Archive for February, 2013

DeleteKeyI think all us email users can agree on this: often, there is no better button on our keyboard than ‘delete’.

“Earn your degree while you earn a living!” DELETE.

“Browse local Asian singles near you!” DELETE.

“Prepare for a job in law enforcement!” DELETE.

(Ever notice how these spammers are addicted to exclamation marks?)

“Don’t pay your next cable bill without reading this!” DELETE.

As we go through this routine, it occurs to me that most of us probably wish we could whack a delete key on some things that we’ve done and said. Or things we should have done & said, but didn’t.

  • I’d love to erase the hurtful things I’ve said to my wife.
  • I wish I could delete those times I’ve cut off other drivers.
  • I’d sure like to wipe out all those negative thoughts I’ve had about my abilities.
  • I wish I could delete those times when I’ve reacted hastily without getting all the facts.
  • Wouldn’t it be great to erase that dumb thing I did at work last week?

For people like me, who’ve decided to follow Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God), there’s a great thing to know and make a part of our lives: God’s favourite button is also DELETE.

The mistakes I’ve made? Gone. Those times I should have said something helpful to a co-worker, but simply walked away silent? Wiped out.  That relationship that went sour because of me? Eliminated.

How about you? The contractor you paid under the table to avoid taxes? It could be gone. Those nasty things you’ve thought or said about your relative? They could be wiped out.

How far can this go? If you believe in a creator who cares about everything that goes on in our lives, then all the way to something this trivial: all the occasions when I carelessly deposited perfectly recyclable things into the garbage? Deleted.

How do I know this? Well, consider these words from an ancient Jesus follower: “Jesus was offered as a sacrifice one time to take away the sins of many people.”

One of those people is me. And it could be YOU, too.

If you accept this sacrifice, another ancient Jesus follower wrote “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

As a pastor friend, Adrian van Giessen, told people once, “When you belong to Jesus, then all the stuff that God can look at and say ‘you did this and you did that,’ he wipes it away and says, ‘I see you as I see Jesus’.”

I looooooove having God see me, with all my glow-in-the-dark imperfections, just as He sees His Son: perfect, without a single blemish. It empowers me to do better, to try to live up to how God sees me – even as I know that when I fall short, He hits the DELETE key, because, as Adrian put it, I “belong to Jesus”.

What do you think…does this make sense? Post a comment below and let’s have a conversation.

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HeavenAndHell2Now this is a curiosity.

I wrote a Frank’s Cottage essay about a survey indicating the promise of Heaven is far more motivating than the fear of Hell in encouraging church attendance and prayer.

Kinda makes sense, right? The tasty carrot is better than the nasty stick, goes the thinking.

Then I heard from an old friend, Tim Callaway, who’s doing university research and stumbled upon statistics that indicate a very different story.

These stats are by no means a definitive indicator, but they are consistent. In the 1930s and ’40s, surveys of 100 to 200 students somewhere in North America (sorry, this ancient stuff has no further details) consistently indicated fear of Hell was far more motivating to become a follower of Jesus of Nazareth than the love of God. In many of those years, the numbers were so lopsided that the love motivation was less than 10 per cent.

Huh? The huge difference between then and now is so puzzling that I bounced this disparity off a pastor buddy, Ross Carkner, to get his feedback.

“I wonder if the change has more to do with the nature of society at large,” Ross emailed me. “I think in the 1930s and ’40s, there was a different mindset.  The world had just come through one war and was posturing or in the middle of another.  The planet was covered in gloom.”

Between the wars and the ruined dreams of the 1930s Great Depression, Ross wondered, “If there was a sense that all you could do was make the most of what you had. This was the builder generation. Work hard and you might get by. This is very different than the baby boomers … the builders were set on making the most of what they had, the boomers were about getting more.”

This makes sense to me. As Ross put it, “I think against that kind of a backdrop, perhaps the builders were open to hearing that ‘things could get worse’ [i.e. the nasty stick of Hell], while the boomers wanted to hear about how ‘things could get better’ [the tasty carrot of Heaven]”.

If this assessment is accurate, then it comes with a subtle suggestion: many people’s ideas about God depend on the world around them. That’s not surprising, but then I remember something an ancient follower of Jesus wrote: “Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself.”

I also think of a story about Jesus defending a woman who was brought up on charges of adultery. He told her accusers, who wanted to stone her to death (fooling around on your spouse was serious business in the ancient world), that anyone who’d never done anything wrong could go ahead and throw a stone.

Eventually, all of the woman’s accusers walked away. That left Jesus to do nothing more than tell the woman to go home and don’t commit adultery again.

For me, this event is a powerful example of who God is. And when I realize that he doesn’t change, I see that the ultimate picture of God is incredibly positive. And that’s a picture I want to keep, no matter what happens to me or to the world.

So if you believe in God, what’s your ultimate picture of him? And does it motivate you to do something about your spiritual life?

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heartFebruary 14 is almost here and that leads me to asking all the guys out there a question: how many of you like Valentine’s Day?

Now that I’m a happily married stepdad, I don’t mind the day. Much.

But when I was single — and most of the time that meant unattached — Valentine’s Day was something to be endured and ignored. Like a split lip or a bunion.

I felt as if I was walking around with a neon beanie that screamed “I’m alone! I suck! I’m not good enough for anyone with two X chromosomes! Even the neighbour’s cat hates me!”

And feeling left out? Let me tell you about that. On February 14, guys like me stood outside, peering in the window at all the attached people inside the grand Valentine’s mansion. They all seemed to be floating on happy pills. I was still hobbling with that bunion.

The day can be treacherous for attached guys, too. The marketing world works hard to convince women they need and deserve certain gifts (or ‘experiences’) on Valentine’s Day. And in some cases, if they don’t receive those gifts, the guy gets a couple of nights to share fleas with Fido. In other words, the best some attached guys can do, is NOT get into trouble. And they can sweat away several pounds thinking, consulting, and shopping to make sure they don’t fall short.

If you consider these scenarios carefully, you’ll probably come to the same conclusion as me: they all address the need for acceptance. Male or female, most single people want a relationship — or at least the opportunity for one — and with that, the collective voice of society assuring them they don’t suck.

For attached people, there’s the desire for acceptance from their mate. And often, this world suggests that acceptance — and, therefore, value — depends on what they received compared to their attached friends. Did they get a singing card and Toblerone bar, or 48 roses and an expensive night out?

All this certainly seems fraught with peril, like walking through an emotional minefield waiting for something to blow up in your face. Then I remember a pretty cool thing written by one of the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God): “In Jesus’s family, there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us, you are all equal.”

In other words, God accepts us exactly as we are, with all our imperfections, fears and life stories.

We don’t have to give, or receive, gifts or ‘experiences’ to be accepted. In fact, we don’t even have to have a special loved one to be accepted. That’s not what our culture may tell you, but it’s already happened with the most important person you can ever know: Jesus of Nazareth. So if Valentines’ Day brings on decidedly mixed emotions, this may be good to keep mind.

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HeavenAndHellReady to take the world’s briefest psychology test? Okay, here goes: which would persuade you to become a person of faith – the promise of Heaven or the threat of Hell?

According to the results of a 32-country study by researchers at universities in Spain and Israel, it’s no contest.

“When heaven and hell are considered valid final destinations, researchers find the notion of eternal bliss is three times more powerful than that of eternal damnation in shaping church attendance and frequency of prayer.” This is from a story in the Windsor Star, a Canadian newspaper.

Is this surprising? When I read the article, I was taken back to the beginnings of my own faith journey. I’ve always believed in a creator, but I decided to follow Jesus in 1990, mostly because I started listening to spiritual rock and pop music and, through that, discovered a positive, loving, closer-than-close God.

Since then, the trip has had rocky moments, primarily because I had faith issues which I didn’t think I could bring to anyone without them wondering about my “salvation”.

In other words, I thought someone was going to tell me if I kept asking hard questions, I could end up in Hell. So I went from embracing the ‘carrot’ (the attraction of a loving God) to running from the ‘stick’ (the threat of God’s damnation).

The story didn’t end there, of course. (If it did, I wouldn’t be writing this essay.) After a long time and many discussions with intelligent, compassionate, non-judgmental followers of Jesus of Nazareth – there are more of them around than you might think – I came back to Jesus.

If I had returned to the faith because those discussions centered around the ‘stick’ – avoiding Hell – I would likely be the poster boy for judgmental, unpleasant religion. I’d be following Jesus only to appease an angry God who doesn’t love me – or anyone else, for that matter – and doesn’t have my best interests at heart.

But he does. One of Jesus’ earliest followers wrote God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death [to pay for all the bad things we did and still do] while we were of no use whatever to him.”

It’s this love, plus the promise of a life-long, day-by-day relationship with Jesus, and a future in Heaven, that brought me to this place of faith.

I’m not about to deny the truth and suggest there isn’t a Hell and that it doesn’t influence people’s faith journeys. But more importantly, there is a God who wants every single person on this planet – including YOU – with Him in Heaven.

Does that suggest it might be time to rethink your priorities?

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