Let's Make A Sin Of It

A local church, maybe the biggest one within a few hours’ drive, decided to pick a fight with yoga last Sunday. The effects of which rippled into my orbit in a couple different ways, and it reminded me of why people don’t want to have anything to do with religious gatherings any more. I watched the sermon online, took notes, and had a few things stand out to me during the process.

James River Church.jpg

I’ve never been to this church, but it’s big enough for me to be aware of it, to have come in contact with many people who have attended, and to see their signage in the yards of almost every neighborhood I drive through. They get bad-mouthed a lot by people who have been burned, or turned off by them in some way or another. I take that with a grain of salt, but the rumors are consistent and, out of context, seem pretty off-putting.

For example, there’s a rumor that if you want to be a member of the church, then you have to give them 10% of your income, and you have to prove it by turning in your tax statements at the end of the year. If you hold out, then your membership is revoked. Who knows if that’s true, but I also heard that they have credit card swipers in the pews. What that could be for is beyond me. Would someone just swipe instead of saying “amen”? Anyway, it sounds incredible and I’m not going to go check it out.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that the people who go there seem to be in unison with each other. They all have the same vibe (after hearing the sermon this evening, I know they won’t like that word). They even all go on a specific type of food fast at the same time. It’s to the point of my local health food store putting up signs next to the “approved” foods. I wonder if this is how non-Mormons who live in Utah feel. People around here call this particular church a “cult”, but I’ve always felt like that was a little too far. They all seem to be glazed the same way, but I don’t know about a cult. I guess I need to look up what qualifies as a cult.

kids on halloween.jpg

Another thing I noticed about this church is that the people who attend seem to do whatever is instructed at the pulpit without much question. They have enough political power and money to buy up every available liquor license in the town where the church is located. There are just a couple of exceptions. I heard that from a restaurant owner who was trying futilely to obtain one. A few years back they used the pulpit to campaign to repeal a bill that protected the LGBTQ community from being discriminated against. They were successful and now that portion of my local community can legally be refused service in the name of God anywhere they go. I know this one first hand because I read up on it at the time.

So, yoga.

I do yoga and I like it. I don’t do it (practice it?) as often as I would like, but when I do, I’m glad I took that time out for myself. It stretches my body, challenges my muscles, and makes me feel energized. There’s a series of stretches called a “sun salutation” that stretches out the whole body and gets the blood flowing. From what I experience doing the steps, the order seems to align your body up in such a way that each pose flows into the next without having the kind of poor form that would cause an injury as you stretch and strengthen your muscles. Another part of this type of exercise is the necessity to focus on the way I’m breathing. When I measure my breathing and take deep breaths with the movements, I am engaging my core muscles to move without injury and exhaling to relax into a stretch, thereby stretching further than I would with more tense muscles.

Yoga mat.jpg

About breathing.

We were created to breathe a lot slower and deeper than we typically do. We’re supposed to breathe those long slow breaths like we do when we’re sleeping. Instead, when you compare our day time breathing to our night time breathing, we breathe like we’re scared. Sometimes, we even hold our breath. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common in our lives. A lot of factors contribute to the causes, but the result remains that we aren’t breathing right. Measuring your breath with stretching and strengthening exercises is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. And some of these poses are so challenging that it requires you to pay attention to your balance and breathing so that you don’t topple over. In the process, your thoughts aren’t going to things that stress you out or worry you. They’re focused on that little spot on the floor so you don’t lose your balance. You breathe deep breaths that steady you and you become aware of how strong and capable your body is.

Writing about this makes me think of one of my yoga instructors. She a quiet little thing in her 20s. One morning I was sitting in the hot yoga room before class started. I always try to stretch out the backs of my legs before we start so I can have better form in my forward fold. I’ve been trying to get that one down for months. Flexibility decreases the instances of injury and helps me with my sore muscles from my cross-training classes. I watched her as she walked through the room to check the attendance and adjust the music. I follow her on Instagram and her Story revealed her deep struggle with depression. I like my privacy and respect hers, so I don’t say much. But, the other day she posted a long, heartfelt defense of her reasons for loving yoga. She’s a Christian, she has depression, and, as a yoga instructor in more than one location, she works in an environment that, I can only imagine, is mostly soothing for her. In her note, she used acronyms I didn’t understand, referenced her mental health, and defended her stance as a Christian. I later learned that the acronyms referred to that particular church. It seemed, at the time, that the church burned another one. I sent her a heart. She doesn’t know my story, but I still sent it.

Today, I heard about the yoga sermon from someone who doesn’t even attend that church. I’m not sure she attends any church, actually, which makes me assume that this yoga thing has rippled pretty quickly throughout our local community. It will, no doubt, have an impact on the local yoga studios, too.


The sermon is titled, “Haunted: Pursuing the Paranormal”. Being the Sunday before Halloween, I think the sermon was in honor of the “haunted” season. Churches follow the seasons, too. As I was looking for the video, I noticed they had an “October 31st” party. It’s heavily advertised with costumes, friendly little monsters, and “buckets and buckets” of candy. I roll my eyes at Halloween and the insane amount of candy. I’ll only say one thing though, but four grams of sugar equals a teaspoon of sugar. And, one teaspoon of sugar can lower your immune system by 50% for a few hours after eating it. The whole societal thing around celebrating everything with pounds of sugar just seems irresponsible at best. But, that’s just my take.

Alright, “pursuing the paranormal”.

I’ve got to say, after hearing this sermon, I can see why this guy was so passionate about it. His church has over 9000 people there (I got that number from a 2015 newspaper article, so the number might be different now.) and he’s had some weird stuff come up. One is that he has people sleeping with African dolls in their marital bed in the hopes that it will help them conceive. Another is that he has people holding crystals in their hands in an attempt to make their prayers more powerful. People can get weird sometimes, myself included, and need someone to reel them back in. I get that.

He addressed things, like, don’t go to psychics, or base your future on horoscopes or the planets. Then he mentioned not wearing lucky charms or trusting dream catchers to filter out your bad dreams. Then he talked about Wicca and Earth Day and scary movies. The further into his sermon he got, the weirder it got. Most of his sermon was about how powerful Satan and his demons were. He mentioned God in the beginning, but this sermon was all about Satan and his ever baiting “fallen angels”. All throughout, he talked about the non-Christian, and thereby “demonic”, origins of the different elements of his sermon.

The whole time I was listening, I was thinking, “Sir, your church cancelled your regularly scheduled prayer night to celebrate Halloween”. They don’t call it “Halloween”, they call it “October 31st”. …a rose by any other name… If you’re going to hold your “sheep” accountable to the non-Christian origins of their cultural norms, then shouldn’t it be across the board? Why only a few of them? Do you celebrate Birthdays? Do you have a Birthday cake with candles? Do you have a Christmas tree? Do you even have a few in your church? On stage? If we’re going to dig up the bones of origins and return to them the power that the finished work of Jesus took away, then don’t stop with yoga and dream catchers.

christmas tree.jpg

Birthdays were once rejected by Christianity because they honored the day the flesh was born into sin. Then they changed their minds so they could celebrate the birth of Jesus on a pagan holiday without actually worshipping the same gods the rest of their culture was worshipping. They decided to move the birth of Jesus from January (also not his birthday) to December 25th to fit in. That way, everyone was celebrating on the same day. The birthday cake is actually a replica of the shining moon that is offered to gods to honor them. Making a wish and blowing out the candles represents sending your hopes up with the smoke to the gods for a new year. Halloween is supposed to be the night when the veil between the dead and the living is the thinnest. People wore masks and costumes so they could look like the dead spirits and be among them safely. The evergreen tree brought in the house was supposed to keep evil spirits away and the decorations were originally apples to honor the harvest season. According to this pastor’s logic, Birthdays, Halloween, and Christmas are all rituals that open your lives up to demonic power.

I’m not saying I believe this stuff opens you up to kingdom of Satan and his fallen angles. but it seems this pastor is, and I don’t know why.

Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
— Galatians 2:21 MSG

He went after yoga pretty hard. He said that if you practice yoga, then you’re not a Christian and you’re opening yourself up to demons whether you believe in the origins of yoga or not. Just going through the motions is enough. But, I’ve sat through countless sermons throughout my life where, in the case of worshipping God and opening yourself up to Him, going through the motions isn’t enough. If it’s the truth, shouldn’t it hold up no matter where you put it?

numbered sheep.jpg

He seems like a well-intentioned guy who has a very big job of keeping thousands of people within his fences. I think his rules regarding tithing and Christian living as he sees it are all designed to keep people from getting lost out in the “world”. He makes it easy to follow the church’s rules by holding them accountable to disciplinary action, offering alternative celebrations, and enough on-campus activities and opportunities that no-one really needs to go anywhere else. The problem with this is that if you follow a set of rules to keep you clean, then you forfeit your claim on the finished work of Jesus and you can’t just follow a few of the rules, you have to follow all of them (Galatians 5). The thing is, if righteousness could come by following a set of rules, then Jesus didn’t need to come (Galatians 2).

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.
— Galatians 5:1-3 MSG

He said that even if you chant the name of Jesus while you’re practicing yoga, it won’t protect you from the demonic powers. Has he declawed his version of The Lion of Judah? Who is Jesus to him? And what did his idea of Jesus accomplish? He said that if you’ve practiced yoga before, to not be scared, but if you practice yoga after hearing his sermon, that you should be afraid.

Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.
— Romans 14:13-14 MSG

He’s just contaminated what was once an uncontaminated form of exercise. He’s created a stumbling block in the path of people he’s supposed to be leading. This type of preaching gives the feeling that the Keys of Death have been handed back to the “father of lies”. Jesus says to not be afraid, but this preacher is telling people to be afraid. Why?

You are saved by what you believe. You are destroyed by what you believe. You are healed by what you believe, set free by what you believe, forgiven by what you believe, and empowered by what you believe. Why doesn’t this “shepherd” of thousands of sheep preach the power of God as the catastrophic weapon against any evil that lurks? You know why you’re not supposed to go to psychics? Because you’ll believe them, and thereby, limit your options to whatever that person, who is not all-knowing God and not interested in your best, wants to speak into you on that particular day. You’re changed by what you believe, so don’t consult with the dead.

People who are afraid are easy to control. What person, what organization, what spiritual entity, what supernatural kingdom wins, prevails, or gains ground on the field of belief when the people are afraid?

Why is this preacher affirming the power of Satan? Why is he telling people that, even if they don’t intend evil, that even having a scary picture on your bedroom wall can cause your house to be haunted? Why is he preaching fear? If his sermon was just informational about the history of some of these practices, then his people could use their own measure of faith to navigate their own superstitions and live out their own relationship with God as He has revealed Himself to them. No Truth seeker will be left to the tricks of the father of lies. You no longer need a priest or a set of rules when you have the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:18).

Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help.
— Matthew 23:4 MSG

I’m annoyed by the preaching of fear. Fear shackles people to rules, undermines the finished work of Jesus, and leaves no acknowledgment of the Love and power of God. When you say stuff like, “if you do this, then you’re communing with demons”, then how do you think people are going to treat those who don’t buy the fear and still do “this”. You’ve got a group of people afraid on a lot of levels. They’re afraid of workout places that may offer yoga classes, they’re afraid of music, smells, instructors and students. Fear causes divisions, violence, hate, judgment, and condemnation. That’s not from God. That’s the stuff of godlessness.

If you, like me, are bogged down by this fear inducing negativity, then read John 16 as a spiritual pallet cleanser. It’s reminder that we have the Holy Spirit to clarify all of this stuff and that, even though we’ll experience disputes and dissensions in this world, Jesus has already conquered it (John 16:33).