Archive for April, 2014

Religion industryWhen I saw this graphic in an Internet atheism community, it made me laugh.

Is “religion” a multi-billion dollar “industry”? Yes. In 2012, the Economist magazine estimated the U.S. Catholic Church spends about $170 billion a year.

Furthermore, According to the Leadership Network, senior pastors of the largest 209 churches in North America earned (including allowances for housing) between $85,000 and $265,000 in 2012.

Now it’s time for other facts:

The Economist estimates that 57 per cent of the Catholic church’s U.S. spending went to Catholic health care networks, 28 per cent to colleges, six per cent to day-to-day operations at local parishes and dioceses, and 2.7 per cent to national charities. Do any other “industries” spend their money like this?

The median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings, according to the National Congregations Study. I imagine the number is very similar in my country, Canada. Can anyone credibly insist that these churches are raking in cash?

According to PayScale.com, the average Canadian pastor’s salary is between $34,876 and $74,500.  According to the National Association of Church Business Administration, the average U.S. pastor received $28,000 in 2012.  In addition, the association notes one out of five pastors has to work a second job to support himself and his family.

While the graphic I’ve included here drips with cynicism, most reasonable people can see that the reality is very different. While “religion” may be an “industry” for some people, a vast, vast majority of people who follow Jesus of Nazareth (considered by many to be the Son of God) are in it because they feel called by God.

Senior pastors, youth pastors, denominational leaders, church administrative assistants, bishops, archbishops, etc. will do “everything in their power” to keep on following where God leads.

For me, that meant moving across Canada to accept a position with a faith-based organization. Are we “benefitting financially”? If you translate that as having enough to own a very average home (on two salaries, including my wife’s, who works for a bank), then yes.

For other people, that means working in dangerous places like South Sudan, providing medical care to refugees. Or teaching people how to avoid the deadly Ebola virus in Africa. Are they “benefitting financially”? Not even a little. In many cases, they don’t own a house or a car.

So what does all this mean to you? It means that while there are some bad apples in “religion”, almost all people working in the faith “industry” are there because they want to make a difference in a world that we all know isn’t doing very well.

Many of them found their lives transformed for the better when they decided to follow Jesus. They realized that God was offering them a gift in Jesus; follow Him and God no longer sees the bad things they’ve done and the good things they’ve failed to do. Jesus’ sacrificial death on a cross cleaned their slate, so God sees them as He sees His son: pure and perfect.

God offers YOU that gift, too. Interested? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Jesus Is AliveGeorge Carlin (1937-2008) was an extraordinary comedian and social critic who never made a secret of his contempt for spirituality and organized religion.

So while I don’t know if he actually said the crude and confrontational words in this graphic, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised.

Either way, let’s take a few minutes to examine the quote:

1. No, followers of Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God) DON’T worship a “dead Jew” – Jesus followers worship a living person who transcends any kind of “organized religion”.

How do I know Jesus lives? First of all, I know He rose from the dead after his crucifixion by Roman authorities. In a letter to early Jesus followers, Paul, a missionary who spread the message of Jesus throughout the Mediterranean, wrote. “After [His resurrection], Christ appeared to more than 500 other believers at the same time. Most of them are still living today, but some have died.”

In other words, Paul is telling his readers that if they don’t believe him about Jesus coming back from the dead, there are hundreds of people who can back him up. That strikes me as very, very credible.

Increasing the credibility of this fact is that Jesus predicted all this. In one of the four source documents of his life, Jesus told his followers that, “I, the Messiah, am going to be betrayed and killed and three days later I will return to life again.”

2. Now you might be saying “So what? That was 2,000 years ago. Where is he now?” Great question. Now, Jesus is where He told His followers He would be – in Heaven, (a) advocating for people who follow Him, (b) living in their hearts and (c) changing their lives.

An early Jesus follower addresses this: “So Christ can save those who come to God through him. Christ can do this forever, because he always lives and is ready to help people when they come before God.”

Blogger Steve Simms writes about this on his website (http://stevesimms.wordpress.com/), noting “I have personally known hundreds of people who have been transformed and set free through an encounter with Jesus, including dozens of drug addicts and alcoholics.”

3. By now, I’m sure you have an idea about what I’m gonna write about the “on a stick” part of the Carlin quote. Yes, churches almost always have a cross prominently displayed. Yes, many Jesus followers have a cross somewhere on their bodies (mine is a Celtic cross, connecting to my Irish heritage, that I wear around my neck).

But I certainly don’t worship the cross and neither do any Jesus followers I know. We need and want to see it often because we want and need to be reminded that we, like every other human being (including YOU) have missed the mark of who God wants us to be. We’ve fallen short, ignored the love of our creator, gone our own way and messed up — often in ways we can’t see.

The cross reminds us of what Jesus did for us — His sacrificial death wipes our slate clean with God. When we believe in and follow Jesus, God sees us as He sees His son — perfect, without a single blemish.

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

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PerpetualStateOfFear 4.14First of all, let me make this clear: Star Trek ROCKS. Even the not-so-great movies — Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Nemesis (2002) — were still at least mildly entertaining.

What grabbed my attention about this graphic, posted in an atheism Internet community, is two things:

1. The Spock character never said these words;
2. That said, I absolutely agree with them.

What kind of a god would ever demand constant fear from his creations? Certainly not the God I believe in, or Jesus of Nazareth, who many people believe is God’s Son.

An ancient document by one of Jesus’s earlist followers addresses this topic in a very reasonable way: Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love takes away fear. It is his punishment that makes a person fear.

That makes a great deal of sense to me. While I don’t fear God the way this graphic suggests, what I do fear is this:

  •  Disappointing Him by failing to constantly strive to be the person He knows I can be.
  •  Saddening Him by ignoring the opportunities He gives me to tell others about how He changed my life through Jesus and how their lives can be made better the same way.
  •  Insulting Him by living my life as if He doesn’t exist.
  •  Belittling Him by not fully acknowledging everything He did for me (and for you, too) by offering the gift of Jesus, who died to make up for the sins of everyone who believes in Him and follows Him.

I like how the United Church of God website puts it:
“God does not want us to be in continual terror of Him, though that may be where we start in our relationship with Him. Proper, mature fear of God means having a healthy reverence and respect for the most powerful Being in the universe and the laws He has set in place for our own benefit.

I also appreciate the words of Christian Post columnist Dan Delzell:
“Think about a family. Parents who dearly love their children also discipline their children appropriately for their good. In those families, children know they are loved. They also have the ‘fear’ of discipline should they choose to push the limits and disobey. That is not a bad fear. It actually is a very necessary part of family life.”

I see logic in wanting to worship a deity like this. Do you? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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House of hypocritsIf you’ve spent much time on this planet, then I’m pretty you’ve had the misfortune of encountering the kind of people described in this graphic.

I certainly have. It was even worse for a friend: her husband left her and, as a result, hypocrites at her church turned their backs on her to the point where she stopped attending.

This is the kind of rude, arrogant judgementalism, especially on things that  aren’t important, that stops many people from following Jesus of Nazareth (who many believe is God’s Son). And Jesus is dead-set against it. He told the religious leaders of his day that “You load people down with rules and regulations, nearly breaking their backs, but never lift even a finger to help.”

Now, before we go any further, it’s time I came clean and declared I’m a hypocrite. There have been times when I’ve said one thing and done something entirely different (just check with my very patient and forgiving wife).

While I’m at it, I think it’s safe to write that every church on this planet can be called “The House of Hypocrites” because they’re filled with people like me. Sometimes, without even realizing it until later, we grab our gavels, pound our desks and pompously declare others guilty of the very wrongs we’ve committed.

Does that make church an ludicrous time-waster? Not at all. The key thing is to understand this: “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” Those are the words of longtime newspaper advice columnist Abigail Van Buren (better known as ‘Dear Abby’) and they make absolute sense.

I go to church because there, I can learn from other, more mature Jesus followers how to identify and turn away from hypocritical behaviour and be the person God knows I can be.

Because I’m judgmental, I go to church so I can learn the truth of my faith: the only person who can truly be judgmental is Jesus. Serious Jesus followers acknowledge that He never committed a single sin. That makes Him alone worthy of holding the gavel of judgment.

But there’s good news here: One of the original-source biographies of Jesus’s physical life on Earth tells us “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”

Once I decided to believe that Jesus is God’s gift to me and I should accept that gift, God started the process of making me “right again”. He can do the same for you, too. Just accept His gift and see what happens next.

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

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