Archive for January, 2013

ReligionThe other day, I encountered a blog by someone named David Foster who disputed the claim I and many others have made: that Christianity is about a relationship with God through Jesus of Nazareth, rather than an ‘organized religion’.

“Even if this ‘being’, which you claim to have a relationship with, does exist, your worshipping of him or her still constitutes a religion,” David writes. “I would say the same about people whose praise of their boyfriend or girlfriend crosses the line into worship.”

An interesting point. But just because many people worship God and his son, Jesus, doesn’t make it a religion. Many people believe God made this entire universe, including the air you are breathing as you read this essay. You and I would not be alive without some sort of creator, so why shouldn’t He be worshipped? And that’s the precise reason why worshipping God is nothing like worshipping your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend.

Another point from the David Foster blog:  “To me, it seems that Christians are simply believing in something they were indoctrinated to believe in, usually since childhood.”

Okay, then, David. How do you explain me? My entire biological family bought into the ridicule our culture has for Jesus and abandoned Him decades ago. Until 2002, I was with them 100 per cent. Yet, I changed – and it wasn’t because of an awful crisis, either.

So my question remains, David: how do you explain me and so many others who were NOT ‘indoctrinated’ into following Jesus, yet they still made a life-changing commitment to Him?

Finally, David Foster makes this assertion: “To me, the relationship Christians have with Jesus is in no way distinguishable from the relationship children have with their imaginary friends. I’ll change my mind in the event a Christian demonstrates that Jesus can do something tangible that an imaginary friend cannot.”

There are all kinds of examples of Jesus doing what most of us would consider nearly impossible. Off the top of my head, I think of Michael ‘Bull’ Roberts, a man who graduated from a horrific childhood to become a gang leader who ran most of the drug trade in the Canadian province of Alberta.

Michael’s ‘friends’ in the drug world eventually turned on him, beating him savagely and leaving him for dead. In the aftermath, he turned to Jesus.

Today? No more gang activity. No more drug dealing. No more violence. In fact, Michael now spends his time helping street kids, society’s outcasts and people in prisons.

I suppose if David Foster and other skeptics want to credit Michael’s new life to an ‘imaginary friend’, they will find a way. But wouldn’t that position smack of the very desperation that David attributes to Jesus followers?

So what about you? Where do you stand on the notion of Christianity being a relationship rather than a religion? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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PatrickSwayzeI was reading a revealing and intimate Rolling Stone magazine interview with TV star Don Johnson (Miami Vice, Nash Bridges) when one quote struck me hugely.

“I remember a seminal moment, standing on the back deck of my ranch in Aspen. I’m a big star, I’ve got all this s..t, airplanes, cars, boats, a stream running down by my house and I’m going ‘Wow, this is really f…ing amazing. Why am I so miserable?’ ”

Then I recalled something from The Time of my Life, the biography written by movie star Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing, Ghost) and his wife, Lisa, before his 2009 death from pancreatic cancer.

Looking back at the life-transforming success of 1987’s Dirty Dancing, Swazye wrote, “When the thing you’ve been fighting for is suddenly in your grasp, it’s all too easy to look around and say – is that all there is?”

What fascinates me about these quotes is both men achieved exactly what our world says is the pinnacle of success. International fame, good looks, adoring fans and endless financial riches were theirs. As if that was somehow inadequate, Johnson had all the women he ever needed and Swayze had a rich, life-long marriage.

DonJohnsonSo what’s the deal with these puzzling quotes? How could these men be thinking such crazy things when our culture insists they couldn’t possibly need anything more?

Let me venture to write that our culture is dead wrong. No matter who we are are or where life has taken us, we DO need more – even more than the love of a spouse and family.

Where am I going with this? Consider these words, written more than 300 years ago by Blaise Pascal:

“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.”

Think that’s just crazy talk from some dead guy who didn’t know much? Um, Pascal was a mathematician, a physicist, a philosopher, an inventor and a writer. According to Wikipedia, he invented the mechanical calculator, the hydraulic press and the syringe. So it might be time to revise that opinion.

Beyond Pascal’s resume, consider how, all these centuries later, people like Patrick Swayze and Don Johnson are continuing to prove him right.

So what about you…Do you figure more money, a promotion at work, a new house or a ‘significant other’ upgrade will make everything good? Maybe it’s time to seriously ponder what Pascal said. Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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SnowFranksCottageThere’s nothing like a blanket of fresh snow to get the nature photographer in me excited.

That snow creates endless picture opportunities because it covers up all manner of unappealing features (a majority of them man-made, I’ve found) that ruin otherwise good photo subjects.

Covered with snow, they disappear and landscapes are transformed into smooth, white wonders that dazzle even the most cynical, unartistic eye. I’ve come to realize this reality is also a metaphor for our lives.

My less appealing characteristics – pride, jealousy, selfishness, lack of communication (I’m sure you can name a few that apply to you) – are like ugly piles of smelly garbage on a pristine landscape.

So what is the ‘snow’ that covers them up? It’s nothing you or I can provide, no matter how long and hard we try. But consider this quote written by an ancient prophet: “Even if your sins are as dark as red dye, that stain can be removed and you will be as pure as wool that is as white as snow.”

That’s a pretty important statement because it tells me that God, my creator, can undo everything I’ve done to ruin the landscape of my life. He has a standing offer to transform the ugly parts of all our lives – the bad things we’ve done and the good things we’ve failed to do – through Jesus of Nazareth, an amazing guy who many people believe is His Son.

Jesus paid the price to have ugly parts of our lives removed from God’s sight through His death and resurrection. He’s the snow that transforms our landscapes and God offers Him to every person on this planet because God knows us better than we know ourselves. And He knows we can’t fix things on our own.

Want evidence? Then how about these words from one of Jesus’s earliest and most influential followers: “There is only one God, and there is only one way that people can reach God. That way is through Christ Jesus, who as a man gave himself to pay for everyone to be free.”

So, how is your landscape looking today? Like it or not, I’ll bet it needs some cleaning up and I’ll bet you haven’t been able to do that. So, is it time you checked out God’s offer to do it for you? Post your answer below and let’s have a conversation.

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Butt enhancementDo we judge a book by its cover? Check out these unbelievably different ways of living in this world and decide for yourself.

The first is illustrated by a short and horrible 2009 news story about a 38-year-old former Miss Argentina who left her twin children without a mother. Why? Because she died from complications after undergoing cosmetic surgery to improve her behind. Yes, she gave up everything in this life to get a tighter butt.

What’s just as sad is this article was classified on the website as ‘weird news’. I wouldn’t call it weird and I doubt her children would. How about you?

Then I read an email about aging that was forwarded to me by my dad. A very telling paragraph says this: “I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set.”

Which philosophy do you think dominates North American life?
Which point of view keeps the wheels of commerce moving?
Which approach is celebrated by clothing designers, fashion magazines and entertainment TV programs?
Which segment of the population is on the receiving end of barbs from many comedians and talk show hosts?

I’m as guilty as the next person of giving a thumbs-up to butt-tucks, botox treatments, breast implants and teeth-whitening procedures. Oh, I may not consciously support this kind of shallow-as-a-mud puddle thinking which declares whoever makes the most attractive corpse wins (wins what??). But I’ve grown up in middle-class society and often can’t detect how I’ve been guided down this path.

Then I recall something from an ancient writer: “You [God] know me inside and out, You hold me together, You never fail to stand me tall in Your presence so I can look You in the eye.”

This tells me God doesn’t look at me the way this world does. God sees me primarily from the inside: my personality, attitudes, prejudices, motivations, decisions, likes and dislikes, etc. And unlike our culture, He’s not fooled by cosmetic surgery.

Better still, wherever I stand with God’s ‘assessment system’, I can be forgiven, strengthened and turned in the right direction so I can look Him in the eye. All I need to do is follow His Son Jesus of Nazareth, whose sacrificial death and resurrection made up for all the wrong things I’ve done and the right things I haven’t done. And it won’t matter if my butt is big or my teeth are stained or my face is wrinkled.

I call this good news. Do you?

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