Archive for March, 2013

20130312-mumford-sons-x306-1363115786I’ve never heard a note by the Grammy Award-winning British band Mumford & Sons, but an interview leader Marcus Mumford did a few years ago with Rolling Stone magazine caught my attention.

Lyrics on the band’s recordings have many references to God, prayer and struggles with faith. But Mumford told Rolling Stone he doesn’t like the word ‘Christian’.

“It comes with so much baggage, so no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I’ve kind-of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.”

I get where Mumford is coming from. Mention the word Christian to the average person – maybe even you – and the first thing (heck, often the ONLY thing) that comes to mind are words like “judgmental,” “negative” and “ignorant”.

You might also think of the sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, the hate-filled protests of a certain tiny U.S. congregation (it’s not worth naming) or bizarre statements by a few televangelists.

The media loves highlighting this stuff. And that means the life-giving good news of Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God) is harder to find than a government surplus.

But, as one of the ancient writers passed on to us, “When you get serious about finding Me [God] and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”

What does this mean? It means doing something our culture stridently opposes: asking questions like:

  • Why am I – and the rest of humanity – here?
  • Is there more to life than 70+ years of toil, taxes and failing health?
  • Am I snuffed out of existence after my last breath, or is there something else?

Maybe you’re brave enough to ponder these BIG issues. And if that’s the case, then consider these answers:

1.  “If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God,” wrote Rick Warren in his bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. “You were born by His purpose and for His purpose.”

2.  Those who trust in their wealth are headed for great disappointment, but those who do right will sprout like green leaves in the spring.” That’s from an ancient and very influential writer. And it means you can escape the drudgery of life when you leave behind the “he who has the most toys when he dies wins” attitude encouraged by our culture.

3.  There IS something more after this life ends. The question is, what do YOU want it to be? One of Jesus’s earliest followers wrote: “If you openly say, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from death, you will be saved.”

Saved from what? From judgment. When you become a follower of Jesus, God no longer sees all the bad things you’ve done and the good things you’ve failed to do. He sees you like he sees Jesus: perfect, without a single blemish.

Does this makes sense? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

Read Full Post »

Easter 2The good news around Easter – Jesus of Nazareth, whom many people believe is the Son of God, dying for the moral crimes of all who believe in him, then returning to life three days later – are beyond the sort of simple, quick understanding our culture demands.

Indeed, for a long time, Easter was a great mystery to me. But now, as a relatively new Jesus follower, I can see what is surely a welcome revelation for every human being who believes in a creator.

Consider the death of Jesus. It’s a death that could have been stopped. To the religious and Roman authorities of Jesus’ day, God could have said words to the effect of “Don’t you touch my boy”. But He didn’t.

As Philip Yancey writes in The Jesus I Never Knew, “I have marvelled at, and sometimes openly questioned, the self-restraint God has shown throughout history … but nothing — nothing — compares to the self-restraint shown that dark Friday in Jerusalem.”

The good news here is the gift of free will is for real. We can go to war against each other; we can spoil our nest through pollution and greed; we can even kill the Son of God. Still, God won’t take that gift back. To me, that means He wants a relationship with real (read: very, very imperfect) people, not robots.

Now ponder the moment where Jesus, on the cross, asked God to “forgive them (His killers); they don’t know what they’re doing.” In his book For Christ’s Sake, Tom Harpur saw that moment like this: “Jesus revealed there are no limits to God’s willingness to forgive and pardon. In a real sense, we can even stand there with those who nailed Jesus to the cross and, in our rage or despair, join in hammering the spikes. God still forgives.”

All this can be – and often is – written off quite logically by saying, well, Jesus was just another cool preacher who was killed by nasty people. End of story. But it’s not the end. The resurrection celebrated each Easter is as real to me as the computer I used to write this blog.

Nothing else could explain how apostles cowering in fear for their own lives could be transformed into world-changing evangelists and martyrs; they must have met the risen Jesus.

Furthermore, a Middle East missionary named Paul (one of the men telling people about Jesus in the Mediterranean) cites living witnesses to the resurrection. As Harpur writes, “Paul is saying those who do not believe him can go and find out for themselves.”

For me, then, the death of His Son is God making a case for complete forgiveness and free will to the court of humanity. Bringing Jesus back to life is the overwhelming proof – how better to forgive someone than to reverse their wrong altogether? Case closed.

Does this make sense to you? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

Read Full Post »

EasterEaster makes me smile.

It probably makes you smile, too, since it’s the reason so many people have a long weekend with Friday off.

But I have another reason. Whereas Christmas — as a spiritual holiday — was long ago bought, packaged and cleverly marketed by the Retail Council of Canada, Easter still carries the whiff of something spiritual that our culture can’t quite remove.

All the bunnies and painted eggs in the world don’t change the fact Good Friday isn’t called that just because a majority of us get the day off. It, and the weekend that follows, stands like a sentinel of something important and mysterious.

For people of faith, Easter is the dramatic climax of how God reached out to a broken world. It marks the time when Jesus of Nazareth, considered by many people to be God’s Son, is transformed through death and resurrection. Around the world, the story is sung in ancient hymns and new pop songs, explored in sermons and re-enacted in plays.

Ancient biographical evidence paints Jesus’ death on a Roman Empire cross as a sacrifice to make up for all the past, present, and future wrongs committed by anyone who follows Him. Wrongs that imperfect people like me simply can’t make up for on our own.

For pastor Warren McDougall, who I chatted with about Easter, that amazing act can be seen as a metaphor for giving ourselves away — to our neighbor, community, or world. To set aside our egos and selfishness for a greater good. That is what many people believe Jesus did on Good Friday.

“The instinct is to preserve yourself and, yet, the counter instinct is generosity, with your life and soul,” said Ken Davis, another pastor I spoke to about Easter.

“Jesus said if you want to be great, serve. And the people we consider truly great are those who truly serve.”

The resurrection takes us from the enormity of service-through-sacrifice to the joy of renewal.

“It’s about good overcoming evil, life overcoming death and that transformation is possible, even from negative things,” McDougall told me.

For Mark Giancola, a third pastor I chatted with (these folks are almost always great conversationalists), the entire weekend can be seen through the lens of “hope for a new relationship with God and a new future.

“So if someone’s searching beyond eggs and bunnies, Easter offers that. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been in life, this offers a new start.”

Agree? Disagree? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

Read Full Post »

StanleyMilgramWhile in Toronto (Canada’s largest city), I visited the Ontario Science Centre and discovered an exhibit on Stanley Milgram (1933-84), a psychologist best known for a controversial 1960s human behavior study.

The science centre exhibit was all about Milgram’s study and I couldn’t leave until reading all the information panels and watching the video.

In his experiment, participants were instructed to “teach” students in an adjacent room who were supposedly hooked up to electric shock machines. Students were asked questions and every time they answered incorrectly, the participants were told to administer a corrective shock.

In reality, no one was given a shock, but pre-recorded sounds were played that made it sound like the students were reacting in pain to the shocks. And those sounds (screams, pounding on the wall) grew in volume and intensity as each incorrect answer was given and the resulting voltage level of the “shock” was increased.

How did participants react? If they asked to stop the experiment, they were requested (at first), then told they had to continue. If they still said no, the experiment ended, but if they continued, the experiment often didn’t stop until the student was given the maximum 450-volt “shock” three times.

What’s amazing is most participants continued when assured they would not be held responsible. In fact, in each version of the experiment, between 61 and 66 per cent of the participants went all the way to administering what they believed were life-threatening shocks.

How would I react in this situation? Would I trust in the authority figure and potentially kill someone, especially if I believed I wouldn’t be held responsible?

History is rife with evil people claiming what they did wasn’t their fault. Some of the most infamous Nazis used this “I was just following orders” defence when they were put on trial. Would I do the same thing? Or, as a serious follower of Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God), would I realize that I had no business handing over authority to people who are as hugely imperfect as I am?

In the end, I believe you and I can confidently give the power of authority over our lives to the same person that Jesus gave authority to: God.

Jesus prayed to God just hours before he was taken into custody on false charges, sentenced to death, then hung on a Roman cross between two criminals. Knowing what was about to transpire, he prayed “Father, if you are willing, take away this cup of suffering. But do what you want, not what I want.”

The result of Jesus giving authority to his creator – the same creator responsible for you and me – was not just death. It was resurrection. It was the gift of forgiveness of all moral crimes offered to every single person on this planet. And whether you accept it or not, what Jesus did changed the world forever.

So, whatever’s going on in my life, I’m going to follow Jesus and give ultimate authority to the only person who is absolutely, completely trustworthy. How about you? Post your answer below and let’s have a conversation.

Read Full Post »

RickyGervaisThe online article is called “My Argument With God: How I went from Jesus-loving Christian to fun-loving infidel…in one afternoon”. Written by Ricky Gervais, it details how the British actor/comedian rejected his faith.

Fascinating reading? Definitely. The pivotal moment came when Gervais (who created the mega-successful TV comedy The Office) was just eight years old and was asked by his 19-year-old brother why he believed in God.

Here’s what happened next, straight from the article:

“(It was) just a simple question. But my mum panicked. ‘Bob,’ she said, in a tone that I knew meant “shut up”. Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a God and my faith was strong, it didn’t matter what people said.

“Oh…hang on. There is no God. He [Gervais’ brother] knows it and she knows it, deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions and within an hour, I was an atheist.”

That’s it. Gervais made a decision as a child, apparently without talking about it with his mother, brother or anyone else (the article doesn’t say to whom he asked his questions, so I’m assuming the ‘conversation’ took place inside his head). And the rest of the article makes it clear that he never bothered to revisit it.

Astonishing? From one point of view, not at all. I don’t think I’m being paranoid when I write that in most of Europe and North America, Jesus followers are held in contempt by a majority of the media, by the entertainment industry and by most atheists. That’s definitely the case in Canada, where I live. So Gervais made his life easier by joining the majority.

On the other hand, what leaves me stunned is that Gervais has apparently never reconsidered a decision made when he had pretty much no knowledge or experience about anything. Heck, his brain wasn’t even close to fully formed yet. And it’s a decision that even the most militant atheist or agnostic will probably agree is very important.

I wonder; are there any areas of my life where I’ve made important decisions as a child and have been too proud or ignorant to review them? How have these decisions made my life poorer? How have they closed off my mind and my heart to making changes?

Thankfully, one of those areas hasn’t been my spiritual life. I wrestled with questions about God, Jesus and faith for many years. I debated Jesus followers, read several books and finally decided (at age 41) that despite not having all my questions answered, the best thing I could do with my life and future is to follow Jesus, now and for all eternity.

What about you? Did you reject God and His son years ago and never revisit your decision? Are you humble enough to admit it might be worth reconsidering? Post a comment below and let’s have a conversation.

Read Full Post »