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Archive for November, 2013

paintingMy mother can paint a decent picture. Me? I understand things like perspective and lighting, but only through a camera lens.

Still, I’ve been painting a metaphorical picture for many years now. And often, I didn’t even know it.

My “paint and brushes” are selfishness, willful ignorance, irrational anger, ignoring the needs of others, and self-centred greed.

Each is just a smudge of color on a canvas. But after all these years, those smudges have created a large and unappealing picture of someone who, time and time again, falls short of who I’m meant to be and misses the mark of what I should be aiming at.

How can I fix this painting? Especially when I keep adding to it like a drunken shopaholic with a fistful of credit cards?

The answer is simple: no matter how hard I try, no matter how many self-help books I read and no matter how many reruns of Oprah “fix up your life” episodes I watch, I can’t.

But there is a solution, once I figured out who can help me. It’s God who created me (and you), who put all sorts of gifts inside me (and you), who knows the kind of person you and I can be and the sorts of things we can accomplish.

He also knows every smudge I’ve put on that painting and every smudge you’ve put on yours. And He’s the one who offers the simple, life-changing solution: a guy named Jesus. He turned the ancient world on its head with offensive ideas like loving your enemies, forgiving someone who hurts you or your loved ones, and having a real, day-to-day relationship with God.

When the Roman authorities of his day put Jesus to death, they didn’t know they were also making a way for everyone who believes in Jesus to have their lives turned around. His death was the payment I didn’t have to make to have my ugly painting turned into white, clean canvas.

Want some evidence? I found it in the Bible: “Though your sins are like scarlet, I [God] will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”

Just as important as making payment, Jesus’s death—and the resurrection the Bible says happened three days later—opened the door to eternal life with God for all who believe in Jesus. When my days on this earth are finished, it’s just the end of the opening credits; the glorious 3-D Imax movie hasn’t even begun yet.

Anyone can have this. No matter how big and ugly your painting is, by accepting and believing in what Jesus did, you can have a brand-new canvas that God can use to create a picture of love, grace and new life. So, why not put your paint brushes aside and join me?

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Where is God's power?Is the graphic here – kindly provided by an Internet atheism community – true? Has the power of God (if you believe in Him) been reduced to a comedian’s punchline?

Sometimes it feels that way. So many of us look at this broken world, see the corruption, poverty, environmental degradation and violence, then wonder “if you exist, God, when the heck are You gonna show up and fix this?”

I’m a serious Christian, but there are times when I think this, too. Then I remember some key facts that straighten out my thinking.

1. Let’s be honest here; lots of people like the world as it is. Those who participate in child sex slavery probably think things are just peachy. Those who benefit from corruption likely don’t want anything to change. And those who are dumping garbage into the ocean probably have a team of lawyers ready to fight for the status quo.

2. My first point leads to the gift – and challenge – of freewill. The state of our world makes it plain to me that God takes this gift very, VERY seriously. So seriously, in fact, that He lets us spit on that gift every day. I know that’s what I do when I talk about someone behind their back, ignore the speed limit or offend someone with my incessant need to make jokes.

3. How do I know what God is really up to? Consider the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989-90. Or the defusing of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Or the eradication of smallpox. How do any of us know that God wasn’t behind these events?

4. The evidence of thousands of years clearly shows that working in partnership with us very imperfect humans is God’s preferred method of operating. Indeed, the Bible has all kinds of stories about God working through folks like Paul (an opponent of Christianity who became one of its greatest missionaries) to accomplish His will.

So, when you consider these points, has God really been reduced to appearing on toast? Or is He making it clear that “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work” (you can find that quote in the Bible, in a section called ‘Isaiah’).

I know that can be frustrating. But much more importantly, it’s a powerful reminder to me (and, hopefully, to you) that God is God. And I am not.

In the meantime, what I do know for certain about God is that He offers the gift of Jesus Christ (whom serious Christians, and many others, believe is His son) to everyone – no matter what we’ve done or not done.

When we accept that gift and decide to follow Jesus, we give God permission to start working in our lives to make us better people and this planet a better place. Does this interest you? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Finished“Be confident of this, that the One who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in Christ Jesus.”
–    A letter from Paul, a missionary, to one of the early Christian churches

A lot of people who believe there’s a God out there also believe this God has washed His hands of them.

I know I’ve had times in my life where this has happened; I imagine God saying “What? You’ve screwed up again? I’m so tired of having to deal with you…I’m out of here.” And with that, God throws in His spiritual towel and walks away.

Then I heard a pastor, Adrian van Giessen, talk about those words in the Bible from Paul, one of the men most responsible for spreading Christianity throughout the Mediterranean.

Adrian’s way of interpreting St. Paul was this simple: God finishes what He starts.

You and I may tire of something; we may decide all is lost and give up the ghost. But as Adrian put it, there’s not a quitter bone in God’s body.

This means no matter what we do, no matter how many times we screw up, no matter how often we repeat the same mistake, God doesn’t lose hope. He keeps His hard hat, work gloves and tool belt on; He keeps the plan He has for your life squarely in front of Him; and He never, ever gives up on you. Or me.

Now, some might examine their lives and declare God didn’t begin a good work in them at all, so there’s nothing to finish. When I’ve felt this way, I’ve looked to another part of the Bible (a biography of Jesus’ life simply called ‘John’) for a verse you might have heard before: God so loved the world that He gave His only son and whoever believes in and seriously follows the son will go on living even after his or her body dies.

Notice the verse simply says ‘the world’, rather than ‘some parts of the world’? That means you and I are on the list of what God loves. So why wouldn’t He start a good work in you, too?

If you believe this, there is an important thing to do: stop dwelling on what happened to you in the past – including the stuff that makes you think God didn’t begin a good work in you – and simply co-operate with Him.

Read the Bible and find out where God stands on the issues, discover how Jesus (whom serious Christians, and many others, believe is His son) prayed to him and what are priorities to God. Then think about your plans, your actions, your thoughts, your strengths and weaknesses and try to put them through a God filter…is this what He wants for your life?

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Sin 10.13“Sin” is not a word we use much anymore.
And it’s easy to understand why: embarrassing televangelists have turned it into a ridiculously pronounced cliche (can’t you just hear them pontificating about ‘see-in’?). Furthermore, in North America, the media and entertainment industries have mercilessly lampooned the word and anyone who dares to even whisper it.

So, call it what you want. Mistakes. Errors. Missing the mark. Falling short. Dropping the ball. Blowing it. I’m sure I could find more names for sin, but you get it.

Responding to the charge in this online ‘graphic’ (conveniently posted for me on an Atheism Internet community), I looked up the word. Here’s what I found:

Transgression of divine law: the sin of Adam.
Any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle.
Any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense: It’s a sin to waste time.

After reading these definitions, all I can do is think about the world we live in, then scratch my head in puzzlement. Epic greed (which directly caused the 2008-2011 recession), sickening entitlement (think about the salaries most professional athletes demand because they think they’re worth it) and lust for power (which have brought us the likes of Adolf Hitler) are just a few of what Dictionary.com calls “a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principal”. You can probably suggest other examples.

So how is any of what I’ve described ‘imaginary’? The people who are still unemployed because of the recession, the people who receive piddling salaries for doing important work (social workers come to mind) and the victims of someone’s lust for power (just consider the victims of Cambodia’s horrific Pol Pot regime) would surely tell you sin is as real as cancer, reality TV and government deficits.

And the ‘imaginary cure’? I have no trouble telling you there are many parts of the Christian Bible that I don’t fully comprehend. But that’s not what sticks with me. Instead, I think of the parts that are crystal clear:

  • Love your enemies;
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated;
  • Deal with your shortcomings before pointing out the failures of others;
  • Don’t be a hypocrite;
  • Forgive and you will be forgiven;
  • Put the needs of others ahead of your needs.

Am I crazy to write that these commandments, mostly given by Jesus Christ (whom serious Christians, and many others, believe is the son of God) will go a long way to solving the sins of humanity? I don’t think so.

That’s why I became a follower of Jesus. That’s why I treat the Bible seriously, even the parts that puzzle me. Jesus knows better than I do what’s wrong with this world and how it can be made right. I want to be part of that process. Do you? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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The Challenge Of HellSo what’s the deal with Hell?

That’s a question I’m sure you’ve asked yourself at least once. I used to ask it frequently before I became a Christian more than a decade ago.

Do I understand everything about it? Not in the least. I doubt anyone does. But I have come to know that the truth about Hell is not at all like the graphic you see here (kindly provided by an Internet atheism community.)

First of all, Hell was not created for human beings. Erwin McManus, a pastor, notes God created Hell for Satan (what’s the deal with him? That’s a topic for another essay).

So why does God “send” people there? Well, God doesn’t send anyone there. We send ourselves there.

Ponder these ideas, as presented by Mark Mittelberg (and based on excerpts from the Bible) in his book The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask:

  • God is perfect and, as a just judge, He has to condemn sin, not overlook it.
  • God doesn’t owe anyone a second chance and yet He gives us repeated opportunities to turn our lives around and look to Jesus (whom serious Christians, and many others, believe is His son) for guidance.
  • God has given us this planet, with all its beauty and diversity, and we have abused it as if we are accountable to no one.
  • We treat our fellow humans with disregard, even though God loves them as much as us.
  • We fool ourselves about where we are on the moral spectrum, thinking we’re just fine and ignoring the bad things we’ve done and the good things we’ve failed to do.

Now, consider this: Jesus is God’s gift to everyone who will accept him. Jesus died to make up for the sins of everyone who believes in Him and follows Him.

Jesus came back to life to show us God’s power and, in the succinct words of the wiki.answers.com website, to show us “He is not an ordinary human, but divine. He triumphed over the grave for all who would accept Him as saviour”. It’s also a testimony of what will happen to everyone who follows Jesus – not death, but eternal life with Him.

As with any gift, the gift of Jesus must be accepted. If it’s not, then God looks at us and sees the ways we’ve misused the talents and abilities He’s put in us. The ways we’ve lived as if He doesn’t exist. The ways we ignore the needs around us. The ways we live for more money, more power, more toys – all things that are, in the end, meaningless. And that’s what we’ll be judged on.

So, as Erwin McManus explains it, God “will not stop us from going to Hell if we insist on it. It is a choice to live a life that’s wasted because you’re not living the life God created you for. Hell is a place where you say ‘no – I don’t want Your love’.”

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

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