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Archive for August, 2012

Most people with an account on the Twitter social media website know there are always ‘trending topics’ – subjects that attract thousands or even millions of ‘tweets’, often from around the world.

Those trending topics range from silly (Things I’m Scared Of, for example) to stargazing (when I wrote this, Dear Taylor Swift was trending; I’m not kidding) to the latest news items.

But recently, I was astonished to find Thanking God was trending. And not just for a few minutes, but for more than a day.

Just as interesting were the ‘tweets’ on this subject. Some were amusing, such as thanking God for Justin Bieber. But others used the topic in startling ways.

One man wrote “There is nothing more selfish than the privileged thanking God while so many starve and die terrible deaths as their God does nothing.”

Then there was the person who typed “Thanking God for AIDS, hunger, and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Some top managerial decisions there, man.”

These tweets address an age-old challenge for anyone who believes in a creator: if this creator is good, as Christians and so many others claim, why is humanity stalked by AIDS, hunger, SIDS, and ‘terrible deaths’ – and why has God apparently done nothing about it?

Before I address this, please know that people who claim they can fully, credibly answer these questions are bigger fools than TV bad-boy Charlie Sheen in his worst moments. The Bible addresses the mystery of these questions like this: “I [God] don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

That said, is God really doing nothing about starvation? Aren’t governments, churches, aid groups, and others rallying to do all they can to help in the horn of Africa, despite opposition from the terrorists who control part of Somalia? If you claim that’s not God at all, but just charitable people/institutions, can you prove it? Just as important, are YOU part of God’s solution in Africa?

As for terrible deaths, while I wouldn’t dream of trying to explain most of them, how about those committed by evil people? Does it really make sense to blame God when a sick, twisted man in Norway uses God’s gift of freewill to commit 60-plus murders?

It’s these kinds of horrifying events that truly, truly test that gift.

Serious Christians know there’s another such event: the death of Jesus, whom they (and many others) believe is the son of God.

Serious Christians know Jesus died to pay for the wrong things we’ve done and the right things we haven’t done. What if God prevented the Roman authorities of the day from carrying out that murder? Even Jesus knew it shouldn’t be stopped. He told His followers that He “didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give my life to liberate many people.”

So, is thanking God a waste of time (and Twitter space), or does it make sense? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Rita Chretien had an ally that helped her survive 49 days in the wilderness of Nevada with nothing but her van (which was hopelessly stuck in mud) and carefully rationed road trip snacks.

It’s an ally that might surprise you, but it made all the difference in the world to Rita: it was her Christian faith.

According to a Calgary Sun article, Rita and husband Albert were on a road trip from their Pentiction, B.C. home to Las Vegas in March 2011 when they took a sightseeing detour and became stuck on a remote logging road.

After three days, Albert left to find help (a 35-kilometre trip to the nearest major highway), while Rita read books, took daily walks, and studied her Bible. She rationed her meagre supplies and drank melted snow.

Rita was discovered May 6, 2011 by men riding ATVs. A doctor at a hospital in northern Nevada said she probably had just a few days of life left. That said, her recovery was astonishingly fast and according to the Sun, the doctor, James Westberry of St. Luke’s Hospital, gave at least some of the credit to her faith.

“I must say, it is unusual for us to see someone in this type of situation to not only survive, but to be doing so well,” Westberry added.

News like this doesn’t surprise me; I’ve read about studies that connect faith with resilience and health. Indeed, a 2000 Health Psychology magazine analysis of 42 studies involving more than 125,000 patients found that those with some sort of “religious” involvement live longer.

So, what do you think of this? Does a neutral analysis of so many studies have credibility in your world?

There are lots of places in the Bible where God is represented as a place of refuge and a solid foundation. During her endless days of worry and creeping fear, Rita must have read and relied on passages like this: “GOD is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight. Or maybe Rita was encouraged by this: “We who have fled to God for refuge can have great confidence as we hold on to the hope before us.

Now, you may be scoffing at all this, because Rita’s husband was finally found, dead, in September 2012. So in light of that, what credibility or hope do all those Bible quotes have? If you believe there is nothing after this life, that when we die everything comes to a breathtaking halt, then those Bible quotes may, indeed, strike you as meaningless.

But if something inside you says there has to be more than 70-odd years on this planet followed by decaying in a grave, then what I quoted above is worth seriously considering.

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We live in a world that, in ways you and I can’t even discern, goes out of its way to discourage serious thinking.

That’s why even though I’m a man of faith, I admire many atheists; I know most of them have gone against our culture and actually thought, long and hard, about what they do and do not believe.

That’s also why I was so interested in a July 2012 National Post interview with Justin Trottier. At the time, he was with the Centre for Inquiry, Canada’s most organized atheist group.

Trottier is a crusader against blind religious faith. And I’m 100 per cent with him. Only one example is needed to explain our shared position: blind religious faith was among the major reasons for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

That said, beyond our obvious and dramatic differences, I want to highlight Trottier’s opposition to teaching religion to children. He told interviewer Charles Lewis that “robbing kids of critical faculties is a bad thing”.

From my vantage point, Trottier’s opinion sounds a lot like a characteristic of blind religious faith – in this case, believing there is no creator and teaching anyone otherwise is simply indoctrinating impressionable young minds.

In reading up on today’s best-known atheists (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and Victor Stenger) I notice this militant absolutism is a common denominator.

Teaching religion to children simply gives them the opportunity to make up their own minds about what they do and don’t believe. How can I write this? Because I know that as soon as they are old enough to explore issues and weigh options, these young minds will be assaulted with an unending tsunami of images, events and opinions that are dead-set against faith.

Without any religious knowledge, the “fight” is over before it even begins. And if Trottier seeks to be a thoughtful and fair person, then I hope he will consider this incredible imbalance and change his stance.

What about you – are you a parent who’s unsure if there’s a God? Do you not know where you stand on the idea that not only is there a creator, but that He sent His son to live, die and be resurrected for you and I?

Then set that aside for the sake of your offspring. Take them to church, let them hear about Jesus and allow them to make up their own minds. It’s a gift they deserve; a gift you won’t regret giving.

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The newspaper headline instantly grabbed my attention: “Demi worries about being unlovable”.

The article, published in early 2012, highlighted an interview actress Demi Moore did just a week after she filed for divorce from actor Ashton Kutcher, star of the TV sitcoms That ‘70s Show and Two and a Half Men.

Moore, best known for movies such as Ghost, A Few Good Men and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, said this to Harper’s Bazaar magazine: “What scares me is I’m going to find out at the end of my life that I’m … not worthy of being loved. That there’s something fundamentally wrong with me…”

It’s a startlingly frank statement for a media star like Moore to make, but it addresses a common human fear. There were many years of my life when I felt exactly the same.

But here’s the thing: since becoming a Christian in 2002, I’ve learned that it’s not all that important whether I feel unlovable. Because it’s simply not the truth.

The 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.” I know ‘the world’ includes me and I’m pretty sure Demi Moore makes the cut, too. (In fact, EVERYONE qualifies, whether we like it or not.)

How about this, written by Paul, a missionary who did much to spread Christianity: “Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much He loves us.” Once again, there are no qualifiers. Everyone can accept this gift, from Demi Moore to the worst person you can imagine.

Finally, this quote (from a section of the Bible called Isaiah) may be the most amazing of all because it’s God speaking to anyone who will listen: “You are precious to Me, and I have given you a special place of honour. I love you. That’s why I am willing to trade others, to give up whole nations, to save your life.”

When I read these excerpts, I’m reminded all over again why I decided to follow Jesus. By accepting the gift of His death and resurrection for all the wrong things I’ve done (and all the RIGHT things I HAVEN’T done), I give my love to the One who loved me first.

Jesus’ sacrifice addresses another part of Demi Moore’s statement – feeling like there’s something fundamentally wrong with her. That’s not just a feeling; it’s dead-on true. But not just for Demi – for me, too. And for you.

Indeed, there’s something ‘fundamentally wrong’ with every person on earth: we think we’re God, that we don’t need our creator and we can do whatever we want. So many of our planet’s problems are the result of this selfish thinking.

But rather than simply judge and convict us, God showed how much He loves humanity by reaching out and offering us the gift of Jesus. What’s keeping you from accepting it?

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After one of my blogs was posted online, I emailed friends to get some feedback (in case they wanted to read it). Here are two responses:

The first asked me to stop sending her links to these essays because anything related to God is “not my thing.”

The second, from my old buddy Jim Mason (a former newspaper editor in Stouffville, Ontario), went like this:

“What has intrigued me are the number of people who have never believed. Period. Tell them you were just at church and there are no questions, just dismissals. Not to sound high and mighty, but I truly wonder what floats their boat … money? Power? Toys?”

My goodness; it almost sounds like these two people, who have never met, were emailing each other rather than me. The “exchange” certainly got me thinking.

If spirituality is not your thing, then what is? Because, whether we realize it or not, I believe every one of us has a “thing” – something we are passionate about, something we’re willing to spend time, resources, and emotion pursuing.

So, are you focused on money, power, or toys? All these things are certainly cherished in our culture, but if you die wealthy, are you better than those who leave this earth with just a few loonies? Will you have a more fulfilling and laudable life with millions of dollars, a fancy job title and an eye-popping home theatre system?

This reminds me of something Jesus told his followers: “What kind of deal is it to get everything you want, but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

Some might shake their heads at wealth and power and declare their “thing” is family, friends, and relationships. All these things are good, but what if they’re limited to nights at the pub, uncomfortable Christmas dinners, or cruise ship vacations? Doesn’t that get a little old after awhile?

Others might not say so, but their “thing” may be sex. Consider reruns of the TV sitcom Two and a Half Men. One of the main characters, played by Charlie Sheen, was a sex and party-obsessed bachelor.

At first, it’s easy to think Charlie Sheen’s character was smarter and cooler than his cheapskate, fussy, down-on-his-luck brother.  But in the end, the show made it clear that Charlie’s lifestyle was breathtakingly superficial and you feel just as sorry for him.

Extreme sports? Xbox? Wii? These are fun “things”, but how fulfilling are they in the end? My hobby is landscape photography, but no matter how wonderful some of my pictures might be, what can I do with them after putting them on my web page or collecting laudatory comments on the Flickr photo sharing site? Even if I were to get a publishing contract, would having a few coffee-table books be ultimately satisfying?

The point to all of this is simple:

  • children grow up and leave
  • marriages often end
  • spouses die
  • friends can (and often do) move or drift away
  • big-screen TVs need replacing
  • sexual attractiveness slips away
  • most books go out of print
  • you can’t do extreme sports forever
  • one day you’ll have to give up your fancy job title
  • you’ll get bored with Xbox and Wii

So what’s left to be your “thing”? What – or who – won’t change with the passage of time? What can you and I commit to, and have that commitment returned, for our entire lives? Could it be God?

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