Archive for June, 2012

Do you believe in karma like the person who created this internet meme? Most people in our culture probably do, even if they don’t realize it. And that’s no surprise; a majority of us are brought up to understand that what we do (or don’t do) will be paid back.

In fact, I imagine many parents slip into teaching this kind of thing, if only as a desperate measure to keep little Johnny from running wild in the grocery store.

But the first thing I thought when I read that ‘billboard’ was “Yikes!” I don’t want to get what I deserve. And when it comes right down to it, I suspect you don’t, either.

Our culture may tell us we’re all OK people, but think about it:

  • Do you really give as much time/finances to charity as you should? I don’t.
  • Are you really, really committed to telling the truth? I like to think I am, but the truth is different, despite my best efforts.
  • When the name of someone you know comes up in conversation, do you jump in by revealing something negative about them? I’ve caught myself doing just that.
  • Do you fall short on doing all that you really can do for the environment? I plead guilty.
  • When you think carefully about your behaviour, do you find there are times when you’ve taken out your frustrations on others? I have.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve gotten the point. None of us are really as “good” as we should be. All of us regularly miss the mark on being the kind of person we could be.

So, do you want to get called on the carpet for all the bad things you’ve done – and all the good things you HAVEN’T done? I don’t. And that’s just one little reason why I decided to become follow Jesus of Nazareth, who many people believe is the Son of God.

Jesus followers believe this statement, found in one of the original source documents about Jesus’ life on Earth: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost, but have eternal life.”

In other words, when you believe that Jesus died to make up for all your screw-ups and when you decide to trust your life to him, there is no more karma. You no longer get what you deserve. You get way, WAY better.

In fact, not only can you get a sense of what one of Jesus’s original followers called a peace that goes beyond your ability to understand it, you also receive assurance that that when this life is over, you’ll spend eternity hanging out with Jesus.

This sounds like a fabulous offer. Do you agree? Post a comment and let’s start a conversation.

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Robin Williams. Whitney Houston. Kurt Cobain. Cory Monteith. All these entertainers had one thing in common: extraordinary God-given talent.

As a result (at least in part…) of that talent, they achieved everything our culture says should lead to permanent happiness and fulfillment. They were fabulously wealthy. They had throngs of adoring fans. They earned the highest honours possible in their industries. They were hugely admired by their peers.

Our culture says they had it made. So what happened – or, more importantly, what didn’t happen – that ended their lives so early?

  • Williams, the Academy-Award winning actor (for 1997’s Good Will Hunting) and an incredible comedian, died of a suicide-related asphyxiation at age 63.
  • Monteith was one of the stars of Glee, a popular TV show in North America. He grew up with substance abuse problems and that didn’t change when Glee transformed him into an award-winning celebrity. He died in 2013 from an overdose of drugs and alcohol.
  • Cobain, singer, songwriter and guitarist with the groundbreaking, phenomenally popular grunge music band Nirvana, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1994. He was 27.
  • Houston, 48, who sold more than 170 million albums and collected 415 career awards, was found dead in her hotel room in 2012. She had a history of erratic behaviour and cocaine abuse.

Sadly, we can add more names onto this list of icons who had drug and/or alcohol problems and died early: singers Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse and Jim Morrison, plus guitar god Jimi Hendrix and Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Where was the fulfillment promised by our culture? These people should have been much, much happier than you and me. Their tragic deaths make a clear and consistent case for that promise being an empty lie.

Their wealth didn’t satisfy, their awards apparently brought only temporary happiness, and there was no fulfillment to be had in their fans or peers.

So what (or who) CAN bring real, lasting satisfaction and fulfillment? Could it be…God? Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher, certainly thought so. One of his most famous quotes says, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus [of Nazareth, who many people believe is God’s Son].”

Why is this possible? Because a life-changing relationship with God, through His son, doesn’t depend on anything our culture has to offer. Rich or poor, famous or obscure – these things mean nothing to God. In fact, a relationship with God doesn’t depend on anything in our resumes. It depends on Him.

Consider these three words from an ancient follower of Jesus: “God is love”. That fact explains why He sent Jesus to die for all the wrong things we’ve done and the right things we haven’t done.

He loves us and wants to wipe the slate clean of what some people call “sins” so there is nothing blocking the way to a satisfying, fulfilling, and eternal relationship with us. All we have to do is believe this and claim Jesus as our saviour.

Does this make sense? Agree or not, post a comment below and let’s start a conversation.

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Forrest Gump, the Academy Award-winning movie, bowled me over when it first came out in 1994.

So when I encountered it while flipping channels the other night, I stopped and relived the magic of Tom Hanks portraying the slow-witted, über-innocent Forrest as he fights in Vietnam, meets presidents, runs across the United States, becomes a millionaire in the shrimp business and fathers a son with the love of his life.

More than Forrest, however, what sticks with me is his Vietnam platoon leader, Lieutenant Dan Taylor. Lieut. Dan (played by Gary Sinise) is saved in battle by Forrest, but his legs are so badly injured they must be amputated.

Dan curses Forrest for saving him and curses God for leaving him a wheelchair-bound cripple. He plunges into a life of drugs, liquor, prostitutes, and squalor.

Still, Dan can’t seem to stay away from Forrest and when Forrest goes into the shrimping business with his own boat, Dan and his wheelchair show up to join him. Their conversations are often spiritually charged, with Dan throwing out bitter barbs about God.

At one point, after their shrimp nets come up empty yet again, Dan caustically demands, “Where the hell is this God of yours?”

The answer comes moments later when a storm comes up, tossing the boat in gigantic wind-whipped waves. Where is Dan through all this? He’s hoisted himself to the top of the boat’s mast where, like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, he has his life-defining confrontation with the beast. For Ahab, it was the great whale; for Dan, it’s God.

“You call this a storm?” he screams above the hurricane. “It’s time for a showdown – you and me! I’m right here, come and get me!!”

If you saw Forrest Gump, you might recall the boat didn’t sink. In fact, it was the only shrimping vessel in the area undamaged by the storm and, as a result, Forrest and Dan had no competition for the shrimp.

They become rich off the bountiful harvest and a later scene shows a relaxed Dan finally thanking Forrest for saving him in Vietnam. Near the movie’s end, Dan shows up at Forrest’s wedding – clean, sober, with prosthetic legs and a fiancé. He’s whole again.

What can one conclude from this? One commentator on Youtube notes “where Lt. Dan ultimately surrenders and survives, Ahab remained stubborn to the end and died in the wreck (of his whaling boat).”

This conclusion makes sense. It’s certainly a notion that resonates in my life. By finally surrendering my questions about God and Jesus, I opened the door to spiritual wholeness – a real, life-changing relationship with Jesus.

It reminds me of something I read by an ancient writer: “I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

Is there a point of pride or anger in your life, or the life of someone you know, that’s keeping the door closed to a relationship with God and his Son?

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ReligiousSymbolsHere’s a statement that might get you scratching your head: I’m a serious follower of Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God), but I’m not into religion.

Huh? For a lot of people, religion and spirituality are the same thing. But many people of faith will tell you that’s not so.

Psychiatrist Richard Pratt sees the difference this way: “Religion is a search for peace and security in an unsure world. Spirituality is that personal urge many of us have within, to listen to an inner voice from a deep ‘something’ that is calling us from the inside out.”

There’s nothing wrong with searching for peace and security. In fact, my commitment to following Jesus provides just that. However, it’s my faith, NOT my religion.

Fine, fine, you say. But am I guilty of linguistic hair-splitting? Some might say yes, but I’ve often found that religious people can be unpleasant and “legalistic” — that is, they spend too much time making sure they and people around them are obeying rules and keeping up proper appearances. Often, these rules and appearances have nothing to do with following Jesus.

There’s no shortage of examples: earrings on guys; drinking the occasional glass of beer or wine; attending a mainstream rock concert; getting a tattoo; shopping on Sunday; smoking cigarettes or cigars; missing a church service now and then.

Granted, just about everyone knows smoking is terrible for your health, but guess what: Jesus never called it a sin. In fact, He never mentioned smoking, tattoos, earrings, mainstream music and “religiously” attending worship services are not mentioned at all. Alcohol? One of the four original-source biographies recounting the life of Jesus has Him turning water into wine at a wedding.

So where does this “religious” drive come from? Part of our desire for peace and security translates into everyone thinking and acting similarly. That makes it easy for people to see who’s “with us” and who’s not. But it seems clear to me that God didn’t make the world for me or anyone else to mindlessly brand (and by brand, I mean “judge”) others.

In fact, Jesus had an issue with this branding/judging. One of His most famous instructions is to avoid judging people because whatever standard we use in our judging, that same standard will be used against us.

Paul, an early and influential Jesus follower, wrote a powerful reminder for all people: “It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between — not each other.”

I hope this means something to you, if you’ve ever been left with a bad taste after encountering a religious Jesus follower. And it’s my prayer that Paul’s reminder will stick with me, no matter who I encounter in this life.

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How’s this for a rags-to-riches story?

When 2011 started, Ted Williams was a homeless man in Columbus, Ohio. He possessed an incredibly rich, refined announcer’s voice, but lost everything else and became a convicted felon due to drugs and alcohol.

Then a guy made a quickie video of him on the street, begging for handouts. Ted spoke on film, mimicking a radio announcer (his former career), and the guy put the video on YouTube.

Well, faster than a government runs up debt, the video went viral. It was viewed by 13 million people and, overnight, Ted Williams and his amazing voice became a star. Talk shows battled to get him on TV first, thousands of newspapers published articles on him, and job offers poured in from companies such as Kraft, MTV, and the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team.

Through it all, Williams, 53, did three things: vowed to get his life together, be a real dad to his nine children, and give credit where credit belongs.

“The difference between my successes of years gone by is that I didn’t acknowledge the Lord or thank him for anything before,” he told CBS Early Show. “This time around, I have God in my life, acknowledging him on a daily basis. I’ve found a new sense of spirituality now.”

This led USA Today to asked readers “Do you think God or a YouTube video gone viral was the key to Ted Williams’ great second chance?”

One anonymous responder declared, “Why attribute the kindness of society to ‘God’ when ‘God’ clearly wasn’t listening to this man FOREVER?”

Another person wrote, “It was Youtube and the dude who filmed Ted who deserve most of the credit, but I can’t really find fault in the guy’s statement. I’m sure his faith got him through a lot of cold nights.”

Finally, I found this comment: “God is willing to use whatever predicament we’ve got ourselves into – good or bad – to help us see Him. Those who catch a glimpse of Him and hunger for more, will find more if they seek Him.”

So, if you believe in God, did He ignore Ted Williams for years? Was it just a random YouTube video that turned Ted’s fortunes around?

Valid answers to each question can be based on what you want to believe.

Maybe God had a very good reason for waiting so many years before giving Ted Williams a chance to change his life. And maybe God worked through YouTube to achieve his goals with Ted. Sound preposterous?  Then consider these words from God, channeled through an ancient prophet: “I [God] don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

The bottom line is: do you want to think of God as a big nothing or a distant ogre? Or do you want your life enriched – just as Ted Williams’ life was enriched – by thinking of God as the loving creator of the universe who cares so much for us that He sent his Son Jesus to live, die, and come back to life for us?

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question_mark_blueWe live in mystery.

It’s not something people talk about much. But it’s as constant as the northern star and worthy of examination.

Some people like to talk about knowing God. And that is possible for people of faith, especially those who follow Jesus of Nazareth, who many people believe is the son of God. But the mystery remains.

An ancient wisdom writer puts it this way: “When I determined to load up on wisdom and examine everything taking place on earth, I realized that if you keep your eyes open day and night without even blinking, you’ll still never figure out the meaning of what God is doing on this earth. Search as hard as you like, you’re not going to make sense of it. No matter how smart you are, you won’t get to the bottom of it.”

When asked about the end of the world, Jesus told His followers, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

So there it is. Mystery, haunting us like it haunted the people of Jesus’ day.

For me, the mystery extends to something most of us don’t think about: what we eat.

I was a vegetarian for 20 years. It was due to ethical reasons and, when I made that choice in 1997, it was with a great deal of emotion and I opted to end any sort of conscious and intentional relationship with God.

But still, the mystery remained, confounding me like a concrete wall I could not climb over or see around. It dominated my psyche and, I’m sure, sometimes made me unpleasant to be around.

Finally, after five years of a face-to-face confrontation with this wall, the anger quietly gave way to a grey numbness. People who have known me for a long time can tell you I’m not a grey person and I don’t do numbness well, so I took the advice of a friend and turned away from the wall.

That turning away was in the form of prayers, spoken on a ski resort chair lift with a friend who follows Jesus.

They weren’t the anguished words of confession or a heartfelt cry of release. They were more like the opening salvo in contract negotiations, something along the lines of “let’s try to find a way to get along.”

In retrospect, it’s clear they were the words for which God was patiently waiting, because when we were next on the chair lift and my buddy asked how I felt, I replied, in a tone of utter astonishment, that I felt better.

The facts that influenced my becoming a vegetarian are as rock-hard real today as they were in 1997. But what happened that day in the Rocky Mountains, and has progressed to this, is I finally, finally let God be God.

That means I agreed to accept and become comfortable with the mystery of Him — the fact there are things we fragile, imperfect humans can never hope to understand during our time on planet Earth.

For many people, this isn’t easy to do. My own experience is glow-in-the-dark proof. But think of it this way: Would you really WANT to understand everything about our creator? He wouldn’t be much of a God then, would He?

Over the years, another friend has often had an email signature that said ‘Living in His mystery.’ For me, once the notion of living in God’s mystery became acceptable, I began to rejoice in it, to realize this is a vital part of taking a step of faith that makes this confession: God is God. And I am not.

What do you think? Does this make any sense? Post a comment below and let’s start a conversation.

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