Visiting a Snake Handling Church

Reposted from 9 November 2016

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Last Friday, I visited a snake handling church.  It took several months to find it, because the practice is extremely rare.  The church is located in Section, Alabama, which is a little less than 2 hours from where I live.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos to share.  I wanted to take pictures; however, it seemed disrespectful.  I also felt like I would be violating their privacy.

I was concerned about how the church members would react to me.  There is no way I could just blend in with the regulars.  I have very short hair, I am covered in tattoos, and I was wearing pants.  However, they were nice and welcomed me to the church.  Several of the ladies took time to talk with me and the preacher even invited me to have dinner at his house with him and his family.

The first part of the service involves worshipping God by singing and offering praises.  They used various instruments and it was rather loud.  People raised their hands and their bodies would shake as they were worshiping.  Others walked around the building and prayed in tongues.

During the singing portion, the preacher picked up a copperhead snake and raised it into the air.  A second man also tried to pick up the snake, but the snake attempted to bite the man.  The preacher came over and prayed for the man, so he could try again.  His next attempt was successful and he also held the snake over his head.

Several other men held a small flaming torch and they started putting their hands on top of the flames.  They also held the torch close to their chest and directly under their chins.  After a few seconds, they praised God for not allowing them to get hurt by the flames and passed the torch to another man.

I was disturbed by the small children playing in the aisle ways of the church.  A two year old girl was allowed to room free as they were worshiping.  What if someone drops the poisonous snake and the child happens to be near them?

The worship lasted an hour and was followed by an hour of preaching.  The best way to describe the preacher’s sermon, it was convoluted.  The preacher jumped from one topic to another and then back to a previous topic.

The main points of his sermon:  it’s a sin for men to have long hair, it’s a sin for women to have short hair, it’s a sin for women to use makeup, it’s a sin for women to wear pants, it’s a sin for women to be in a leadership position over a man, if you are filled with the Holy Spirit you will speak in tongues, you must be baptized in Jesus name to be saved, you must be filled with the spirit and speak in tongues to be saved, other denominations are sending everyone to hell by teaching false doctrine, you should only marry a holiness person, and failure to keep any of the commandments will result in physical illnesses as well as an eternity in hell.

At the end of his sermon, the preacher looked at me and said God will accept you as you are and if your hair is short you can still come unto God and be saved.  Even though it’s awkward when the preacher speaks directly to you and everyone in the congregation knows what he is talking about, I felt like he was trying to reach out and teach the gospel.  He did not condemn at any time, so that’s a plus.

All in all, I am glad I went to the service.  It was an interesting experience and I learned a few things about a fringe religious group that I didn’t know.

 

What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert

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I live in an area known as the Bible Belt.  The majority of the population identifies as Christian and has some exposure to basic Bible principles (regardless of church attendance or religious practices).

However, some Christian leaders fear this may work in a negative way.  People are comfortable with their limited knowledge and never truly seek to understand the gospel message.

I was talking with a friend about such issues and he recommend this book.  It’s just over a hundred pages and easy to read.  However, it is full of useful information and puts the gospel message in a whole new light.

There are four main aspects to the gospel (God, man, Christ, response).

God – God is the creator of all things, he is righteous and just, he will not tolerate sin, and will punish the guilty

Man – All of us are guilty.  Sin isn’t just something we do, it is who we are, it is are very nature.  Because of our sin nature, we will be held accountable to God.

Christ – Christ provides hope for mankind.  He was both fully God and fully man, so he is the only one capable of paying the penalty for our sins.  The author sums it up by saying, “He died for me.  They were my transgressions, but his wounds.  My iniquities, but his chastisement.  My sin, his sorrow,  And his punishment bought my peace.  His stripes won my healing.  His grief, my joy.  His death, my life.”

Response – The gospel tells us that faith (reliance) on Christ is required for salvation.  We are also called to repent (ask forgiveness and turn away) of our sins.  Perfection isn’t possible, so repentance is demonstrated by our attitude toward sin.  We can no longer live in peace with our sin.

If you desire to gain a better understanding of the Bible and the gospel message, I highly recommend this book.

 

Great Things From a Little Faith

Matthew 13:31-32

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (ESV)

God understands human frailty.  God uses our faith and efforts to change the world, even if our faith is small.  With God, great things can come from a little faith.

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Become the Greatest of All

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In Matthew 20:26-28, Jesus was telling his disciples how to be great in His kingdom.  Jesus defines greatness and leadership in a way that is contrary to what we normally see in the world.

According to Jesus, having power or privilege is not what makes you great.  Being able to force others to obey you and serve you, does not make you great.

What makes a person great in the Kingdom of God?  Jesus tells us that to be great, to be a leader in His Kingdom, we must be willing to serve.  We must also have an attitude of humility.

It’s our willingness to humble ourselves and serve others that will make us great people and great leaders in this world and in the Kingdom of God.

 

Forgiveness Brings Healing

In Matthew 18:15-35, Jesus teaches his followers about forgiveness.  When I was reading this passage I thought of Dylan Roof.

The family members of those murdered by Dylan Roof, spoke of their hurt and the pain he caused by taking away their loved ones.  However, they also offered forgiveness.

This is a great example of how forgiveness works in the real world.  Dylan Roof was forgiven, but he will still pay for his crimes.  He still owes a debt to society and will be punished.

Dylan Roof may never feel remorse for his actions, but the willingness to forgive still benefits the family members.  It allows them to let go of the hate and anger they feel inside of them.  The family members are free to heal, because of their willingness to forgive.

Forgiveness can be difficult, but it can also bring healing.