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Archive for July, 2012

The Calgary Sun article was incredibly sad. It detailed how a grieving mother struggled to understand an unprovoked, random attack that killed her son.

After painting a glowing picture of the 37-year-old victim, the reporter quoted the mom as saying “We mere mortals will never understand why, but God only wants the good ones.”

As painful as the article was to read, and as much as my heart went out to the mother, her words caused my brain to pause and ponder.

Who are the “good ones”? Are they funny, shy, gentle computer experts like the victim in this terrible event? What about someone who’s caused horrible pain to others, then turned his or her life around and tried to fix the damage? What if, somewhere down the road, that someone is the man charged in this Calgary murder?

There are some challenging forgiveness issues here. But there’s something else, too.

I happened to come across something in the Bible by St. Paul, a missionary who helped spread Christianity in the Meditteranean. He wrote, “There’s nobody living right, not even one.”

If you believe that, then everyone – even St. Paul, even murderers and their random victims – is included in that levelling-the-playing-field statement. So if nobody’s “living right”, does God want any of us? Absolutely!

I’ve heard it said that at its heart, the Bible is all about us wildly imperfect humans spurning God and all about Him refusing to walk away from us, refusing to stop loving us, refusing to rescind the invitation to have a relationship with Him, through Jesus, that lasts for eternity.

Looking for proof? Check out what I found in the Bible: “God does not want anyone to be lost, but He wants all people to change their hearts and lives.”

That means every person on this planet, from Nelson Mandela to convicted sicko Paul Bernardo to the Calgary killer, is in his sights. Everyone is invited home. What’s keeping you from accepting the invitation?

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What’s with this “worship” thing?

I used to ask that question when I passed by churches and the sign referred to Sunday “worship services”. Or, if I was at a service and the musicians started playing “worship songs”.

I just couldn’t figure it out. Why would the creator and master of time, space and the universe need us to worship Him? Does that mean He has a universe-sized ego that requires stroking? Really?? If that’s the case, why? I mean, it’s not like he has a lot of competition from other gods, right?

I used to ask my Christian friends about this, but never received a credible answer. And those questions were among the things that kept me from having a relationship with God and Jesus. I associate monumental egos with sickos like Adolf Hitler, terrorist Osama Bin Laden and Canadian torture killer Paul Bernardo. So if that was part of God’s makeup, then I didn’t want anything to do with Him.

I’m not sure when that changed, but as someone with a deep and life-long passion for music, it had to do with hearing songs by amazing Christian artists such as Russ Taff and Whiteheart. In a literate and talented way, these folks presented a very different picture of God than the one I grew up. And that picture sure didn’t fit with an egomaniac.

So I started to worship. THEN I understood and that took me to a deeper place with Jesus (whom serious Christians, and many others, believe is the son of God).

Here’s the deal: think of your relationship with your spouse/significant other as a micro-version of your relationship with God. When you express love for your spouse/significant other, that opens the door for them to return the favour.

That’s how it is with God. When I stand in church, or at a Christian concert, and tell Jesus how much I love Him, I’m lowering the drawbridge to my heart and soul to receive that love back. And guess what? That’s exactly what happens.

Until we make that love offering – to our spouses/significant others AND to God – we just aren’t in the right emotional and spiritual place to receive it back. But when we do, it’s an incredible bargain because we receive far more than what we ‘put out’. At least that’s my experience.

What do you think…does this put the notion of worshipping God into an understandable and – more importantly – credible place for you?

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Some days I’m simply struck by the disposable, here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of life in North America.

A cellphone manufacturer has recently been in the news; it’s in trouble because a new version of its phone won’t be ready for another six months. Meanwhile, the company’s latest phone is less than two years old.

Then I look through magazines for photographers and runners (both are passions for me). They are filled with advertisements and articles about the latest cameras and shoes.

I’m amazed at how many cameras one manufacturer can put on the market and how the entire idea is to make you feel ashamed to leave the house with that outdated two-year-old waste of materials.

Running shoes? Manufacturers “update” their product lines every six months. Sometimes, that means little more than changing the colour of the trim. Nevertheless, that’s apparently worth articles and ads to subtly tell you to get with it and swap your hideous current shoes for something that’s sure to be infinitely better.

All this makes me long for something permanent (besides death, taxes and government deficits, that is) and something that doesn’t have a ‘best before’ date.

Is it out there? Yes it is.

People like me, who take the Bible seriously, get a great deal of strength and peace in this excerpt, from a section called ‘Hebrews’: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

The Jesus that Christians believed in and followed a thousand years ago – because they knew He loved them enough to sacrifice himself for their wrongdoings – is not only still around, He’s still loving you, me and everyone else today.

That Jesus – whom serious Christians believe is the son of God – is still knocking at the door to our hearts, asking to come in, be our best friend, strengthen us for the hard times and show us how to be the person He wants us to be.

Looking for evidence? Consider this Bible excerpt, from a section called ‘1 Timothy’: “God wants everyone to be saved and to fully understand the truth”.

He wanted that 2,000 years ago (when this section of the Bible was written) and, 2,000 years from now, He’ll still want it.

I don’t know about you, but I find that incredibly comforting. No matter what you’ve done (or not done), no matter how you’ve treated family members and work colleagues (or been mistreated by them), no matter what temptations you’ve given in to.

Jesus’ offer of a new life now – and an eternal life when your body gives out – still stands. No strings attached. All you have to do is hear Him knocking and open the door.

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If you like Jesus, but don’t care for the Christian church, this news item may have grabbed your attention: bestselling vampire novelist Anne Rice, who returned to her Roman Catholic faith in 1998, renounced Christianity in 2010, but retained her commitment to following Jesus.

Is such a thing possible? Ms Rice (best known for writing Interview With The Vampire and The Vampire Lestat) certainly thinks so.

Writing on her Facebook page, Ms Rice declared, “It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

At the same time, she maintained, “My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God, is crucial to me.”

The reaction to all this has been hugely mixed. Some people are sad, others (unfortunately) declare “good riddance” and some are understanding.

I fall into the latter camp. There’s no doubt about it, Christians and their churches are a motley crew who exhibit all the traits of humanity. That means we can be, and often are, petty, smug, self-righteous, self-centered, intentionally blind to our own screw-ups while judging others’ failures, quarrelsome, pessimistic, and more. You get the picture, right?

However, I’m puzzled as to why Ms. Rice found this so intolerable. I don’t believe any human being on this planet today – Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, etc. – is immune to at least some of the same shortcomings. Is she?

The Christian church is made up of gloriously imperfect people, so it’s certainly no more virtuous than many other institutions. The trouble is, there was a time when church leaders held it up as a model of morality. Even though few leaders make that mistake today, the residue of that time continues and, in the eyes of the media and militant atheists, this makes the church a safe and easy target.

There are three points that Ms. Rice, and anyone pondering a life of faith, should consider:

1.  Today’s Christian church makes a hugely positive contribution to the world in everything from providing for the poor and helping single mothers to improving their communities and supplying aid to developing nations.
In all this, today’s churches are guided by Jesus, who tells His followers to care for the needy, love their enemies and treat people the way they themselves would like to be treated. Almost every other organization that’s committed to doing good works tries to follow these guidelines, whether they know it or not.

2.  Serious followers of Jesus realize they are called to be in a church. I found a passage in the Bible that almost seems addressed to people like Anne Rice: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”

3.  Being part of a church, no matter how imperfect it may be, helps serious Christians deepen their faith and resist some of the nasty temptations offered up by our culture, such as pornography, shop-til-you-drop lifestyles, gambling, and dog-eat-dog competitivenes.

It’s not always easy being part of a church. But for most serious Christians, the go-it-alone alternative is worse. I happily anticipate the day Anne Rice realizes this.

So, have you walked away from attending church? If so, why? And do the three points listed above make any difference in your viewpoint?

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Canadian politician/author/inventor/journalist/broadcaster Charles Templeton was a mostly brilliant jack-of-all-trades. But I’ve left one “occupation” out because it’s poignant and sad and, perhaps, telling the story can help us thoughtfully consider our lives.

Templeton (1915-2001) was also a gifted evangelist who was once on par with Billy Graham. In fact, they travelled the continent together as a team. Templeton hosted a weekly Christian TV show in the United States, regularly preached at massive crusades and, during the 1950s, was a towering leader in the North American church.

But Templeton also had nagging doubts about Christianity – doubts which eventually led him to become an agnostic (someone who simply doesn’t know if there is a God) and walk away from the ministry.

I used to listen to Templeton every morning on Toronto’s CKEY radio. So once I became a Christian and discovered his past, Templeton’s story intrigued me to the point of writing a Calgary Herald review of his 1996 book Farewell To God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.

What that book left out was an incident from when he was struggling with his faith. Templeton had what can only be called a mystical experience, where he “saw” God and Jesus weeping for the sins, wars, and hatreds of humanity. As he wrote in another book, his anecdotal memoir:

“When I became conscious of my surroundings again, I was lying on the wet grass, convulsed by sobs. I had been outside myself and didn’t know for how long. Later, I couldn’t sleep and trembled as though with a fever at the thought that I had caught a glimpse through the veil.”

Templeton tried to repeat the experience, which is bizarre because how would one go about “creating” such an extraordinary event? When he couldn’t, Templeton researched mystical experiences until concluding they were not unusual, and in his words, “of no special significance. Mystical experience has added no insight to our knowledge of God or to Christian doctrine.”

Not unusual? Of no special significance?? People all over this planet would love to have the sort of mystical experience that was bestowed on Templeton, regardless of belief level. Indeed, Mother Teresa spent most of her adult life praying (in vain) to experience God this way. And what “authority” declared mystical experiences are irrelevant unless they add to our knowledge of God?

I find myself profoundly saddened that Templeton found ways to write off one of the most incredible moments any human being can ever pray to experience. The way I see it, God did, indeed, let him glimpse through the veil and see things most of us can never hope to see. God went out of his way for Templeton. And Templeton still walked away from a life of faith.

So what can we take away from this? In his book Your God Is Too Safe, Canadian author Mark Buchanan puts it this way: “Here lies the basic flaw of all doubt: it can never really be satisfied. No evidence is ever, fully, finally enough. Doubt wants always to consume, never to consummate.”

Before I became a Christian, Buchanan’s words were a perfect description for me. At some point, I had to reconcile myself with not getting all the answers to my questions. Once I did that, the doors opened to a transformational chapter in my life – a transformation that won’t be finished until this life is done.

Can you set aside your nagging questions and trust in somone bigger than yourself? Or are you staring at the possibility of Charles Templeton’s fate? Post a comment and let me know.

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Are you as fascinated as I am with the spirituality of celebrities? In recent years, the media told us about pop singer Katy Perry not having a childhood because of her strict religious parents (they wouldn’t even let her buy non-Christian CDs), and about Brad Pitt (who grew up the son of very conservative Christian parents) saying his upbringing was stifling.

Now there’s another celebrity speaking out about faith.  Brian Johnson, the 66-year-old rock vocalist with AC/DC – I love his wolverine-in-heat singing style – told the website popeater.com that he doesn’t believe in religion.

“I believe all religions are bad,” he said. “I think they’re a waste of time.”

From a Christian perspective (and that was Johnson’s childhood environment), he couldn’t be more right. Religion is about rules and appearances – follow the rules and make sure you appear to have it all together. If you don’t, prepare to be criticized and ostracized.

Jesus Christ, whom serious Christians believe is the son of God, has no use for this kind of thinking. He told the self-righteous religious leaders of His day (those are likely the sort of people Johnson is thinking about) that they were hopeless frauds.

The Bible records him telling a crowd of people, “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they [the self-righteous religious leaders] package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads.”

In the case of Katy Perry (famous for her outlandish outfits and the hit song ‘I Kissed a Girl’), she told Vanity Fair magazine her parents wouldn’t let her say ‘deviled eggs’ or ‘dirt devil’ and the only book her mother ever read to her was the Bible.

Now this may be a case of parents fearful of losing their child to all the attractions of our superficial, often-misguided culture. But that fear caused them to go to such laughable religious extremes that Perry abandoned her faith.

These were the same kinds of extremes Jesus dealt with. His followers were collecting food during the Sabbath – a holy day of rest for serious Jews – when those obnoxious, rule-obsessed religious leaders found out and accused them of breaking Jewish law. As before, Jesus refused to knuckle under.

“The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath,” He told them.

Notice what keeps happening? Now, as in Biblical times, religion keeps getting in the way of people having a life-changing relationship with God – a relationship that ultimately guarantees us a place in Heaven with Jesus.

I’m not saying all rules are always bad; can you imagine the mayhem that would result if we tried playing hockey or soccer without rules? But those guidelines help us understand and enjoy hockey and soccer, just as the rules in the Bible (the Ten Commandments, for example) help us understand and enjoy a relationship with God, through Jesus.

If this makes sense, are you willing to give God (as opposed to religion) a try?

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Remember the horrible grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship? Among the rescue stories from the January, 2012 disaster, this one struck me.

“I owe my life to husband’s sacrifice, says survivor who was given last life jacket,” said the newspaper headline on an article about a French woman who lived through the catastrophe.

Nicole Servel, 61, recalled how “He said to me ‘jump, jump’. And as I don’t know how to swim, he gave me his life jacket.” The body of her husband, Francis, was later found in the wreckage, one of more than 30 people who died after the boat ran aground along the Italian coast, then keeled over.

Consider these facts about Mrs. Servel’s sad, amazing story:

  1. She was in serious danger;
  2. She was incapable of escaping that danger;
  3. If someone had not come to her rescue, she would have died, and;
  4. That rescuer gave up his life for her.

Why did this hit me so hard? Because it’s the story of the Christian faith. Ponder these points:

1. Even though it’s not obvious to most of us, you and I are in danger – in danger of losing our eternal lives because of the wrong things we do and the right things we fail to do. Because we reject the guidance of our creator.

2. You and I are incapable of escaping that danger. Despite my efforts, I’m still selfish, conceited, uncommunicative, and reluctant to truly care for God’s people and His creation.
My struggles are shared by all humanity, no matter how “good” some of us appear to be. Even Mother Teresa knew she couldn’t save herself. That’s one reason she turned to God.

3. If someone doesn’t come to our rescue – to make up for the shortcomings you and I can’t fix on our own – then we’re doomed to lose our eternal place with God. That “someone” is Jesus.
Looking for evidence? If you give the Bible any credibility, consider this excerpt, from one of the four accounts of Jesus’ life: “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.”

4. Jesus gave up His life for me and for everyone else who wants to be rescued and is willing to follow Him. His death on a cross made up for our wrongs and His resurrection paved the way for us to have eternal life. Here’s more Bible evidence, from a section called Hebrews: “Jesus offered one sacrifice, once and for all, when He offered Himself.”

One man’s sacrifice has let Nicole Servel continue living this life. But the sacrifice of another man can let Nicole and anyone else who believes in and follows Him have life, with God, forever. One of those people can be YOU.

What do you think? Agree or disagree, post a comment and let’s have a conversation.

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