Archive for October, 2012

In my younger years, I was sure that two kinds of people made up a vast majority of North American Christianity: children who were too young to know any better and seniors too old and frightened to think clearly.

Yes, I knew it all – and without the annoying, time-consuming bother of checking out the claims of Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God) or having any meaningful conversations with Jesus followers. All the knowledge I needed came from superficial newspaper articles or scornful remarks by equally ignorant friends and family members.

This ‘approach’ to faith went far beyond me. Consider these words, written in 2011 by blogger Chelsea Hoffman: “Atheism isn’t so bad; you don’t have to feel guilty for hanging up your entire existence on the idea that you’re being watched and judged by an archaic deity that is universally accepted among the science community to not even exist.”

The truth, as I’ve found out since becoming a Jesus follower in 2002, is startlingly different. Wikipedia lists a whopping 24 living scientists who stand in direct opposition to Chelsea Hoffman’s sweeping pronouncement.

And just in case you think – as I might have 10 years ago – that they’re all doddering seniors, consider just these two: Physician-geneticist Francis S. Collins (famous for helping to map the human genome) was only 56 when he published the 2006 bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

Collins, the former director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, wrote, “Science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced” and “God is most certainly not threatened by science; He made it all possible.”

Astronomer Jennifer Wiseman is chief of the ExoPlanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory in the Astrophysics Science Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (wow!). She is also director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion.

I couldn’t find out Wiseman’s birth date, but she earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy from Harvard University in 1995, so she’s likely in her early 50s. Wiseman has commented on movies from a Jesus perspective, and written about how to encourage young Jesus followers in science. (You can find both online.)

She notes, “Churches and Christian schools are sometimes heavily influenced by the perception that Christianity and scientific processes (e.g., Big Bang cosmology, evolution, etc.) cannot mix, and that Christians must always have a ‘defensive’ stance toward science. This is tragic because our Christian friends can miss out on rejoicing in some of the discoveries that reveal God’s glory and creativity.”

I wish I’d known, before 2002, about Wiseman, Collins and all the other brilliant minds doing scientific work while having a fulfilling relationship with the creator of the universe and His Son. It might have changed my life much earlier.

Does this knowledge make any difference to you? Type your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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While on the Internet the other day, I found a website that discussed the problem of young people abandoning the Christian church.

Interesting stuff, but what really grabbed my attention was this comment made by an anonymous reader:

Christianity is based on a leap of faith, right? Islam is based on a leap of faith, right? All religions have no empirical proof and are based on a leap of faith. How then can one religion possibly claim that any other religion is wrong, since they are all based on the same leap of faith?

Perhaps you agree with these thoughts. I can write, quite easily, that I’ve never had a problem with the lack of “empirical proof” in Christianity or any other faith. Do you really think this is an accident? I don’t. Consider this: If we had empirical proof of God’s existence, wouldn’t that deny our freedom to be atheists?

If I know anything about God, it’s that He has a rock-hard commitment to free will. That means you and I can deny His existence or, even more dramatic (and sad….), we can commit unspeakable evil in His name. And, to the casual, superficial observer, we can do it without any sort of penalty. We can also do extraordinary good in His name and live lives of amazing influence and value. I think the late, great Mother Theresa tops that list.

What about one faith group claiming to be exclusively right? The faith I belong to certainly advances that point of view. But that’s not something conjured up on a whim; serious followers of Jesus of Nazareth trust in the words He tells his followers “I am the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me.”

Am I supposed to ignore that? Was Jesus just a little full of himself that day? If I go down that path, then Jesus becomes nothing more than a cool dude with some good ideas. Maybe that works for some people, but it’s hardly the basis for a faith that’s going to help people like me deal with our faults and seriously consider what happens after this life ends.

Serious Jesus followers are not interested in occasionally checking in with a funky guru; we want a transformed life, now and after this existence is done. In our better moments, we want to leave behind the “it’s all about you” mentality of our culture; that’s a point of view that discourages thinking about serious issues and insists “whoever has the most toys (when he/she dies) wins”.

In your better moments, do you also see the emptiness of this kind of thinking? Post your comments and let’s have a conversation.

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Is God male or female? Does it matter?

It certainly did to a blogger with Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald. I stumbled upon one of Lawrence Money’s essays, called “We need to upgrade God”, and am fascinated by the points he made.

Money read an article about an unspeakably sad funeral of a two-year-old Australian girl. He reacted ferociously to the story’s mention of a sign that hung on the wall of the church that said Our God Reigns From Above With Wisdom, Love and Power.

“Surely if the God above had such wisdom, his power would have been be used to protect such an innocent life,” he wrote. “And love? You create a little life, allow just enough time for her family to embrace her, then sit by and watch her slaughtered. That’s some weird kind of love.”

Money pinned the blame for all this on the fact that God is usually seen as a male. “Would a female God, who gave her only begotten daughter, have allowed such atrocities? I doubt it,” he wrote.

In the end, he declared “I’d like a female god, please. I want an upgrade.”

I understand where Money is coming from. Sometimes, when I look at our broken world, it seems so many problems are rooted in the male gender.

But should I, or Money, be attributing human (male or female) weaknesses to the creator of the universe? Doing so would reduce God to little more than a Clark Kent-style superman (or woman). That’s why I don’t think the issue of gender is worth debating.

So then, what about God allowing the murder of children or terrorist attacks or the flourishing slave trade?

Money believes a God of wisdom, power and love would stop such horrors in their tracks. Okay, let’s suppose God does what Money demands. What then?

  • Should He stop marital infidelity? (It does lead to broken families, psychological trauma and sometimes murder.)
  • What about speeding? (It often causes accidents and death.)
  • Shouldn’t He also take away beer and wine? (They contribute to alcoholism, broken lives and death.)

Where should it stop, Lawrence? All these things come from a gift of freewill – a gift that many people believe God proved for all time when He allowed the political and religious authorities of the day put His Son, Jesus of Nazareth, to death.

Do you really want God to take back that gift? Do you want to be a robot? Because without freewill, we’re just a race of goose-stepping, brain-dead automatons.

Yes, without freewill, we would not turn our backs on God, His gift of Jesus and His plan for each and every life. But the evidence makes it clear that God is not interested in such a soulless and unhuman arrangement. He wants a real relationship with us that we’ve entered with our minds and hearts fully aware and alive.

Do you want that kind of relationship? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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In 2012, I stumbled onto an amazing online article about – get this – Germany finally paying off its war debt. Think that’s amazing? Well, hang on; the article was referring to Germany’s *First World War* debt.

According to The Local, a German online newspaper, the final payment, about $94 million, was handed over in 2010 to private investors. Those investors held bonds issued by the German government many decades ago to help pay for damages the victorious Allies charged Germany after the First World War ended in 1918.

That initial bill? A stunning 132 billion Deutsche Marks, or 89 billion Canadian dollars. Does that sound onerous? Well, in today’s world, a comparable figure is more than $200 billion. Yikes.

At the time, the cost was crippling to the German economy and that’s just how the bitter Allies wanted it, in part to ensure Germany could never recover enough to re-arm and start another war. No comment is needed on the success of that policy.

But something did strike me as comment-worthy and that’s the comparison with my life and yours.

Like it or not, we’ve all done wrong somewhere, sometime in our lives. In fact, I’ve dropped the ball more often than National Hockey League star Sidney Crosby scores goals.

Like it or not, there’s a penalty to be paid for all those bad things you and I have done or, just as important, the good things we haven’t done. And that penalty is far worse than what was forced on Germany. Even 90 years of payments wouldn’t be enough to get rid of it.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do, when this life ends, is look God in the face and try to avoid that debt by conjuring up a pile of believable excuses. It’s just one reason why I decided to follow Jesus of Nazareth. And it’s a good reason for you to consider it.

People like me believe Jesus is God’s Son and He died for all the wrong things we did and for all the right things we failed to do. When we believe in Jesus and claim Him as our savior, the penalty is wiped off the books. He paid it for us.

I found this proof in a letter written by a man who had a life-changing spiritual encounter with Jesus: “If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won’t be punished. God’s Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death.”

That sounds pretty good to me. So, are you thinking about how to rationalize your misdeeds? Or does it make more sense to join folks like me, claim Jesus for yourself and walk away from a German-sized debt?

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I almost missed the irony. There I was, at my car dealership, pondering a Thanksgiving blog while mentally fuming about the repair cost and what I thought was the endless wait for my Ford Focus.

Finally, a few synapses in my brain connected and I grudgingly admitted how thankless I was for having a career and the resources to buy and maintain a vehicle.

Famed novelist Aldous Huxley (best known for Brave New World) once said “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”

I think I’m a charter member of that group.

Journalist Robert Brault notes, “There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed.  If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude.”

Wow, I have a gold-plated, lifetime membership to that club, too.

This past summer, my wife & I visited an RV dealer to inquire about repairs to our two-year-old, storm-damaged tent trailer. While there, we happened to check out some new models on the showroom floor and fell in love with a trailer which didn’t have to be put up and taken down, and came with the luxury of a full bathroom.

Were we grateful for the tent trailer we already had? Are you kidding? We talked about that showroom model for weeks, examining potential payment schemes, considering our other  financial obligations, how much we could get in trade for the tent trailer, how much longer and more comfortable our camping season could be, and on and on.

Gradually (I think the glaciers lost a few inches while this process meandered along), we concluded the purchase didn’t make sense and the tent trailer was quite adequate. Indeed, we used it in September for a wonderful week of mountain camping.

What happened to us? For awhile, we bought into the message our culture pushes with hurricane-like relentlessness: You deserve it. Go ahead and be selfish.

This message suggests we should have everything. Now.  No matter what the financial, relational, or environmental cost. Because we’re worth it. And – goes the subtle inference – since we’re worth it, why should we be grateful?

My commitment to following Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God) tells me that, on my own, I don’t deserve it. I drop the ball more often than a bad outfielder. I’m worse than a blindfolded darts player when it comes to hitting the target of what I’m meant to be.

But consider this excerpt from one of the primary source documents about Jesus: God loves the world [that includes me and you] so much, “He gave his Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”

This means Jesus, God’s son, makes up for all my screw-ups, all my pettiness, all my selfishness. And by following Jesus, I’m opening the door to Him making me a better person.

So, when my wife and I sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, we know we have a lot more than a tent trailer to be grateful for. And we’ve figured out to whom we should express thanks. Have you?

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