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Archive for the ‘It’s Not About ‘Religion’’ Category

Religion bad 5.14A challenging graphic, isn’t it? I saw it on an atheist Internet community and knew it would be good for Frank’s Cottage. Mostly because I’m in full agreement.

Religion, from my point of view, often does BAD things in our world.

  • Religion says that because the group I belong to is right, then everyone else must be wrong. And it’s a pretty short trip from there to believing I can do whatever I want to “wrong” people.
  • Religion says I have to do things, or NOT do things, in order to get in good with whatever god is at the top of that group.
  • Religion says if I blow up a building or murder a doctor who performs abortions, I’m doing a good thing.
  • Religion says I’m supposed to have it all together and if I don’t, then others (who obviously DO have it all together) will judge me and exclude me from their social group.
  • Religion insists that certain behaviours are wrong (such as having an occasional alcoholic drink or getting a tattoo), even if my holy book is absolutely silent on them.

So where does all this religion get us? I like the response of Bruxey Cavey. In his book The End of Religion, this Canadian pastor writes, “Religion does not lead people to God any more than empty cups quench your thirst”.

To me, religion leads to an empty charade of a life. Or the sickening horror of thinking you’re doing good by blowing up a building or murdering a doctor who performs abortions.

Another pastor, Mark Driscoll explains the difference between religion and Christianity (my faith) this way:

Religion is humanity trying to reach up to God. The message of Christianity is God reaching down to people. Religion is about what people have to do to be right with God.  Christianity is about what God has already done to provide us the opportunity to be right with Him.

Religion says you must earn your salvation by doing good deeds or certain acts and not doing evil. Christianity says all we need to do is believe that Jesus Christ [whom serious Christians believe is God’s son] has already paid the price for the evil we have done.

And before you protest, yes, every human being on this planet (and that certainly includes ME) has done evil. Even the late Mother Teresa did evil — that’s one reason she dedicated her life to following Jesus. She wanted — and received, as far as serious Christians are concerned — the benefit of Jesus paying the price for all her wrongs through His sacrificial death at the hands of Roman officials. That benefit is eternity in Heaven with her saviour.

“Jesus did not come to offer an alternative religion, but an alternative to religion,” Bruxey Cavey wrote in The End of Religion. “He did not call people to leave one lifeless shell for another, but to live life beyond the borders of religious rules, regulations, rituals, and routines.”

Does this Jesus — and all He’s done for everyone who believes in and follows Him — appeal to you? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Popularity 2.14

What do you think? Does the atheist person who created this graphic have a good point?

I guess that depends on what you think the point is; for me, this graphic (which criticizes Christianity) doesn’t really speak about truth. It speaks about popularity.

Consider this: Nazism must be true, because it was very popular with a very large segment of Europe. For about a decade, people all over Germany, France, Austria and other countries were knocking on doors to get into the club.

And what about this: smoking cigarettes must be a good thing, since hundreds of millions of people have done it. In fact, there are still young people who knock on the door to get into the smokers club.

What I’m saying here is the truth of Christianity has absolutely nothing to do with its popularity. Zero. Zilch. Squat.

So let’s go further and explain why people are, for the most part, NOT knocking on the doors to get into the club.

1. Christianity starts with absolute reality and that reality is so unpopular, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I write that some people would rather cut off their ears than hear it: we do bad things and fail to do good things. All the time – so often, in fact, that we often don’t realize when it happens. (That’s certainly the case for me.)

It can be as small as failing to give to charity or getting unjustifiably angry with your spouse. And it can be as large as sabotaging a friend’s marriage, cheating on your taxes or defrauding your workplace. The size doesn’t matter. It’s still reality. It’s still bad. It’s still happening all the time.

2. Many people think truth is kinda relative. But there is an objective morality to Christianity – a morality that doesn’t change with time or culture or anything else.

Wrong is still wrong, even if everyone’s doing it. And right is still right, even if no one is doing it. And that definitely makes Christianity unpopular.

3. The solution is as simple as accepting a gift from God – Jesus Christ, whom serious Christians believe is His son.

Christ came to serve anyone who believes in Him and follows Him – His death is a sacrifice that makes up for all the bad things we’ve done and the good things we’ve failed to do. And His resurrection provides a way for eternal life with Him, long after our lives on planet Earth are finished.

This is overwhelmingly unpopular because it forces us to examine our lives and admit we have blown it so often that we can never do enough to make up for it. Even someone as remarkable as Mother Teresa knew that.

4. One final reason for the unpopularity of Christianity? It takes a combination of reason and faith to become a follower of Jesus Christ. It will never, ever be possible to prove or disprove the existence of God. There is certainly evidence, but that evidence MUST be combined with a leap of faith (and I write about that here: http://wp.me/p2wzRb-3i). That’s certainly enough to turn off many people.

And yet, in the end, Christianity is so simple. And what you need to do to get in on God’s offer of a changed life NOW and for ETERNITY is remarkably straightforward.

Are you interested? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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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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ReligionThe other day, I encountered a blog by someone named David Foster who disputed the claim I and many others have made: that Christianity is about a relationship with God through Jesus of Nazareth, rather than an ‘organized religion’.

“Even if this ‘being’, which you claim to have a relationship with, does exist, your worshipping of him or her still constitutes a religion,” David writes. “I would say the same about people whose praise of their boyfriend or girlfriend crosses the line into worship.”

An interesting point. But just because many people worship God and his son, Jesus, doesn’t make it a religion. Many people believe God made this entire universe, including the air you are breathing as you read this essay. You and I would not be alive without some sort of creator, so why shouldn’t He be worshipped? And that’s the precise reason why worshipping God is nothing like worshipping your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend.

Another point from the David Foster blog:  “To me, it seems that Christians are simply believing in something they were indoctrinated to believe in, usually since childhood.”

Okay, then, David. How do you explain me? My entire biological family bought into the ridicule our culture has for Jesus and abandoned Him decades ago. Until 2002, I was with them 100 per cent. Yet, I changed – and it wasn’t because of an awful crisis, either.

So my question remains, David: how do you explain me and so many others who were NOT ‘indoctrinated’ into following Jesus, yet they still made a life-changing commitment to Him?

Finally, David Foster makes this assertion: “To me, the relationship Christians have with Jesus is in no way distinguishable from the relationship children have with their imaginary friends. I’ll change my mind in the event a Christian demonstrates that Jesus can do something tangible that an imaginary friend cannot.”

There are all kinds of examples of Jesus doing what most of us would consider nearly impossible. Off the top of my head, I think of Michael ‘Bull’ Roberts, a man who graduated from a horrific childhood to become a gang leader who ran most of the drug trade in the Canadian province of Alberta.

Michael’s ‘friends’ in the drug world eventually turned on him, beating him savagely and leaving him for dead. In the aftermath, he turned to Jesus.

Today? No more gang activity. No more drug dealing. No more violence. In fact, Michael now spends his time helping street kids, society’s outcasts and people in prisons.

I suppose if David Foster and other skeptics want to credit Michael’s new life to an ‘imaginary friend’, they will find a way. But wouldn’t that position smack of the very desperation that David attributes to Jesus followers?

So what about you? Where do you stand on the notion of Christianity being a relationship rather than a religion? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Is this a story of doom and gloom? Or something else altogether?

The article, on CNN’s Belief Blog, recounts the results of an international census study by a team of mathematicians. The study concludes, “Organized religion will all but vanish eventually from nine Western-style democracies.”

Those countries, according to the mathematicians, are Ireland, Canada, Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.

The study’s authors base their report on two assumptions:

  1.  It’s more attractive to be part of the majority than the minority and in the countries named, people who are not part of any organized religion are the fastest growing group.
  2.  In these nine countries, there are “social, economic and political advantages” to being unaffiliated with any organized religion.

What attracted me to this article is the whole idea of belonging to an “organized religion”. I don’t think I’m stating it too strongly when I write that those two words are even less popular than “tax increase”.

And I have a pastor to back me up.

Ross Carkner, of Whitby Baptist Church in Ontario, told me this study isn’t even mildly alarming.

“You could be talking to a real Jesus follower and ask them about organized religion and they’d say ‘I’m not interested’. So I’m not in the least bit concerned.”

There’s something else at play in this study, something the authors don’t bother to consider. They seem to assume that being part of a religious group is the same as belonging to the Kiwanis Club or a lawn bowling league. For some people, that may be the case and they might, indeed, drift out of “organized religion” based exactly on the authors’ two assumptions.

But were those people ever really part of a faith group? For serious Jesus followers like the ones Ross was referring to, it doesn’t matter how popular the group is because it’s not about the group. It’s about a living, day-to-day relationship with God through His son, Jesus. And that transcends any popularity contest or sociological label.

I would be a pretty sorry Jesus follower – and a despicable example to people who don’t follow Him – if I examined the state of my faith, decided it was as solid as the Jello, then bailed out.

So what about you? Are you interested in being part of a group? Or are you intrigued by a living faith that transcends groups, disregards popularity, and ignores study results? If you’re reading this because you’re willing to consider the latter, then ponder what Jesus told one audience: “Are you tired? Burned out on religion? Come to me . . . and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.”

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

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Are you as fascinated as I am with the spirituality of celebrities? In recent years, the media told us about pop singer Katy Perry not having a childhood because of her strict religious parents (they wouldn’t even let her buy non-Christian CDs), and about Brad Pitt (who grew up the son of very conservative Christian parents) saying his upbringing was stifling.

Now there’s another celebrity speaking out about faith.  Singer Brian Johnson, the 70-year-old member of AC/DC – I love his wolverine-in-heat singing style – told the website popeater.com that he doesn’t believe in religion.

“I believe all religions are bad,” he said. “I think they’re a waste of time.”

From a Christian perspective (and that was Johnson’s childhood environment), he couldn’t be more right. Religion is about rules and appearances – follow the rules and make sure you appear to have it all together. If you don’t, prepare to be criticized and ostracized.

Jesus of Nazareth, who many people believe is the Son of God, has no use for this kind of thinking. He told the self-righteous religious leaders of His day (those are likely the sort of people Johnson is thinking about) that they were hopeless frauds.

One of the original source documents of His life records Him telling a crowd of people, “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they [the self-righteous religious leaders] package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads.”

In the case of Katy Perry (famous for her outlandish outfits and the hit song ‘I Kissed a Girl’), she told Vanity Fair magazine her parents wouldn’t let her say ‘deviled eggs’ or ‘dirt devil’ and the only book her mother ever read to her was the Bible.

Now this may be a case of parents fearful of losing their child to all the attractions of our superficial, often-misguided culture. But that fear caused them to go to such laughable religious extremes that Perry abandoned her faith.

These were the same kinds of extremes Jesus dealt with. His followers were collecting food during the Sabbath – a holy day of rest for serious Jews – when those obnoxious, rule-obsessed religious leaders found out and accused them of breaking Jewish law. As before, Jesus refused to knuckle under.

The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath,” He told them.

Notice what keeps happening? Now, as in ancient times, religion keeps getting in the way of people having a life-changing relationship with God – a relationship that ultimately guarantees us a place in Heaven with Jesus.

I’m not saying all rules are always bad; can you imagine the mayhem that would result if we tried playing hockey or soccer without rules? Those guidelines help us understand and enjoy hockey and soccer, just as the guidelines Jesus supported help us understand and enjoy a relationship with God, through Jesus.

If this makes sense, are you willing to give God (as opposed to religion) a try?

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ReligiousSymbolsHere’s a statement that might get you scratching your head: I’m a serious Christian, but I’m not into religion.

Huh? For a lot of people, religion and spirituality are the same thing. But many people of faith will tell you that’s not so.

Psychiatrist Richard Pratt sees the difference this way: “Religion is a search for peace and security in an unsure world. Spirituality is that personal urge many of us have within, to listen to an inner voice from a deep ‘something’ that is calling us from the inside out.”

There’s nothing wrong with searching for peace and security. In fact, my commitment to following Jesus Christ (whom serious Christians believe is the divine Son of God) provides just that. However, it’s my faith, NOT my religion.

Fine, fine, you say. But am I guilty of linguistic hair-splitting? Some might say yes, but I’ve often found that religious people can be unpleasant and “legalistic” — that is, they spend too much time making sure they and people around them are obeying rules and keeping up proper appearances. Often, these rules and appearances have nothing to do with following Jesus.

There’s no shortage of examples: earrings on guys; drinking the occasional glass of beer or wine; attending a mainstream rock concert; getting a tattoo; shopping on Sunday; smoking cigarettes or cigars; missing a church service now and then.

Granted, just about everyone knows smoking is terrible for your health, but guess what: it’s NOT listed as a sin in the Bible. In fact, smoking, tattoos, earrings, mainstream music and “religiously” attending worship services are not mentioned at all. Alcohol? One of the four Bible stories recounting the life of Jesus has Him turning water into wine at a wedding.

So where does this “religious” drive come from? Part of our desire for peace and security translates into everyone thinking and acting similarly. That makes it easy for people to see who’s “with us” and who’s not. But it seems clear to me that God didn’t make the world for me or anyone else to mindlessly brand (and by brand, I mean “judge”) others.

In fact, Jesus had an issue with this branding/judging. One of His most famous instructions is to avoid judging people because whatever standard we use in our judging, that same standard will be used against us.

Paul, a missionary who helped spread Christianity in its early days, wrote a powerful reminder in the Bible for all people: “It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between — not each other.”

I hope this means something to you, if you’ve ever been left with a bad taste after encountering a religious Christian. And it’s my prayer that Paul’s reminder will stick with me, no matter who I encounter in this life.

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