Archive for April, 2013

CarInDitchI’ve been reading a blog by a guy named Derrick Miller, who wrote about his trip in and out of Christianity and, finally, to atheism.

It’s pretty interesting reading, and Derrick makes some good points about some of the challenges of being a Christian. Among them, he notes:

•   The difficulty of reading and comprehending some parts of the Bible;
•   The challenge of living the kind of life he thought would be pleasing to God;
•   Coming to some sort of conclusion about the purpose of the universe; and
•   Understanding why there are so many Christian denominations (more than 50 in Canada alone).

Can I address these difficulties in a credible way? Some of them, perhaps, but not all. I don’t believe many people can, simply because they are huge topics requiring an incredibly wide range of knowledge.

But there’s something larger here to address. Something that Derrick’s blog made very clear: he didn’t understand that Christianity isn’t primarily about comprehending all the Bible or the universe. It isn’t primarily about pleasing God by trying to emulate Mother Theresa or Billy Graham. And it’s certainly not about grasping all the viewpoints held by Christian churches.

In the end, the things that tripped up Derrick are merely colorful, shiny billboards on the road of life. Spend too much time staring at them and, like Derrick, you’ll drive off the road and land in a ditch.

Ultimately, Christianity is about a relationship between you and Jesus, who many people believe is the son of God. Plain and simple? Yes, but it’s very radical and utterly opposite to doing stuff and understanding stuff and reading stuff and getting our act together and, and, and…

I suspect if Derrick had encountered someone who could have explained this relationship and lived it out in front of him – a mentor or a Jesus-following friend or an interested pastor, for example – then his life would have been very different.

A mentor could have guided Derrick to resources that would provide a new and relevant understanding of the Bible.

A pastor could have shown Derrick that while it’s great to get his act together, he (a) could never be “good enough” for God – and didn’t have to, thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection – and, (b) he didn’t have to even try on his own.

A Jesus-following friend could have made it plain to Derrick that there have always been, and always will be, unanswerable questions. Those questions are the evidence we egotistical humans need to remind us that God is God and we are NOT.

Are the things that put Derrick’s “car” into the “ditch” the same things that are keeping you from even sliding behind the wheel and turning the ignition key? Respond below and let’s have a conversation.

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BurtonCummingsHe visited a church. It left him so “scared” that he wrote one of his best-known songs about the experience. But what happened – or didn’t happen – after?

I’m referring to Burton Cummings, the pride of Winnipeg, Manitoba, leader of the Guess Who, one of Canada’s best known classic rock bands and a well-known solo singer/songwriter/pianist.

During the 1970s, Cummings was in New York City and visited St. Thomas Church. His time inside that glorious cathedral was so moving, he wrote ‘I’m Scared’, a song on his first solo CD that he still performs today.

Stopped by to see St. Thomas, on a cold and dreary New York afternoon
Something in the air was oh so rare
I don’t know what it was but I know that it’s still right there
and I’m scared.

As Cummings said years later, during a reverential 2011 YouTube video tour of the church, “There was a presence, definitely a presence”.

In fact, the lyrics to ‘I’m Scared’ say this:

Never been much on religion, but I sure enough would like to hear the call.
Come on now, give me a sign you’re listening to me
You hear me talking, you hear me crying, it’s confusing to me Lord, I’m terrified.

So as far as I can tell, God DID give him a sign He was listening. He knew about Cummings’ spiritual emptiness, brought him to St. Thomas Church and touched his soul in a way he’d probably never before experienced.

And yet, every other recording, TV or radio interview, video (including one on his latest studio CD, Above The Ground, which is laced with F-bombs) and all the blogs on his website make it clear that Cummings didn’t respond to God. God gave him a sign and Cummings turned his eyes away.

Certainly, that’s the easiest thing to do in our culture, which seems to regard most spirituality with suspicion and followers of Jesus of Nazareth with outright contempt. But in doing the easy thing, Cummings is still left with a spiritual hole – just read between the lines of his blog entries and you can see it for yourself.

For many years, I did the same thing as Cummings. Through my experiences and encounters with people who followed Jesus, God reached out to me and invited me to connect with Him through His Son.

It had almost nothing to do with “religion”, but everything to do with a life-long, life-enhancing relationship that would continue after my time on this planet is done. And until 2002, I ignored it.

Has this ever happened to you? Do you recall an experience laced with a presence you can only call “God”? If yes, why not revisit it? Then post a comment below (or, if you want more privacy, email me at fdking@hotmail.com) and let’s have a conversation.

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DavidBerkowitzIf you’re over 40, you might get a chill as I resurrect a shadowy name from the 1970s: Son of Sam.

This was the nickname David Berkowitz gave himself as he terrorized New York City, killing six people and wounding seven in 1976-77. In prison since then, he claimed during his trial that he was under the influence of a demon who possessed his neighbour’s dog.

Berkowitz was in the news not too long ago, responding to a 2011 Fox News reporter’s inquiry to reveal he would no longer seek parole because his faith has already made him free.

“I am not saying this jokingly,” he wrote. “Jesus Christ [who many people believe is the Son of God] has already forgiven and pardoned me, and I believe this. He has given me a whole new life, which I do not deserve. I am forever grateful for such forgiveness.”

Before you begin protesting, Berkowitz has expressed remorse for his crimes, dating back to 2007 when he issued an apology on his website. He expressed remorse again in his Fox News letter, writing “I have deep regret and sorrow over my past criminal actions.”

But that’s not the point of this essay. The point is more controversial. Has the Son of Sam been forgiven by Jesus? Has he been given “a whole new life”?

The answer, if Berkowitz is sincere, is YES. If he came to believe that Jesus died to pay for his crimes, and as a result asked for the forgiveness Jesus made available to every person on this planet, then YES. If he’s committed himself to following Jesus, then YES.

Isn’t this outrageous? That’s the scandal of God’s grace (unmerited favour) through Jesus. It isn’t just available to you and I for those times we exceeded the speed limit or lied to our supervisors or paid for some service under the table. It’s available for everything. For everyone, including the Son of Sam.

Our culture may not consider this a good thing. But it is. In fact, I regard this grace as one of the things that most separates following Jesus from other faiths. And it is based on a complete lack of what some cultures call a “caste” system that ranks people’s value.

When Paul, one of the earliest Jesus followers, wrote in a letter that “all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory,” he didn’t include a footnote that singled out some people or groups as having sinned more (or less). That statement is the great equalizer for all humanity. See? No caste system.

So, if you’re carrying around something that pesters you like a persistent backache, do what David Berkowitz has done: place your trust in Jesus, ask for forgiveness with complete sincerity, then receive it. And believe it, because that forgiveness is as real and enduring as death, taxes, and annoying reality TV shows.

Even if you’re not burdened with guilt, give some consideration to this  faith that goes beyond our wavering ability to forgive. It provides permanent grace, an extraordinary gift to a broken world.

What do you think? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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“People go to church for the same reasons they go to a tavern: to stupefy themselves, to forget their misery, to imagine themselves, for a few minutes anyway, free and happy.”
Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876)

MikhailBakuninWow; how’s THAT for a shot across the bow of anyone with a faith life? I stumbled upon this provocative quote on the internet the other day and it definitely caused my mental wheels to spin.

While I’m sure some of you agree with this Russian philosopher and revolutionary (he was a contemporary of communism co-founder Karl Marx), how about taking a moment to be open-minded and read something from the “other side”?

Going to church is like going to a tavern? Well, there are similarities. Both are social activities, since they include interacting with others in a confined space.

Forgetting our miseries? Yes, there’s some commonality there, too. Just as there is between attending church and going to a rock concert or a play or a movie. For those hours, we leave our lives at the door and enter into a new experience.

“Imagining” myself free and happy? Bakunin, who never saw a revolution that he didn’t like or try to encourage (no matter how pointless or violent), might dismiss church like this, but he certainly didn’t have all the answers to life. No one does.

But I will say this: I AM free and happier as a church-going man.

I am free from the guilt associated with all the bad things I’ve done and all the good things I’ve failed to do, because of the death of Jesus of Nazaareth (who many people believe is the Son of God).

His sacrificial death, for anyone who believes in Him and follows Him, means my “sins” have been wiped from the books. Want evidence? Then consider these words from an ancient Jesus follower’: “Jesus is the way our sins are taken away. And he is the way all people can have their sins taken away, too.”

Knowing what Jesus has done for me (and for you too, if you want it) makes me happier. It also makes me want to invite Him into my life so I can become more of the person He knows I can be.

The way Bakunin saw it, going to a tavern and going to church are equally useless. But attending church has transformed many lives for the better — and for eternity. Can you credibly make the same case for any tavern, pub or bar? Post your response and let’s have a conversation.

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