intended to complicate and disrupt what is perceived to be the normative. As an action, it is the use of words, actions, or representatives to directly challenge heterosexuality, traditional gender roles, or the male/female binary. (binary is identifying as a man or a woman or even presenting yourself specifically and exclusively as a man or woman)

The Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) defines queering in this way: Queering is one strategy for queer activists who want to unsettle or complicate normative practices, spaces, or discourses. Introducing queer bodies into normative spaces, for instance, changes the dynamics of that space by unsettling the taken-for-granted characteristics of that space. Drag queens might “take over” a “straight bar” in order to queer the space or complicate what that space means to the people inhabiting it.

In other words, disrupt foundational assumptions about sex and gender and, thereby, transform social norms by offering new possibilities. These possibilities do not have to be the new normal in themselves, but they work to move people’s sensibility toward accepting queerness as normal (and fun) by offering a counterpoint to it.

We can clearly see this unfolding during a Drag performance. That’s because the Drag performance itself is an act of queering in its attempt to complicate and unsettle binary depictions of sex and gender.

This is evidenced in the complicated use of pronouns which dismantles order and clarity as in the case of Ru Paul. Ru Paul has one set of pronouns (he/him) and a different set when dressed in drag (she/her). The drag persona is female while the real person underneath is male, as evidenced when RuPaul was signed to a modeling contract for MAC Cosmetics. Various billboards featured him in full drag, often with the text “I am the MAC girl”.

But the queering practice goes deeper. Consider the way Drag Queen Story Hours have become a feature of education in recent years. These are events where a drag performer reads storybooks to young children in a school, library, or bookstore setting. The Drag Queen Story Hour website proudly declares that through these events “kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where everyone can be their authentic selves!” The purpose is to stretch a child’s imagination to include drag queens as normal. This is precariously close to, if not already, the grooming of our children.

Here’s the thing, queering is intentionally designed to blur the lines of male, and female. Further, It’s meant to make people more accepting of the LGBTQ+ ideology at an emotional level.

And not only are (should) Christians completely be right to oppose it. Even some within the LGBTQ+ community speak out against the practice of queering. One drag queen, who goes by the name “Kitty Demure,” scolded parents for promoting Drag Queen Story Hour events.

“Would you want a stripper or a porn star to influence your child? It makes no sense at all. A drag queen performs in a nightclub for adults. There is a lot of filth that goes on. A lot of sexual stuff that goes on. And backstage there’s a lot of nudity, sex, and drugs. Okay? So I don’t think this is an avenue you would want your child to explore.” – Kitty Demure

Why Should Christians Care?

Many Christians insist that other Christians just need to quiet down, hold their peace, and love their neighbours and let each be who they want to be. In a conversation I recently had with a friend who was promoting that approach said to me, “After all, Jesus didn’t speak against homosexuality, drag, or other LGBTQ+ issues, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn; we shouldn’t condemn.”

On the surface this may sound plausible; however, the problem with this argument is that this is an argument from silence. The fact is that silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Should kidnapping be allowable too? After all Jesus never said that kidnapping was a sin, yet I’m sure that all of us would agree that stealing children is wrong.

It’s true that Jesus didn’t address drag directly, but he did speak clearly about sexuality in general, specifically addressing and defining marriage and gender roles in Matthew 19:4–6 & Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 & Genesis 2:24 to explain it.

 “At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Matthew 19:4-6

Here Jesus defines and affirms gender roles as a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together. If Jesus had believed in a broader definition of gender and a blurring of the lines between the two, then here was his opportunity to present it.

Yet he never spoke of, or presented a spectrum along the gender line, he spoke only of two clearly defined terms and roles – man and woman. Jesus was solidly affirming the male – female relationship as it had been established with the very first couple, Adam & Eve. This is a major reason we Christians should care.

Back to the Drag show situation – we Christians should also care because of an issue that has become more prevalent over the past number of years and of which drag shows most certainly help to normalize. Namely a condition termed ‘Gender Dysphoria’ (or gender identity disorder).

Gender Dysphoria is fast becoming an accepted standard in our world and is quickly being eliminated as a classified disorder at all. An individual may now identify as ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘other’ on many, if not all, government forms today. In this new world order we now see that Transgenderism currently finds protection within the law of the land… at least north of the American/Canadian border.

In Canada, Bill C-16, was recently introduced that updates the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. It also extends hate speech laws to include the two terms, making it a hate crime to target someone for being transgender.

Jordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of physiology at the University of Toronto, jumped all over it, “I will never use words I hate,” Peterson wrote, “like the trendy and artificially constructed words ‘zhe’ and ‘zher.’ These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.”

Granted, not all drag performances are brazenly sexualized, nor are all those who identify with a gender dysphoria sexual predators, however the truth rains that the very act of drag perverts the picture of God’s clearly defined created order and why again we as Christians should care.

“God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.” – Genesis 1:27

How Should Christians Respond?

Certainly, some applaud Jordan Peterson, even while others decry his position. Lines have been drawn, opinions shared, accusations made, and unkind words are being thrown left and right. For myself, no matter my personal opinion about the ‘gender’ issue, I am first and foremost a believer in treating people with a value and respect that I’d hope to receive for myself. We shouldn’t need a law to force us to respect other people.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that this blurring of the gender lines is sin and a problem. I do believe that it is certainly sin and needs to be called out for what it is. It is controlling the hearts and minds of people, damaging society along with the individuals who are caught in the lie that says their self-worth is found in their sexuality or sexual identity. It’s not! Self-worth can only be found in Jesus Christ. And one of the ways we discover our self-worth and true identities through Jesus is in the celebration of the sexes as God created them, male and female.

However, this never gives a Christian license to demean someone who might struggle with sexual identity or identifies other than their birth gender. In fact, as disciples of Jesus Christ, our churches should be the safest place to talk about, and struggle with gender dysphoria. Yet too often, our churches have been anything but safe – and that’s something that Christians, including me, need to repent about. The Bible challenges churches to reflect and represent Jesus by reaching out to transgender and gender dysphoric neighbours with loving grace-filled hope.

I’m not sure that the average church is living out that challenge though. Having said that I believe most churches would like to. So, the question begs to be asked; To live like that, what would we need to be more like? If we lived like that what would we look like?

We Must be a Caring People

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

If a self-identified transgender individual walked into your church, would this person be greeted? How about invited for lunch? How about invited back next Sunday? Our response to those who identify as transgender must be absolute and sincere, “You are welcome here. You are loved.”

That’s because we believe that all people matter to God. As a result, we must seek to intentionally engage all people with an effort to move them toward God, while relating to them where they are at in every stage of life and spiritual journey. The mission of every Christian is to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ within their circle of influence. This needs to be characterized by genuine friendships; actively doing good deeds; sharing a personal witness; & dependence upon prayer and the Holy Spirit’s convicting /drawing work.

Sadly though, too often our churches give the impression that the Son of Man came to seek and save the squeaky clean, not the lost. To combat this requires us to be transparent about our own struggles and failings. The antidote to this impression is to embrace the compassion that Jesus extends to each of us – and in turn extend it to others. We need to live lives that habitually repent often, forgive freely, extend grace continuously, and love fully.

We Must be a Listening People

As the bringers of light to a dark world and as representatives of Jesus who declared himself as the way, the truth and the life, we must boldly stand for truth and declare the way. That must never change. However, I wonder if, in our fervor we too often believe we can just declare the truth to the world and think that our job is done. “Good job boys… that’ll tell em.”

We work hard to make sure we have our truth or theology and apologetics down pat and then act as though we can simply give the ‘right’ answer, or the so called ‘Sunday school response’ to all the cultural problems being faced, believing then that the ‘issue’ will be cleared up, much like a home remedy for a spiritual head cold. But the problem is that many aren’t looking for head answers because they’re crying out to us from the heart. God made us with both heads and hearts that come with real thoughts, real feelings, and real desires.

I wonder if we sometimes forget that it is real people living in our neighbourhoods, interacting in our work spaces, sitting in our gatherings, and having real struggles. What do they hear in our conversations? Do they hear people trying to understand them or do they hear the dismissiveness of someone who has never really stopped to consider how they feel?

Of anyone on this earth, we should be known for being the ones who seek to understand their heart. This takes work, because sometimes, instead of coming up with the ‘answers’ we should spend more time being silent while honestly listening. In order to sincerely affect someone, we need to first listen to their heart.

We Must be a People of Grace & Truth

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14

Jesus was full of both grace and truth. He wasn’t 50% grace and 50% truth. He was 100% grace and 100% truth. He always had exactly the right balance in his response to people and situations.

Most of us gravitate to one side or the other. We’re primarily truth people or primarily grace people. But rarely does anyone exhibit a healthy, Christ-like balance of both virtues. I confess to being out of balance on the truth side. I frequently need an extra measure of mercy and grace.

Only Jesus demonstrated a perfect even-handedness in every situation. He was passionate for truth. He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth – your word is truth” – John 17:17. Yet he was compassionate toward hurting people. He encouraged his followers, “Love one another as I have loved you” – John 15:12.

To truly understand grace is to understand that I am an unworthy recipient of God’s mercy, and that but for the grace of God I would be not only a sinner but a condemned sinner. In consequence, I must endeavor to reflect in my dealings with others something of the mercy God has shown me.

Grace is an essential part of God’s character and is closely related to his benevolence, love, and mercy. Grace can be variously defined as “God’s favour toward the unworthy” or “God’s benevolence on the undeserving.” In his grace, God is willing to forgive us and bless us abundantly, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve to be treated so well or dealt with so generously. As the recipients of God’s grace, Christians are to be gracious to others even while speaking the truth.

If our churches are marked by one thing, let it be both grace and truth – the grace that always welcomes, always goes the extra mile, always forgives, and is extended continuously, even while being anchored in the truth of God’s Word.

We were meant to be a place of grace and truth – a place where everyone, no matter background or struggles, finds homes open and family offered, a place where people are listened to and loved rather than stereotyped and lectured. But also a place where people can find the truth of God’s Word being taught and applied. If you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ, God is calling you to that ministry.

Is Suicide The Unforgivable Sin?

Is Suicide The Unforgivable Sin?

I love travel documentaries and one of my favourites has been, “Parts Unknown” on CNN hosted by Anthony Bourdain. You can imagine my surprise when I first heard that Anthony was found dead by suicide Friday June 8th2018. According to his mother, Anthony had everything to live for. “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this,” Gladys Bourdain told the New York Times.

Another celebrity, Kate Spade, sounded happy the night before her body was found in her New York City apartment earlier the same week as Bourdain. “There was no indication and no warning she would do this,” her husband Andy Spade said in a heart-wrenching statement published in the Times.

For more than four decades Antoon Leenaars has tried to construct a theory to explain why people kill themselves. Among his findings is that those who die by suicide are often tragically gifted at concealing their true intentions, even from themselves. “We find it in the suicide notes and in the psychological autopsies,” said Leenaars, a Windsor psychologist whose archive of more than 2,000 suicide notes is believed the largest collection of its kind in the world. “There’s both a conscious and unconscious intent to be deceptive, to hide, to mask,” he said.

I think that’s why, for the most part, we are often surprised when someone takes their own life. I haven’t personally experienced a close friend or family member commit suicide, yet I have been around many others who have had close friends or family take their lives, and I can tell you that it can be terribly confusing and heartbreaking, sometimes to the point of questioning what they currently believed about God. In fact, just today I learned of someone who had been heavily involved in the local church recently abandon his faith because of the confusion and grief experienced when one of his children took their life.

For the friends and family of that person who has taken their own lives, grief can be like a wild animal inside, thrashing to get out. There are times It won’t be contained, spilling out in sobs and screams, while at other times it turns inward, causing those left behind to desperately examine every interaction over the weeks and days preceding their loved one’s death, wondering what they could have done differently. It’s a terrible place to be.

Does the bible say anything about committing suicide?

Is suicide the unforgivable sin? Does the person who self-kills go immediately to hell? Within the church community, this controversial topic has unfortunately often been addressed in emotional ways, not through biblical analysis. For example, for those who grew up Roman Catholic the prevailing view is that suicide is definitely a mortal sin, irretrievably sending people to hell. Influenced by the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, this belief dominated through the Reformation. This of course causes much angst and problems for the survivor to process through. As a result, the approach is most often an emotional one. Besides this traditional position of the Catholic Church, we encounter three others:

1) A true Christian would never commit suicide since God wouldn’t allow it.

2) A Christian may commit suicide but would lose his salvation.

3) A Christian may commit suicide without losing his salvation.

As purposeful as those statements are, we still need to ask what the Bible, not tradition or opinion says. As much as we don’t have all the answers, let’s begin by talking about those truths we do know as revealed in God’s Word.

We know that humanity is totally depraved (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-18). Of course, we should understand that this doesn’t mean we’re as evil as we could be, but rather that every human capacity – intellect, heart, emotions, will – is tainted by sin. We also know that even after regeneration, a Christian is capable of committing any sin except the unforgiveable one. We see the unforgivable sin mentioned in Mark 3:25-32 and Matthew 12:32. A study of these passages leads us to the conclusion that they are referring to the continual rejection of the Holy Spirit in the work of conversion, ultimately referring to a committed unbeliever.

I think that it’s important to remember as well, that a believer is quite capable of taking the life of someone else, as David did in the case of Uriah, without this action invalidating his salvation. After all, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has forgiven all of our sin – past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-18). Still, suicide is a serious offense against God because it represents arrogant violation of the gift of life the Creator has given. However, if a genuine believer is theoretically capable of taking another’s life, why is it impossible to conceive he or she could ever take his or her own?

The truth is that the sin a Christian will commit tomorrow was forgiven at Calvary – where Jesus justified us, declaring us positionally righteous. He accomplished this work through one single offering that didn’t need to be repeated again. On the cross Jesus didn’t make us justifiable; he made us justified (Romans 3:23-26; 8:29-30).

Granted, some point out that Scripture contains no instance of a believer committing suicide, while it includes many cases of unbelievers doing so, thus coming to the conclusion that believers simply don’t (won’t) commit suicide. But this is an argument from silence. Scripture doesn’t explicitly mention many things in life. Moreover, some hold suicide robs a Christian of her salvation because it doesn’t provide an opportunity for repentance. But if you were to die right now, would there be any unconfessed sin in your life? I think that we could only say that yes, of course there would be.

The sacrifice that covers the unconfessed sins we have remaining until death is the same sacrifice that would cover a sin like suicide. Suicide is not what determines whether a person gains entrance into heaven anyways. If an unsaved person commits suicide, she has done nothing but “expedite” her journey to hell. However, that person who committed suicide will ultimately be in hell for rejecting salvation through Christ, not because she committed suicide. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

We should also point out, however, that no one truly knows what was happening in a person’s heart the moment he died. Some people have “deathbed conversions” and accept Christ in the moments before death. It is possible that Anthony Bourdain could have had a last-second change of heart and cry out for God’s mercy, we don’t know, but if he did, we can know that God’s mercy would have reached him even there.

Back to our original question. Is suicide the unforgivable sin? If we’ve established that a Christian is capable of committing any sin, why can’t we conceive that someone could commit the sin of suicide? And if we believe Jesus’ blood is capable of forgiving any sin, wouldn’t his blood cover this sin too? The wonderful truth of the matter is that if Jesus’ sacrifice has made believers perfect forever (look up Hebrews 7:28-10:14), could any sin remove their salvation? Based on scripture, I’d have to say a resounding no – including suicide.

Further to this point, if someone like Moses (and Job, and Elijah, and Jeremiah) came to a point where he wished God would take his life, couldn’t a believer with schizophrenia or extreme depression, who lacks Moses’ strength of character, make this wish a reality? Martin Luther believed that a true believer could be oppressed by demonic powers and thus driven to the point of suicide. The suicide of a believer is evidence that anyone can struggle with despair and that our enemy, Satan, is “a murderer from the beginning” – John 8:44

Having said that, on the basis of Scripture, history, and the experience of God’s people – as well as the indwelling Spirit and the means of grace in the church – it’s most likely that suicides will be rare (though not impossible) for genuine believers.

How should we respond to a survivor? 

Even still, when a suicide does occur, we should seek to comfort, not accuse. Instead of identifying the horrors we should seek to comfort the hurting. Our chief focus should be on that about which God has said much (salvation), not on that about which he’s said little (suicide).

Sometimes the best thing we can say to a survivor (friend or family member of someone who took their own life) is NOTHING! In fact, sometimes the best reaction is no words at all, but a hug. There is much comfort that comes with the caring presence of friends, and the assurance others are praying for them. Even still, if you do feel led to say anything, here are some examples you can use that I have found helpful as I have come along side those who are hurting.

“Tell me a favourite memory of…”

“I love you, and my prayers are with you.”

“How can I help you today?” (Following through with errands, grocery shopping, cleaning, going to church with them, etc.)

“I am so sorry for your loss. Words fail.”

“I’m here.”

The best advice to anyone who wants to comfort a suicide survivor is: “Show up, let them see you care, and respect the griever’s right to feel bad for a while (guilt, anger, sadness, etc.). Too many survivors reported “friends” who avoided them altogether after their loved ones’ suicides rather than to risk saying the wrong thing. Please don’t do that, because that hurts most of all.

Why Christians Should Care About Roe vs Wade

Abortion has been hotly debated for a few decades now and it doesn’t seem to be an issue that will be solved anytime soon. “Pro-choice” advocates believe abortion is a personal decision and should not be limited by the government or anyone else. The only social ‘problem’ might be that of too many laws restricting it.

In fact, it might be the freest and best way of eliminating unwanted pregnancies and in this way help to rid the world of many other ‘bigger’ issues such as unwanted or unloved children growing up in a world full of rejection, abuse, and pain, over population, hunger, joblessness, poverty, etc.

If that be the case then why should anyone have a problem with making the world a better place and stepping up to protect the rights of women?

Dr. J.C. Willke stated in his book, “If abortion is the killing of an innocent human being, then, without a doubt, abortion is the biggest social problem of all time, involving more loss of life than all of man’s wars put together.” – J.C. Willke, Handbook On Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes Pub. Co. Inc., 1979) pg 1.

That’s horrendous, and I would think deserving of a society’s full attention if true. But is it true? Is abortion the killing of innocent human lives? If it isn’t then it shouldn’t be a debate, and our focus needs to shift to the protection of women’s rights and to the betterment of our world.

When Is A Baby A Baby?  

The Scribner Bantam English Dictionary says that abortion is “the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Advocates claim that sentient life doesn’t begin until the baby is born, or at least not within the first 28 weeks. If true, then abortion shouldn’t be a debate. But how do ‘they’ know when life does or doesn’t begin? Who makes that determination? Is the fetus a living human being or is it just a piece of tissue, a protoplasm?

Ashley Montague, a geneticist and professor at Harvard and Rutgers, was never sympathetic to the prolife cause. Nevertheless, he affirmed undeniably, “The basic fact is simple: life begins not at birth, but conception.” Ashley Montague, Life Before Birth (New York: Signet Books, 1977), vi.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, internationally known obstetrician and gynecologist was a cofounder of what is now the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). He owned and operated what was at the time the largest abortion clinic in the western hemisphere. He was directly involved in over sixty thousand abortions.

Dr. Nathanson’s study of developments in the science of fetology and his use of ultrasound to observe the unborn child in the womb led him to the conclusion that he had made a horrible mistake. Resigning from his lucrative position, Nathanson wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that he was deeply troubled by his “increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.” Bernard N. Nathanson, “Deeper into Abortion,” New England Journal of Medicine 291 (1974): 1189Ð90).

In his film, “The Silent Scream,” Nathanson later stated,
“Modern technologies have convinced us that beyond question the unborn child is simply another human being, another member of the human community, indistinguishable in every way from any of us.” Dr. Nathanson wrote Aborting America to inform the public of the realities behind the abortion rights movement of which he had been a primary leader. Bernard Nathanson, Aborting America (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979).

At the time Dr. Nathanson was an atheist. His conclusions were not even remotely religious, but squarely based on the biological facts.

Dr. Landrum Shettles was for twenty-seven years attending obstetrician-gynecologist at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Shettles was a pioneer in sperm biology, fertility, and sterility. He is internationally famous for being the discoverer of male – and female – producing sperm. His intrauterine photographs of preborn children appear in over fifty medical textbooks.

Dr. Shettles states, “I oppose abortion. I do so, first, because I accept what is biologically manifest—that human life commences at the time of conception—and second, because I believe it is wrong to take innocent human life under any circumstances. My position is scientific, pragmatic, and humanitarian.” Shettles and Rorvik, Rites of Life, 103.

In Thomas A. Shannon’s book, Bioethics: Ethical Problems of Abortion, he quotes John Noonan as saying, “Once conceived, human life has about an 80% chance to reach the moment of birth and develop further.”

No other life has that potential, and yet the American federal government seems to think that other forms of life have more sanctity than that of a human being. They have made it illegal to touch an eagle’s egg, let alone abort it. Why? Because the simple fact that they know it was laid by an eagle indicates to them the fullest assurance that it will be an eagle. Yet the argument is made that human life, in early conception is not really a human and so doesn’t have the same protection granted ‘unborn’ eagles. See the irony?

What About Rape?

Aren’t some of the reasons that many women get abortions because of rape? First of all, a pregnancy resulting from rape is very uncommon. A study of one thousand rape victims who were treated medically right after the rape, had no pregnancies. In Slovakia, out of 86,000 consecutive abortions, only 22 were done for rape. In the US, a poll taken of physicians (who had together delivered 19,000 babies) showed that not one had delivered from a rape pregnancy.

Having said that, if a pregnancy does occur as they have been known to happen, what then? First and foremost, the mother to be needs all the love and support she can get and not any added guilt. We must remember however, that two wrongs do not make a right. One violent act does not condone another.

Dr. Willke shared a story about a woman who phoned into a talk show about abortion and rape. “You were talking about me. You see, I am the product of rape. An intruder forced his way into my parent’s house, tied up my father and with him watching, raped my mother. I was conceived that night. Everyone advised an abortion. The local doctors and hospital were willing. My father however, said, ‘Even though not mine that is a child, and I will not allow it to be killed.’ I don’t know how many times, as I lay secure in the loving arms of my husband, I have thanked God for my wonderful Christian father.” 

What About Unwanted Pregnancies? 

The argument is made that it’d be better to abort unwanted pregnancies, since most unwanted children end up being battered and abused later in life.

Dr. Edward Lenoski, former professor of Pediatrics at U.S.C. did a study of 674 battered children. His study showed that 91% were planned pregnancies and 90% of those were born into a two-parent home. – (Keith Green, The Questions Most People Ask About Abortions – Lindale: Pretty Good Printing, 1981. pg.  1).

This tends to show that the battered and abused children are not usually the ‘unwanted’ child. The unwanted child argument and the resulting abusive situations many children find themselves in are the evidence of other social and spiritual ills. So, using unwanted pregnancies and couching them in the ideal of saving future children from abuse is a red herring argument used to distract from other unhealthy societal and family dysfunctions.

What About A Woman’s Right To Choose?

I do agree that a woman must absolutely have the right to her own body – no argument there, however the problem with the “my body, my choice” argument is that the child is not a ‘part’ of her body as advocates of abortion would like you to believe.

“A woman’s appendix, obviously a part of her body, can be removed for sufficient reason. The cells of the appendix, however, carry the identical genetic code that is present in every other cell in the mother’s body. They are for this reason, undeniably part of her body. The single-celled fertilized ovum or later developing embryonic human being within her uterus cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered part of her body. This new living being has a genetic code that is totally different from the cells of the mother’s body and cannot ever be considered part of the mother’s body.” – J.C. Willke, Handbook On Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes Pub. Co. Inc., 1979) pg. 62

The thing is that everyone needs to support women’s rights. A woman has a right to her body but not to another, even to her unborn child who is a separate living being.

What Does The Bible Say On The Matter? 

Some Pro-choice advocates state that the Bible does not address abortion, so the decision should be the individuals. In fairness the word “abortion” doesn’t show up anywhere in scripture; however, the principles about the value of life are throughout scripture.

In fact, God said. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life.” – Exodus 21:22-23 “A life for a life.”

That’s pretty serious stuff, serious enough that God himself wrote it into law for the protection of the unborn. This law loudly declaring the life of the unborn child to be just as valuable as that of a grown man.

Still, some claim that pro-lifers don’t really care about the woman herself. The comment is made that unless you are willing to do whatever is needed to really help a woman who thinks she has no other option journey through her tough situation then you have no right to question her choices.

As Christians we absolutely need to care, help where we can, in any way we can (spiritually, physically & relationally). However, this argument is really a red herring. At the end of the day, whether pro-lifers “care” or not is irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant whether those opposed to mugging “care” about the people being robbed. We hopefully care about the one being robbed on the street but whether we care or not doesn’t have any bearing about the fact that robbery is against God’s moral law – as is abortion.

David expresses just how wonderful the act of human creation is, “For you formed my inward parts; you wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret. Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” – Psalm 139:13-16 

Since God is the Creator of human life, only he can determine who lives or dies. Human life is created by God for his purpose and his pleasure, and a disciple of Christ who wants to know Jesus intimately and follow his ways, needs to align his or her viewpoint with his no matter my opinion or experiences. Because God values human life we must as well, no matter the circumstance

In the end we must be advocates for those who cannot be heard, be a voice for the voiceless even while we compassionately minister to those who have been through the mental, social, physical, and spiritual anguish of aborting their child.

“Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.” – Proverbs 31:8 (CEB)

Reflections on the trucker convoy, freedom, and our true hope

Written by: David Hood
Pastor of Southeast City Church Ottawa ON

I want to start by saying that I get it. I get peoples’ frustration with the current state of things. We are all emotionally and mentally exhausted from two years of uncertainty, endless pivoting, confusing and mixed messaging, inconsistent and contradictory protocols, lies and over-promises, family divides and fractured friendships, loss of all kinds, dashed hopes, and a steady stream of doom and gloom news. We have all been through a collective trauma and, at a time when it feels like things should be looking up, they seem worse than ever. I get that people are upset and done, and the sentiment that ‘enough is enough’ resonates with me.

I also get that this movement has given a voice to people who have felt disempowered and scapegoated, namely the unvaccinated. Regardless of your views on vaccine mandates, I think we can all agree that people who are vaccine-hesitant should not all be made to feel inherently selfish and uncaring or labelled as racists and misogynists with “unacceptable views.” The hateful rhetoric I have witnessed is shameful. Hear me, I am pro-vaccination (I have articulated why elsewhere). I think some people are anti-vaccine for reasons that are misinformed, misguided, and dangerous. I can’t support that. However, we can’t generalize an entire group of people, and we certainly shouldn’t dehumanize anyone, ever.

I also get that there is a lot about this protest that feels right and beautiful. Most people who have reported positively from downtown make special mention of the hugging, singing, dancing, and camaraderie. They talk about togetherness and being able to see people’s faces. These things are deeply moving because we’ve missed them desperately. For many, I suspect going downtown is a cathartic release regardless of the aims or objectives of the protest.

All of this to say, I get it. I get why people are getting caught up in this moment and are defensive of it. And I get that there are real concerns about government overreach, a two-tiered society, and creeping totalitarianism. I’m not here to say that there aren’t legitimate concerns and frustrations or that every aspect of what is happening is bad, but I do have some pastoral and missional concerns. Many are not exclusive to the convoy, but the events of the last three weeks give me an occasion to share them.

1) I am concerned about what people mean by the word “freedom.” As a Christian, I can’t get behind the type of freedom that says, “I should be able to live my life however I want regardless of how it affects other people.” That’s not the way of Jesus. I have not been masking nor did I get vaccinated and boosted because I am personally afraid of COVID. I know my chances of getting severely ill are low. I do it because people around me are vulnerable, or are in close contact with vulnerable people, and that is enough. Not wearing a mask only benefits me, it doesn’t benefit them. Who should I care more about? If I were vulnerable, how would I want to be treated by others? Many of the negative stories coming out of downtown are from people who walked through the crowds with masks. They were mocked for complying; labelled as slaves. There is a nobody-can-tell-me-what-to-do and I’ll-do-whatever-I-want pride that has been exhibited throughout this pandemic, and by some in this protest, that really bothers me, and I think it should bother other Christians. Christianity does not support hyper-individualism and absolute autonomy. Regardless of what our legal “rights” might be, there is a higher calling.

Also, do we want a better society or just our “personal freedom”? You can advocate for restrictions and mandates to be lifted, but don’t stop there. The pandemic was a gift in that we clearly saw inequities that have been there for years. I am concerned, and sense with this moment, that most people are only interested in advocating for their “personal freedom”, and if they get that they’re good. Protest over.

Lastly, while political freedom is good (I would much rather live in Canada than North Korea!), it is not true freedom. True freedom is living the way we were meant to with the One we were created for, and that freedom is only found in Jesus Christ. That freedom requires no laws, no judges, and no governments to uphold it. It is upheld by God in heaven and it exists regardless of earthly circumstances. We can have all of the political freedoms on Earth and still be slaves. We can have absolutely zero political freedoms and still be the freest we’ve ever been.

2) I am concerned about how undiscerning Christians have been in their alignment with this movement. There is enough that feels off about what’s happening that I think Christians should be careful how they engage. I am not saying don’t engage. I am saying exercise caution. Christians who decide to protest or support the protest should be very clear about what goals they agree with and are advocating for (i.e. ending vaccine mandates), and who they’re associating with. They should be equally clear about what their goals are not (i.e. the overthrow of the government and sedition), and who they are not associating with (i.e. White supremacists, insurrectionists, Qanon, etc…).

We need to be wise. I’ve seen some Christians condemn the whole movement as a cover for white nationalism, which is false and unnecessarily inflammatory, divisive, and dismissive; I’ve seen others act like the Holy Spirit has fallen on downtown Ottawa and this whole thing is sacred, blessed by God. Neither is true. There is stuff we can support, but there is stuff we need to distance ourselves from and even condemn! 

3) I am concerned about the tone, posture, and language Christians are using with those who disagree with them. We cannot support those waving “f&*% Trudeau” banners in protest, nor those waving “go home inbreds” banners in counter-protest. Christians need to rise above this toxicity. We need to be better people than our leaders are being, and that many of our fellow citizens and neighbours are being. We are to be salt and light. Whatever you think of Trudeau, he is our Prime Minister and we must honour him. We must pray for him, and not imprecatory psalms but prayers for his good (1 Timothy 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Whatever you think of those who disagree with you, they are image bearers and people for whom Christ died. Many are our brothers and sisters in the family of God. Remember Jesus’ words, however you would want to be treated, treat people that way!

4) I am concerned about how Christians who support this protest have been dismissive about how it negatively affects their fellow Ottawans. Many people are experiencing this protest as an occupation. They can’t sleep. They don’t feel they can go out. They can’t get to work. Their commute to work or anywhere has doubled or tripled. Their place of business had to close…again. They’ve been harassed. Their yards have been urinated in and defecated on. They are subjected to a constant barrage of noise pollution and diesel fumes. Just recently, The Alliance to End Homelessness posted a letter detailing how this protest has harmed the homeless. There are hospitals downtown for people who are palliative or in rehab. Shelters for women fleeing domestic violence. Daycares for kids with autism and auditory sensitivities. We need to stop dismissing, belittling, or justifying how people are being negatively impacted. How would you want to be treated if you lived or worked or were hospitalized downtown? If you were a senior? Disabled? Homeless? Sensitive to auditory stimuli? Christians, more than anybody else, should care how their actions affect others and try to actively do good for everybody, not just their own group.

5) Lastly, I am concerned about how political aspirations are getting conflated with the Kingdom of God. There are Christians who act like this convoy is fulfilling some kind of Biblical prophecy. I’ve seen memes of trucks parting the Red Sea with a crowned lion (presumably Jesus?) leading the way, and people likening the truck horns blasting to the blasts of the trumpets that toppled Jericho. Trudeau is not Pharaoh, Canadians are not the people of Israel, and the truckers are not Moses leading us in a new exodus out of COVID slavery to the Promised Land of a mask-free Canada. The vaccine is not the mark of the beast and getting vaccinated is not bowing the knee to Baal. The truckers are not the answer to God’s call in Isaiah, who will go for us. Spiritualizing this protest needs to stop. The drawing of lines in the sand also needs to stop. I know that the unvaccinated are tired of the dehumanizing language that has been applied to them by our leaders and others, but I am also tired of people who see compliance with provincial and public health orders as unfaithfulness to Jesus; who see vaccines as a test of faith. It needs to stop on both sides. These things should not be tests of fellowship.

We need to hear afresh the words of Jesus: My Kingdom is not of this world, otherwise my disciples would fight (John 18:36). Or Paul’s words: our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12). Fighting for a restriction-free Canada or for western political freedoms is not the mission of the Church.

Our mission does not need a particular political leader or party in place, or a Charter of Rights and Freedoms to defend it. Our mission moves forward whether we live in a democracy, under communism, fascism, or an Islamic theocracy. Our mission has thrived in the unlikeliest of places: Iran, China, Afghanistan, Nigeria. Our mission is to love God with our whole being, love our neighbours as ourselves (even our enemies), love each other as Christ loved us, go and do for others what you want them to do for you, preach repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name, and make disciples of Jesus.

For many onlookers, this is not what Christianity is about. For many, Christianity is nothing more than a spiritualized conservative political movement. Its aims are purely political. It is a religion of this world. Evangelicalism has become synonymous with the right, Trump, the January 6 riots, the trucker convoy, anti-restrictions, anti-vax, conspiracy theories, Qanon, etc… For many at this moment, Christianity is synonymous with “my rights above all else”. This muddies the waters of our witness significantly and none of it furthers the mission. 

I am not saying have nothing to do with this protest, but don’t conflate its aspirations with the gospel. Our hope is not in the liberals or conservatives or NDP or Green, Trudeau or Bergen or Poilievre. Our hope is not in the lifting of restrictions and mandates. Our hope is in Jesus. If all of the truckers’ demands are met most people will still be lost and no better off eternally because they don’t have Jesus. How much of our time and mental and emotional energy has been going towards that cause? How many of our conversations and how much of our social media feed proclaims Jesus, the suffering saviour, nailed to a cross, dying to extend life, forgiveness, grace, and mercy to His enemies. This is the Jesus our world needs. We need to get back to this.

We’re not in Kansas Anymore – Reflections on the Passage of Bill C-4

PAUL CARTER  |  DECEMBER 8, 2021 (From an article written for the Gospel Coalition)

On Tuesday, December 7th the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-4, effectively banning the practice known as conversion therapy. The bill had been introduced to the House of Commons on November 29th and was approved on December 1st without further debate or study. It received Royal Assent today and will become the law of the land in 30 days.

The vast majority of Christians are opposed to the sort of coercive practices that many associate with conversion therapy; however, the language of Bill C-4 as passed is exceedingly broad and may have the effect of criminalizing religious conversation and teaching with respect to the Biblical perspective on human sexuality and gender.

The proposed changes to the Criminal Code by Bill C-4 are summarized as follows:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to, among other things, create the following offences:

(a)?causing another person to undergo conversion therapy;

(b)?doing anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside Canada;

(c)?promoting or advertising conversion therapy; and

(d)?receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.

It also amends the Criminal Code to authorize courts to order that advertisements for conversion therapy be disposed of or deleted.[1]

This new bill thus expands the provisions of the original proposal from protecting minors to protecting persons in general. It seeks to criminalize any act of “causing another person to undergo conversion therapy”. It does not matter that the person consented to or even sought out the therapy in question.

Again, if conversion therapy were to be defined as “using coercive means or methods to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation/behaviour” then most Christians would heartily endorse this bill. The definition proposed, however, is exceedingly broad:

Definition of conversion therapy

320.?101?In sections 320.?102 to 320.?104, conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to

(a)?change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual;

(b)?change a person’s gender identity to cisgender;

(c)?change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth;

(d)?repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;

(e)?repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity; or

(f)?repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.

For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration or development of an integrated personal identity — such as a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s gender transition — and that is not based on an assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is to be preferred over another.[2]

The Bible does not make a distinction between biological sex and gender, so it is unclear from this definition if preaching a sermon on Genesis 1:27 would now place a pastor outside the boundaries of Canadian law:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV)

Of further concern is the provision that “conversion therapy” be identified with efforts to “repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour”. The Bible clearly identifies heterosexual marriage as the proper context for sexual behaviour and expression and urges all others outside that estate to exercise self-control. Is a Bible Study on the fruit of the Spirit, as taught in Galatians 5, now to be considered outside the law?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23 ESV)

One suspects that the government intends to see such questions answered in the courts.

What is clear is that the government has privileged a very particular metaphysical view – a view at odds with medical science and nearly every religious tradition on planet earth. Their view is plainly stated in the preamble to the bill that passed without dissent and to loud applause on December 7th:

Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to the persons who are subjected to it;

Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to society because, among other things, it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions;

And whereas, in light of those harms, it is important to discourage and denounce the provision of conversion therapy in order to protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians;

Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:

The idea that gender equates to biological sex would have been taken for granted by every generation of Canadians prior to this one. To enshrine the spirit of the age as the law of the land is an act of hubris. To refer to the beliefs once held universally and still held broadly by many Canadians, as “myths” and “stereotypes” is an act of blatant intolerance. The net result will be legal exposure and authorized harassment of pastors and churches.

Where Does This Go From Here?

As mentioned above, having received Royal Assent, Bill C-4 will become the law of the land within 30 days. At some point thereafter it will likely end up before the courts subject to a constitutional challenge. Given the robust provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to religious belief and expression, it may be expected that the language and breadth of the bill will be found to exceed what is permitted by law.

Christians should be praying for and working towards a better version of this legislation with the ultimate goal of protecting all people from abusive and coercive practices while at the same time protecting the rights of parents and pastors to read, teach and commend what the Bible has to say about sex and gender.

How Should Canadian Christians Respond?

There are two extremes that ought to be avoided.

Firstly, Christians should avoid over reaction. We mustn’t even appear to be in favour of abusive and coercive practices. Christians do not resort to strong arm tactics. We speak, we love, we model, we commend, we pray. That is our playbook. Conversion therapy should never have been a tool in anyone’s toolbox in the first place. We must avoid over stating our concerns and we must avoid even the appearance of indifference toward people who have suffered under these treatments. We must be narrow and specific with respect to our concerns with Bill C-4.

Secondly, we must avoid trimming our sails. I’ve already heard pastors talking about no longer making their sermons available online and no longer broadcasting worship services. This would place the elderly, the sick and the stranger outside the sound of the Gospel! There may be a place for an offline training event; there may be wisdom in providing some “closed door counsel” to the congregation as to how to engage on these matters, but the Gospel must remain public. If we must suffer for preaching the whole counsel of God, then so be it.

Jesus told us that dangerous days were to be assumed and expected.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 ESV)

It’s time for us to take that counsel seriously.

Let us be wise as serpents. Let us not rant and rave in the Public Square. Let us not take the bait on every offered hook. Let us be measured and disciplined in the statement of our concerns.

And let us be innocent as doves. Let us not abandon our call to preach. Let us not turn our backs on the vulnerable and the abused. Let us be humble and restrained in our public protestations.

And if we should suffer for preaching and speaking the truth in love, then let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is our reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before us.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Pastor Paul Carter


To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can find his personal blog, Semper Reformanda, by clicking here.

[1] https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/44-1/bill/C-4/first-reading

[2] https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/44-1/bill/C-4/first-reading

War on Christmas?

The question that comes up every year at this time is whether or not there is a war on Christmas. Before we get to that question, let me share with you a part of the Christmas story that I love. It’s when the angels came to announce Jesus’ birth.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:8-14

Here we see good news of great joy being presented to the common person in the land. Great news guys, the long-awaited Saviour is finally here. You could almost feel the rush of excitement that would have filled the hearts of these shepherds who then went to meet their baby king.

This is a wonderful and very appropriate message for the season – Good news of Great Joy for all people. It’s Good news of Great joy even for the whole year because of what it means. There should be happiness in our hearts, dancing in the streets and joy in all our homes. So isn’t it interesting that instead of doing what the shepherds did, focusing on the Good news of Great joy, there are many today who view this season as a time for war instead.

Here’s what I mean. I’ve observed that many have been caught in the throes of a war on semantics. We are seeing and hearing more “Happy Holidays” and less “Merry Christmases.” The “Christmas tree” has turned into being a “Holiday tree.”One television ad plays regularly with carollers singing: “We Wish You A Happy Holiday” to the tune of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

You can certainly see why a general mood of fighting back could prevail. I have seen numerous emails floating around with pictures of Christmas trees lamenting the secularization of Christmas. The underlying tone of these messages so far has been one of anger and partisanship, as if to say: “They can’t take our Christmas away from us!” 

It’s an interesting situation and one we need to consider seriously. If this is a battle, on what level do we fight it? If someone wishes us “Happy Holidays,” do we respond with a hearty “Merry Christmas,” thus striking a blow for the kingdom of God? But I wonder why we expect those who don’t know Jesus personally nor believe he is the son of God, why is it that we almost demand them to celebrate Christmas anyways? It’s not their holiday after all.

Here’s the thing, the message that the shepherds received was about a baby being born, not a holiday to be birthed. The good news is about Christ, not the fact about whether we call the holiday Christmas or not. I am not in any way saying that we should ban the holiday or even to change the name, but I don’t even think Jesus cares very much about what we or anyone else call an evergreen with lights on it in December.

The fact is that there is and has been a war against God himself ever since Adam sinned in the garden. The attempt from the world to, in the very least ignore the Christmas title and at the very worst attempt to get rid of the Christmas holiday, is really an example of the rejection of Jesus’ gospel message of hope to a lost world. That is why Jesus came – to end the war and to redeem lost mankind. Look at Luke 1:35…

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy.” – Luke 1:35

What’s in a name? It was William Shakespeare who popularized this question. The line is found in Act 2 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is wishing Romeo would change his name and so renounce his family who had been in opposition to their romance. She tries to convince him by asking, “Tis but thy name that is my enemy; O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”Juliet got it wrong, because a name is important, and can’t be just taken off like a piece of clothing.

In the Christmas story we see a baby who is born being called ‘Holy’. That is a significant part of the story and here’s one of the reasons why. Holy means pure, good, without any defect or deficiency or blemish. God is both sovereign and holy. Sin is incompatible with God’s nature. The penalty for rejecting God’s sovereignty is separation from God, separation meaning both spiritual death and physical death.

The tragic story of man’s disobedience is told in Genesis chapter three. Immediately after Adam & Eve disobeyed God’s command they both realized they were guilty. Adam and Eve tried to cover their guilt and shame from God, but they chose a poor cover up, a bunch of leaves that only covered a portion of their bodies.

Their sin was still exposed & God, being Holy, can’t look on sin. So, God chose skins to completely cover Adam and Eve. “And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” – Genesis 3:21. The coats of skin that God provided for Adam and Eve represented the righteousness they needed so that they could be in God’s holy presence.

The animal sacrificed was usually a lamb that had no blemishes or obvious imperfections & was an innocent substitute, an innocent victim. The problem was that this was all temporary and had to be repeated over and over again. What was needed was a perfect, lasting sacrifice because no matter how unblemished the lamb was; it was never going to be perfect enough and was certainly not everlasting or holy.

Finally, God steps in and provides his own perfect sacrifice to cover our sins once and for all and provide us his righteousness. And we are introduced to this thru a little baby named Jesus who is called Holy. The only one who could be pure, good, without any defect or deficiency or blemish. Now when this baby grows into manhood and gives his life in sacrifice, because he is holy, perfect, without blemish, we can be clothed with his perfect righteousness.

What’s in a name? In this case it’s the Saviour of the world. That’s the good news of great joy the shepherds received. Not a declaration of a new holiday with turkey and trees covered in lights.

I don’t know if you ever thought about Christmas in that light before. We usually think of it in such a light sense, after all it’s about a little baby and a jolly happy man in a red suit and we always talk about peace on earth and the fact that it’s Good News, Great Joy! But is that the meaning of the Christmas season? What was the purpose of the Angels’ message to the shepherds?

Just the other day I put myself in a very dangerous position by climbing up and down ladders onto rooftops, reaching and stretching for boxes in high up shelves in the garage. All this dangerous activity for what? Christmas is coming and Debbie had a list which I had to check twice just to make sure that I did everything on it. Today if you come by my home you will see three Christmas trees in the house, decorations both upstairs and downstairs and stockings hung over the fireplace. But is that what Christmas is about?

We have this wonderful picture of a baby in a manger, feathery snowflakes, and soft lights all aglow over the fields, and complete Peace on earth as we all join hands around the cosmic tree singing Silent Night, not unlike the Who’s of Whosville. Not that I’m saying that that is a bad picture of Christmas, rather what I’m saying is that Jesus didn’t come into this world to make us peaceful citizens, he came to save us from sure death and the way he was to do this was by coming with a definiteness of purpose – his death for us. That is what the message the angels’ shared with the shepherds is truly about – death. More accurately it’s about Jesus coming to die. Good news of great Joy? Death?

There was no other way to save us. He had to die, that was the only plan. You see, I was, am and always will be unacceptable to God. I came into this world a sinner, I am a sinner today and on the day that I die I will be a sinner. Out of my heart has, can and will come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.

Except for one amazing fact: The Lamb of God came to earth as a little baby boy, grew up to die, and took away my sins. I’m guilty of breaking the whole law when I break one, but now there is no condemnation for me, because I’m a follower of Christ Jesus. I am a sinner and a saint at exactly the same time because of the redemption that came through Jesus. That came that very first Christmas day 2000 years ago. It’s not about the deer on the lawn, rather it’s about the Lamb on the tree.

Here’s how you keep Christ in Christmas: you celebrate him as Lord of your life and ruler of your heart, and you love even those who want to take Christmas out of the Holiday equation. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). He came to forgive sins – mine, yours, everybody’s.

Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Let’s not let religious pride get in the way of the core message of the gospel. It’s never been us againstthem; it’s us forthem. We mustn’t forget that Jesus came to die for the very people who are trying to secularize our country.

In our zeal to keep Christ in Christmas, let’s be careful not to go to war against the very people who need him the most – those who don’t know him – which would only serve to alienate them from a relationship with ourselves and with Jesus. People are more likely to be set on the road to salvation by loving, caring believers who are secure in the hope of the real Christ living in their lives, and whose faith is brighter than any Christmas tree

That after all is the message given to the shepherds, and to us – Good News of Great Joy!

Is God A Narcissist?

Why would God want us to praise and worship him? After all, a person who demands praise is a pompous big-headed narcissist aren’t they? On top of that isn’t God completely self-sufficient? If that be true then he certainly doesn’t need our praise and worship. So then why are there so many bible verses telling us that we are supposed to praise God?

“O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” – Psalm 107:8

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.” – Psalm 150:6

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:13-14

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:46-47

These are only a sampling of many verses that tell us to praise our God. But the question many might ask is why? Why praise him? I’m so glad you asked.

One reason is that praise gives credit where credit is due. Even more to the point, God deserves our praise. I’m sure we’d all agree that it is right and good to praise someone who is worthy of praise. We know this intuitively and so we almost automatically praise people for all sorts of accomplishments.

We even praise the people we love who might not be known for any great achievements, such as a child for just being your child, or for graduating kindergarten or for simply mowing the lawn. And of course, for others we admire in our lives such as a teacher or preacher or parent, we instinctively know that it’d not be right or good to withhold praise from them.

So, I think that it’s safe to say that we all understand the concept of praise being due certain people.

In fact, imagine that you wrote an incredibly beautiful poem and won a prestigious award for your writing; but when the time came for the award ceremony, they gave the prize for your poem to the wrong author! You, and every one of your family and friends, would immediately know that wasn’t just, right, or good, because you were the only one worthy of that particular praise moment.

So, In the same way, God – as the only being perfect in goodness, justice, love, etc. – is worthy of our praise. We do then, in fact, owe him praise. And when we don’t give it to him it isn’t just, right, or good. He wants us to praise him because it is right and good for us to do so. And so, since God wants us to always do right and good things, he’d of course want us to praise him.

But more than praise being right and good (and also because of its being right and good), praising God showcases what and who we value. When we praise God, it communicates to our deepest soul, and to God, that we value him above all things, and this ultimately brings us joy and enhances our relationship with him.

We see this in human relationships as well – think of a man with his wife. It brings a man who loves his wife, great joy to value her and praise her.

Here’s how C.S. Lewis puts it in Reflections on the Psalms”:

I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise… The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game… I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ’Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.

Lastly, we need to remember that God created us for his pleasure (just as we create delightful things for our pleasure). Praising God – acknowledging his goodness, love, perfection, and all the incredible things he has done for us – brings him pleasure. If you have children, you know what a wonderful thing it is to have them praise you. I know for myself, that I love getting spontaneous texts from my children that say things like, “Hey dad, I love you.” Or, “You’re my favourite dad, just thought you should know.” They are praising me as their father, albeit with a bit of subtle humour at times. But humour or not, it enhances the relationship.

But we can also know the pain of having children selfishly take you for granted and ignore you. When that happens, your relationship is strained. In the same way, the right response from us toward God is praise because he deserves it. When we act out our love and acknowledgment of him in this way, we fulfill our purpose; and when we are rightly fulfilling our purpose, we have the best possible joy – God is pleased, our relationship with him is enhanced, and he has rightly received what he deserves.

Luckily, this is not a difficult command to follow, because when we know Jesus intimately, we can’t help but to truly love him, and our praise naturally flows from that love.

Ultimately, we’ll be praising God for eternity, so we might as well begin practicing today. Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” – Revelation 5:13

Four Lies Of Legalism

Can you remember a time when you felt fear – deep, mind numbing, body shaking, thought blinding fear? Perhaps you experienced a terrible thunderstorm, the wind so loud you wondered if the roof on your house would stay on. Maybe you had to drive through a blizzard or a torrential rain storm and you were praying all the while you were on the highway that you wouldn’t crash. Quite possibly you witnessed a fight or were threatened in some way. Perhaps you feared for the life of a loved one and for hours you didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

Being afraid isn’t our favourite place to be and so when we feel like we’re in unsafe situations we look for things to hold onto, things that’ll bring order to the chaos, things that’ll anchor us and give us the assurance that we’ll be safe.

This feeling fearful or unsafe thing isn’t limited to the physical world. We can feel fear, emotionally, socially, and mentally, and every time we feel fearful in those situations we seek safe places – anchors. Sometimes those safe places are good places to be, but often they are not. That’s why some people try to hold on to unhealthy ‘anchors’ such as drugs, abusive relationships, alcoholism, or some other ‘vice’ in a deluded attempt to alleviate a fear in the moment. The problem is that it doesn’t stop the fear. In fact, it only exasperates the fears already being faced.

We Christians may not admit it, but we often do the same thing as it pertains to our walk of faith. There’s a tendency to believe that it’s the extra ‘things’, the rules and regulations in our ‘religiosity’ that we need in order to be safe, to anchor us. So, we set up traditions and rules with a spiritual skin wrapped all over it and then call it religion.

In Colossians, Paul refers to four lies about traditions and regulations that 90% of us Christians admit to having held onto at some point in our faith journey (the other 10% lied about not going there). The thing is that they don’t add a lick to our spiritual identities and most certainly do not make us ever feel sufficiently safe in our eternal futures. Legalistic rules filled with tradition or perceived biblical rules, that end up just becoming cheap substitutes for what should be the goal of our lives as Christians – To glorify God in and through our lives and to enjoy being in his amazing presence forever.

What could be these 4 lies then that Paul speaks to?

Lie # 1 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you an acceptable Christian

“Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” – Colossians 2:16

So often we find ourselves worried about what others think, about making sure we look good and that we are doing the right ‘Christian’ (religious) thing. What ends up happening is that we surround ourselves with so many religious safety nets that we can’t see Jesus for the rules. Jesus wasn’t about rules – he was about relationship.

Much too often, we come into the body of Christ and are quickly introduced to something other than the gospel… legalism. Legalism refers to an emphasis on man-made rules and prohibitions as the standard for spirituality. Someone tells you how wrong it is to indulge in certain practices that ‘they’ have deemed unacceptable in the Christian community.

These individuals are not only convinced that these practices are wrong but consider it their duty to judge you as less Christ like because you do them! “Don’t play cards… Don’t watch movies… Don’t drink wine… Don’t get a tattoo…etc.”. As if Jesus isn’t near good enough to have taken care of the law for us. Listen, if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit about some of those things in your life then by all means listen to and obey the Holy Spirit as you’re convicted, but it’s not your or my job to convict others where there is no conviction in their lives about these things or practices…you nor I am the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, there are house rules that we as a community must live by… thou shall not kill (good house rule). Thou shall not commit adultery (another good one). Love each other (a great law to live by). But where there isn’t a direction by the word of God I can’t go around and hold up man-made laws or traditions as though they have the same weight as the word of God. Where one person has liberties in an area with God another may not. We can’t make those demands on others let alone ourselves.

Just look in Romans 8 where we see how Jesus fulfilled the law, both its moral demands and its ceremonial demands. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:3-4

If keeping the Law could not make us acceptable before we received Christ, why do we think that keeping the law can make us acceptable after we are believers? Or as Paul rhetorically phrased it… “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” – Galatians 3:3

Sadly, many genuine believers are living under some form of a yoke of bondage, thinking if I just do this or do that, I’ll be more acceptable to God. They may not say this overtly but their actions betray them.

The point is that the consumption of food and drink is in itself no basis for judging a person’s acceptability with God or standing in God’s family. To be sure Paul had to deal with the abuse of food and drink; the problem of eating meat offered to idols and the problem of drunkenness (1 Corinthians 8, 11:21; Romans 14). But his approach to these abuses was never to forbid food or drink. It was always to forbid what destroyed God’s temple and injured faith. He taught the principle of love, but did not dictate its application with regulations in matters of food and drink.

Lie # 2 – Legalistic rules and regulations say that Jesus isn’t sufficient

“These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”  – Colossians 2:17-18

I recall watching the cartoon version of Peter Pan as a child and being fascinated by the shadow of Peter. It had a life of its own and in many ways, was an independent entity apart from its owner. I remember as an 8-year-old trying endlessly to ‘awaken’ my shadow so that we could enjoy separate adventures – together. Remember I was only 8. It didn’t take me long to discover that In the real world  a shadow has no substance, and for that matter has no independent existence. It simply is a proof of the fact that there is a reality somewhere behind it making it happen. It is not solid or real – simply a copy of the real thing. Much like Pepsi is to Coke. No matter how hard I tried to make my shadow ‘real’ it was always going to be lifeless, it was always going to be just a copy. Paul is stressing to us that legalism through rules and regulations are only insufficient “shadows” that do nothing to put us into right relationship with God and most certainly don’t make us safe.

In my wallet you might not find much money but you will find pictures of my kids. I value these photographs and look at them occasionally when I am away from home. But what would you think if I propped up these pictures all over my house or office and talked to them and tried to relate to them? You would think I’d gone a little crazy – and rightly so. But, more than that, I would lose connection with the very people whose pictures I hold. They would end up feeling ignored and our relationship would be damaged and would most likely end.

That is what Paul says is wrong with shadows. If you continue to give the shadow key significance after the real person or thing has been identified, you’ll only end up killing your opportunity to enjoy the real person or thing itself. here’s the point. There are times we put more trust than we think into our rituals or regulations than we do in Jesus. If you don’t believe me then ask yourself… do you feel better about your relationship with God after you read the bible for a week or if you have been attending church every Sunday for three months than when you didn’t read the Word as much or missed church for a few weeks? Or do you feel that God’s depth of love for you is dictated by how well you serve him? Or have you ever said, “Well i’m not really being that good of a Christian” as if you were the one sanctifying you?

I absolutely understand that we learn more about who God is as we read and pray and serve… but we need to do those things out of love & not because they are rules, things we need to do as a ‘good’ christian. What Paul is telling us is that the reality in our faith is Jesus, not other ‘things’ such as rules, regulations or otherwise. It’s him, not the shadow, that journeys with us through life, who comforts us when we need it and gives us the strength to face temptation. But when we forget that, we then are believing that rules & regulations are more sufficient in making us Christlike than Christ himself.

So do we truly believe that Jesus is sufficient? Truth is that God couldn’t love us any more than he already does. Remember that God doesn’t have lots of love to give – He is love and so is an endless reservoir of love. But when we trust more in regulations and those rules we place on ourselves and others… then it means we really don’t believe that God really loves us like he said he does or that Jesus is truly sufficient enough to take care of us… because if we truly believed the truth about him, well then we’d never rely on those shadows again.

Lie # 3 – Legalistic rules and regulations deny the authority of Jesus

“And not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. – Colossians 2:19

Jesus is to be “the head of the body,” a metaphor that demonstrates the authority of Christ over the church as well as the dependence the church is to place in Christ (Colossians 1:18). That’s what the writer of Hebrews puts so much effort into doing throughout the book of Hebrews. Attempting to show us the superiority and authority of Jesus Christ over and above all of the shadows of the Old Testament. We are not to content ourselves with shadows when we can fill ourselves with the real thing. And “Jesus is ‘the real thing’.

When we die to self and live to make him known, when we can’t help but love our fellow disciples, when we crave the word of God, when we welcome discipline and tribulations in our lives because we know we are being made into the image of Christ, when we seek out fellowship with other believers because we love being with God’s people we can know that as we grow, all our spiritual growth has as its ultimate focus – Jesus.

Avoid the false teachings, the legalistic rules, the empty rituals and the unsatisfying regulations that move us away from Christ, and instead take advantage of the things God has given for growth.

Lie # 4 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you holy

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 2:20-23

The false teachers in Paul’s day practised asceticism, which was a poor attempt at freeing the spirit from the ‘prison’ of the body. The view that the body was evil eventually found its way into the church. In fact, there were many who began to find ways to punish their bodies believing that this was a way to free their spirit from the body. A monk named Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet. I’m sure his cell probably smelled like a lot of guys’ dorm rooms. Even Martin Luther, before discovering the truth of justification by faith, nearly wrecked his health through asceticism.

Paul addresses a similar issue in Galatians 4 writing that while we were children, we were held in bondage under the ‘elemental’ things of the world. Elemental is from the Greek meaning “rank” used to speak of basic, foundational things like ABC’s or 123’s. Paul was saying that these rituals of human religion they were engaged in were elemental because they are only human, and could never rise to the level of the divine.  But he asks then that now that they’ve come to know God, how in the world could they go back to grade 2 – to the ABC’s? Do they really think that these rituals, holy days, and rules of diet will do it for them? Do they really want to be enslaved all over again?

Legalism only leads us back to unchristian slavery instead of freedom in Christ, and in any event, doesn’t free us from our lusts, at the very best keeps them on a leash which just isn’t good enough. Rules and regulations will not, and cannot make us holy.

The great news is that through our union with Christ, we, the redeemed are set free from man-made rules designed to promote spirituality and holiness.

What are the legalistic rules, regulations & traditions that you or I hold onto while we live out our own faith journey experience? What are those things we need to let go of in order to truly experience freedom in Christ and find safety in our relationship with God? True Christian safety and freedom never comes from restraining desires by rules and regulations, but from the death of evil desires and the springing to life of good desires. And this can only happen as we grow in deep love with Jesus and know him intimately, asking him to fill us with his spirit in order to be empowered to live for him. And as we grow we can know that he will complete the work that he began. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6