Archive for August, 2013

ForgivenessWhen I talk about spirituality with people, the conversation train often runs smack into a wall when the notion of forgiveness comes up.

It seems that, unless you’re referring to Criminal Code convictions, many folks don’t think they need to ask anyone, God included, for forgiveness.

“What have I done wrong that needs forgiving?” seems to be the prevailing point of view. “I’ve never broken any major laws. I’ve never robbed or beaten up anyone. Asking forgiveness is for people who’ve done bad stuff. Not for me.”

Well, I guess that depends on your point of view. And for many of us, me included, our viewpoint is often shaped by the world in which we live. Even though we often don’t realize it.

A quick example? Downloading music without paying for it. People do it all the time, including followers of Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God). The rationale, technically speaking, is it’s not illegal and everyone’s doing it. So what’s the problem?

Well, having an affair on your significant other isn’t illegal, either. But would any of us ever figure it’s OK – even if they had an affair on us first?

As a person of faith, I know there are all kinds of things I’ve done and not done that require forgiveness. I ignore my wife or, conversely, overreact to something she’s said or done and become unreasonably upset. I don’t maintain steady contact with my brothers – neither do they, with me or each other, but that’s not the point, is it?

I can’t control others, but I can try to control myself. And when the inevitable happens and I fail to control myself adequately, I can turn to God for forgiveness and help. And, thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, forgiveness of ALL sins is possible for ALL people (in fact, read this blog for an example of incredible forgiveness: http://wp.me/p2wzRb-6K).

Why do I need forgiveness from God when it appears my poor actions weren’t against Him? Because He knows my potential; in fact, He put that potential in me (and YOU). And, more than anyone else (me included), He knows when and why I fall short.

I know this because an ancient writer put it this plainly: “You [God] formed the way I think and feel. You put me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because You made me in such a wonderful way. I know how amazing that was!

For me, acknowledging the necessity for forgiveness, from people around me AND from God, is an important step in humility. It doesn’t mean I’m a wretched person, it just means I’m a work in progress. Are you? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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HitlerI found this graphic on an internet community for atheists and wow, did it ever get my brain in gear. I could see how people would spend a few seconds looking at it, nod their heads in agreement and go on with their lives.

For the most part, I also nod my head in agreement because, sadly, “religion” often has little to do with ethics (and that’s why I’m not into “religion”). But think about this: maniacal Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was a Christian? Really??

This continuing myth comes from two things:
1. Hitler’s parents were Roman Catholics and raised him in that Christian denomination.
2. Hitler’s 1926 autobiography, Mein Kampf. There are more than two dozen references to God in that twisted, difficult-to-read book – just use Google to find them, if you’re interested.

If you look up all those excerpts, you’ll notice only two mention Jesus Christ, who many people believe is the son of God.

But whether He was mentioned twice or 200 times, the fact is this: you don’t become a Jesus follower simply by writing about Jesus. Indeed, a Muslim recently published an entire book about Jesus.

People like me know that once we become followers of Jesus, we welcome Him into our lives to change us – always for the better (you can read just one example here: http://wp.me/p2wzRb-5g).

Does following Jesus mean we become perfect people? Well, you know the answer to that. But if I’m committed to following Jesus with all my heart and soul and spirit, then I will come closer to being like Him.

And in the meantime, by accepting the gift of Jesus, His followers know that the bad things they’ve done and the good things they’ve failed to do are wiped out by Jesus’s sacrificial death and resurrection.

Now consider this: in 1936, Hitler – by then Germany’s supreme leader and preparing his country to launch a horrific war – told his parliament “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”

Statements like this have nothing to do with what Jesus is all about. Hitler apparently ignored the fact that Jesus was born a Jew, lived his life as a Jew, died as a Jew and came back to life as a Jew. There’s no avoiding it, unless you’re a deluded hate-monger like Hitler.

Indeed, it’s the contrast between Jesus and Hitler that should make it glowingly clear what it means to be a Jesus follower. So if you’ve ever heard someone declare that Christianity is bad because of lunatics like Hitler, please don’t let it keep you from doing the most important thing you could ever undertake: investigating for yourself what it means to be a Jesus follower.

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

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Erabbi-090508ver heard of a black rabbi? Me neither. That’s why I read, with endless fascination, a National Post interview with Rabbi Capers Funnye (how’s that for a name?).

The 60-year-old Chicago resident converted to Judaism as a young man when he began having serious doubts about the Christian faith of his birth. He now runs one of the largest black synagogues in the United States.

Interviewed just before a Toronto speaking engagement, Rabbi Funnye told the Post that one of the reasons he converted to Judaism was, “I couldn’t understand how if Jesus was God, and then He was dead for three days after the crucifixion, who was in charge? I also couldn’t understand the idea of the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Ghost [Spirit]. That idea was developed 325 years after Jesus, so I doubted the Trinity was true.”

I can tell you right now that Rabbi Funnye is hardly the first person to stumble over the idea of one god who is three distinct persons, all united in purpose.  Many Jesus followers, me included, will testify that quantum physics is easier to understand.

And yet, the reality of the Trinity is written in one of the original-source biographies of Jesus’s life on earth. He told His followers to “go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This quote not only connects the three persons of God, it puts them on the same level of importance.

So when Rabbi Funnye says he can’t understand who was in charge in the days between the death and resurrection of Jesus, the answer is simple: God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

Rabbi Funnye told the Post something else that caught my attention: “Judaism does not put limits on God, [but] Christians do. To me, God is limitless.”

What’s so fascinating about this is that by denying the possibility of one God existing as three distinct persons, Rabbi Funnye has put a limit on God. And he apparently doesn’t realize it.

So what about you; is the Trinity a gigantic boulder in the middle of your road to faith? If it is, the word I just used – faith – is of key importance. Our limited minds struggle to understand this mystery and that’s why serious Jesus followers accept the Trinity by faith.

And whatever you do, don’t underestimate the importance of accepting by faith, rather than scientific fact. One of Jesus’s earliest followers wrote “Without faith, no one can please God. Whoever comes to God must believe He is real …

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

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220px-Bucket_list_posterIt took up barely two minutes in a 90-minute movie, but it left me scrambling for a pen and paper to record everything I was seeing and hearing.

The film is 2007’s The Bucket List, about two terminally ill men (Edward Cole, played by Jack Nicholson and Carter Chambers, portrayed by Morgan Freeman) who go on a round-the-world trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket”.

The scene that grabbed me with pitbull intensity was during a evening plane flight over the North Pole. Freeman’s Chambers is gazing out the window and commenting on the stunning starry sky. He finishes by declaring what he’s seeing is “really one of God’s good ones.” This spurs a fascinating conversation with Nicholson’s Cole:

Cole: So you think a being of some sort did all this?

Chambers: You don’t?

Cole: You mean, do I believe if I look up in the sky and promise this or that, the ‘Biggie’ will make all this [both have lung cancer] go away? No.

Chambers: Then 95 percent of the people on earth are wrong.

Cole: If life has taught me anything, it’s that 95 per cent of the people are always wrong.

Chambers: It’s called faith.

Cole: I honestly envy people who have faith. I just can’t get my head around it.

Chambers: Maybe your head’s in the way.

Chambers’ suggestion at the end of this exchange truly connects with me. For many years,  Cole and I had the same thought about faith. Part of that comes from ego; we humans think we’re so smart, so developed, so sophisticated that we can get answers to everything. Whatever we can’t – well, we just kick it to the side of the road and pretend it doesn’t exist.

The other part comes from the battle between heart and mind. While intellect definitely matters in a big way, when all is said and done, faith is a heart matter. That means it’s primarily not scientific and it’s not quantifiable. It’s “fuzzy”. And in our culture, fuzzy is bad.

But maybe fuzzy is good. Fuzzy allows room for mystery and God (along with Jesus, whom serious Christians believe is His son) definitely comes gift-wrapped in mystery.

Mystery takes us out of our comfort zones and that’s another good thing because it makes us open to new ideas. Such as the concept of a creator who actually loves us and offered the gift of His son to live, die and be resurrected for anyone who accepts that gift.

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

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Pat-BurnsI’m not much of a hockey fan, but I do keep track of the Montreal Canadiens. That means, like fans of the other National Hockey League teams he coached (the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils), I was saddened by the death of Pat Burns in 2010.

I was impressed with the former cop’s tough-guy approach which rallied my Habs, then went on to rally the Leafs before finally winning a Stanley Cup with the Devils. Burns wasn’t an NHL player who was handed a coaching career; he worked his way up the ranks with determination.

He was weakened, gaunt and admitting the end was not far off when the Toronto Star’s Rosie Dimanno wrote a wonderful column about him. In it, she mentioned a recent interview in which Burns, 58, “spoke even about a newly realized appreciation for religious faith, because a person gets to thinking about God and prayer and the hereafter when staring straight into the abyss.”

This stuck with me, because the majority of my life is now behind me. That certainly changes a person’s perspective and I’m glad to have come to an “appreciation for religious faith” without having to stare into the “abyss” first.

That may not seem important to some folks. They’re busy with family or careers or pursuing fame or riches at the gambling table or extreme sports. The list can go on and on.

And yet, even in wealthy North America, with our massive healthcare systems and long lifespans – much longer than the age of Pat Burns – the end can come upon us with the shock of a shovel in the stomach.

I didn’t need such a shock to be reminded of that fact. I just read a ‘tweet’ on Twitter from Rick Warren (he wrote a book you may have heard of, The Purpose Driven Life) that simply stated, “When I’m tempted to be prideful, I just remind myself that I cannot even guarantee my next breath.”

That’s right, folks. It doesn’t matter if you’re battling cancer like Pat Burns did, or you’re a disgustingly young and fit triathlete. The end can come before you finish reading this sentence.

I think Jesus Christ (who most Christians believe is the son of God) knew this. That’s why, in the Bible, he told his followers, “Don’t hoard treasure down here, where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

It seems to me that if our “treasure” is in the right place, then the end won’t be an “abyss”. In fact, it won’t be the end at all. It will just be the end of the beginning.

Do you agree? Yes or no, post your response below and let’s have a conversation.

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