Saturday, June 30, 2012

Top Blog Posts For June 2012

Here are the top 5 blog posts by views for June 2012 in reverse order.

#5 "Take Out The Trash" - The Principle of Transformation 

This article is from a series I did based on Chip Ingram's book: "Good to Great in God's Eyes." It talks about dealing with the junk in our lives in order that we can move on. You can't change what has happened to you, but you can give it a different meaning.

#4 Akiane Kramarik

Akiane just keeps on going. Ever since I started following her career on my blog, the interest just keeps on growing. If you've never checked out her work or read her story, you should.

#3 Book Review: "The Harbinger" 

This is the first book review that has consistently ranked among the top choices of readers. It's a prophetic book written by a Messianic Jewish Rabbi named Jonathon Cahn. It's a book that has attracted a great deal of attention because of its attempts to tie Biblical prophecy to the events of 9/11 and the collapse of the American economy. It's an arresting read.

#2 Akiane Kramarik - 2012

This is my latest piece on Akiane - now 17. It attempts to sort through some of the more common questions about her faith and how it is expressed in her art. 

#1 Akiane
You guessed it. It's Akiane again! I wish I had discovered this young artist. She has an incredible talent and has appeared repeatedly on the major U.S. talk shows. I started writing about her because I was intrigued by the spiritual nature of her art. Having started her art at 5 years old, she already has quite the portfolio - certainly worth a look.

Friday, June 29, 2012


There are markers in our lives that represent significant events or sometimes just the passage of time. There seem to be a lot of those for me, in particular, this year. My youngest son just turned 18 and graduated from High School. My middle son, this spring, became the first of my children to get married. This fall my wife and I will celebrate 30 years of marriage and 30 years in ministry. I will also turn 50 this year! It seems like a good time for reflection.

These years have been called middle-age by some, but not many of us live to be 100 so that's a little bit of a misnomer. My father passed away at 62, so who knows? Regardless, the time seems right to look back at what I might have done differently, so that some following behind might learn from my mistakes, which are many. What would I do differently if I had it to do over again?

I would have had pre-marital counseling. This would have saved my wife and I a tremendous amount of grief. It's amazing to me that the 19 year old version of myself thought that he knew so much, and how little he actually knew. I made a lot of mistakes as a young married man. Thankfully, I married an understanding woman who believed in me and in the institution of marriage, and stuck with me through those growing pains.

As someone who officiates at a lot of weddings, I have made it a policy not to perform a wedding without first providing premarital counseling. I make sure to cover the purpose of marriage, communication, finances, worldview and whatever other issues arise. It's a lot of work, but I feel a lot better about performing the ceremony.

I would have found a mentor (or mentors) as a young man. There were different people who spoke into my life at different times, but I would have been much more intentional had I known the difference it would make. I have learned through discussions that many men feel the same as I felt those many years ago - lost. They are thrust into a world of responsibility for which they are not prepared and forced to sink or swim. It's by the grace of God that most of the mistakes I made didn't have serious repercussions. Having a mature mentor for advice would have saved me a lot of problems.

I would have stayed out of debt. Financial problems are a major source of strife in marriage and life in general. Much of the problem is the easy availability of credit and a lack of understanding of the consequences of getting in over one's head. I readily admit that I had no idea what I was doing when we first got married. It takes only a short time to rack up debt and many years to climb out. I'm glad it wasn't worse, but we certainly could have done better. I highly recommend Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University to everyone. If I had known the principles he shares in this course when I was younger, I would have been spared a world of grief.

I would have gone further in school. I have made a commitment to be a life-long learner. I read, attend conferences, take courses, etc..., but I regret not spending more time on a formal education. Although they say it's never too late to learn, the best time to do that is when you are young and your mind is a little more elastic. Investing in the right education will pay off down the road. I suggest starting with the liberal arts until you find your passion; then focus on it.

I would have asked more questions. When you don't know, assumptions are the enemy. It would have been great to have had Google way back when! My repair jobs would have been a lot more successful. Information is power and the best way to get information is to ask the right people the right questions.

I would have spent more time with my father. There are some opportunities that we can't get back. Don't miss out on the chance to spend time with people you love and tell them how you feel. The day will come when you won't be able to do that.

All in all, so far it's been a great ride. My biggest lessons learned are these: life can be hard, but God is faithful. The best decision I ever made, as a seventeen year-old kid, was to commit my life to follow Christ . I'm so very thankful that I did.

Related Articles:
Does Your Life Make Sense?
Life Lessons From A Fellow Traveler
More Life Lessons From A Fellow Traveler
"Do Your Own Dishes" - The Principle of Responsibility
Developing Great Habits

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Does Your Life Make Sense?

I wanted to continue on with the theme I discussed earlier this week and talk about the challenges of modern man. Our culture has largely embraced a conflicting view of reality. In many things, most people that I meet could be considered to be functional atheists. In other words, regardless of what they say they believe, they live their lives as if God doesn't exist.

Yet they find this type of life ultimately dissatisfying. It doesn't conform to reality as we know it. If there is no God, for example, how is it that we can satisfactorily explain things like love, sacrifice, hope, etc... If they are simply the products of "millions of years of evolution," than they are merely chemical reactions.

Years ago, my brother was in a discussion with an atheist couple at their home. He asked the husband if he loved his wife. He responded that, of course, he loved his wife. He then asked him what his basis for love was. Without appealing to some higher source, was it not just a chemical reaction - his response to her pheromones? He said that, yes, that would be the scientific and rational explanation. What then, would happen, if someone were to come along with a stronger chemical than his wife? Based on his worldview, is there no other explanation for love?

His wife looked at him expectantly, wanting to hear the answer as well. He finally asked my brother to leave. Apparently the question hit a little too close to home.

C.S. Lewis dealt with this question on a different level - the longing of human beings for what we call heaven. It's not simply a "Christian" thing, cultures have believed in an afterlife throughout history. This is how he explains it: "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing."

Francis Schaeffer has explained this point well. Modern man, says Schaeffer, resides in a two-story universe. In the lower story is the finite world without God; here life is absurd, as we have seen. In the upper story are meaning, value, and purpose. Now modern man lives in the lower story because he believes there is no God. But he cannot live happily in such an absurd world; therefore, he continually makes leaps of faith into the upper story to affirm meaning, value, and purpose, even though he has no right to, since he does not believe in God.

I see this all the time. We have holdover values of our culture's Christian heritage. Couples who would declare their lack of faith due to the hypocrisy of some Christians but, yet, will stand at a Christian altar to declare their vows before a God in whom they don't believe. (No hypocrisy there!) Another example is parents who have no desire to be Christians, or no intention to have their children live as Christians, yet bring their child to a church for baptism or dedication.

Perhaps nowhere is it more obvious than at the loss of a loved one. There are the rare occasions when the deceased are coldly placed into the ground without ceremony or sentiment. But, more often than not, regardless of the life lived or the beliefs espoused, those remaining look for words of encouragement and hope that there is something beyond the grave.

As a pastor, I've thought long and hard about these issues, and had my share of discussions with people from all walks of life. The truth is that people are hungry for spiritual meaning and yet are very unsure where to find it. Our post-modern culture has also tried to redefine the rules of engagement by declaring such maxims as "all truth is relative" and "history can't be trusted," etc...

Yet the law of non-contradiction still stands: two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. In other words, we're not all right.

As Ravi Zacharias says, "truth, by definition, is exclusive." Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ stood before Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who was determining whether or not to have Jesus crucified. Jesus said to him: "In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." Pilate's response is a question people have been asking ever since - "What is truth?"

If Jesus is who He says He was - and He is - none of us can afford to ignore Him. It is ironic that in Iran, where conversion from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death, there have been more conversions in the past 15 years than in the past 300. Yet, in the "free" West, Jesus' name is most often used as a by-word. The temptation for many is to assign Him a place with the "other" religious leaders who have come and gone and to respect His teachings. Yet, Jesus didn't come as a mere teacher, He came as Messiah, to give life and to make our lives meaningful and everlasting. What will you do with Jesus?

I'll leave the last word with C. S. Lewis:  "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Related Articles:
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"And That's The Truth..."
Book Review: "Why I Still Believe"
Book Review: "Why Jesus?"
What Do You Believe And Why Does It Matter?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Do You Believe And Why Does It Matter?

For many people, what they believe is something that they don't often think about. I have found that, quite often, people simply want to fit in and so they "parrot" what they hear expressed in the culture around them. When pressed, many people cannot give a coherent answer about what they believe.

This is unfortunate, because what we believe shapes who we are and how we act. In other words, ideas have consequences. Sometimes those consequences don't matter a great deal, but sometimes, when the wrong ideas permeate a culture, the consequences can be devastating.

A quick glance at the history of the twentieth century provides enough illustrative material for a few books. Witness the consequences of the state-imposed belief in atheism, the belief that “No God exists beyond or in the universe. The universe or cosmos is all there is and all there will be. All is matter: it is self-sustaining.” 

This may sound like a fairly harmless statement to make, but when it becomes a dogma of a state, it leads to some horrific results. If there is no God and the cosmos is all that there is and all that will be, then it follows that people are simply products of an impersonal process and have no intrinsic value. It also follows that there is no absolute standard for morality and a powerful state can set it's own rules arbitrarily to serve its own purposes. Horrific acts can then be justified as being in the best interests of the state.

We saw this in the Soviet Union (USSR), where Stalin was responsible for the murder of fifty million of his own people. Basic human rights were suspended because the state didn't recognize them - they had no foundation in atheistic ideology. Contrast this with the expression of the American Declaration of Independence: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." This radical statement lead to the building of a nation that lead the Western world in freedom for more than two centuries. It's not just the Soviet Union that set a bad example, however.

Pol Pot, the leader of the Communist Party in Cambodia, was responsible for the deaths of two million of his own people in a four year period, with similar reasoning as the USSR. Communist North Korea today is one of the worst offenders of human rights in the world. Then we look at China, with its forced sterilization and enforcement of a one-child policy, which has resulted in what we now call "gendercide," the murder of baby girls because boys are more favourable and only one child is allowed. There are many other examples, but the point is that ideas matter.

What do you believe? Taking a hard look at Western Civilization today we see clear signs of an impending implosion. We no longer have a consensus of belief. While most believe in human rights, we're not sure from where they come. Many would certainly not adhere to the belief that those rights flow from our Creator - and if they do, He's certainly not the God of Christianity.

Formerly Christian European nations, turned off by the excesses of the State churches, have become functional if not literal atheists. Morality is now defined by popular opinion, and we've seen the spread of euthanasia, the breakdown of the family and the rise of anarchic tendencies. Canada and the United States are not far behind. We are beginning to reap what we have sown.

Hear English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge on the subject: "We look back on history, and what do we see?  Empires rising and falling; revolutions and counter-revolutions succeeding one another; wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed; one nation dominant and then another.  As Shakespeare's King Lear puts it, 'the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.'  In one lifetime I've seen my fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, and the great majority of them convinced – in the words of what is still a favorite song – that God has made them mighty and will make them mightier yet.  I've heard a crazed Austrian announce the establishment of a German Reich that was to last for a thousand years; an Italian clown report that the calendar will begin again with his assumption of power; a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius.  I've seen America wealthier than all the rest of the world put together; and with the superiority of weaponry that would have enabled Americans, had they so wished, to outdo an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of conquest.
"All in one little lifetime – gone with the wind:  England now part of an island off the coast of Europe, threatened with further dismemberment; Hitler and Mussolini seen as buffoons; Stalin a sinister name in the regime he helped to found and dominated totally for three decades; Americans haunted by fears of running out of the precious fluid that keeps their motorways roaring and the smog settling, by memories of a disastrous military campaign in Vietnam, and the windmills of Watergate.  Can this really be what life is about – this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, as old discarded sets and props litter the earth?  Surely not.  Was it to provide a location for so repetitive and ribald a production as this that the universe was created and man, or homo sapiens as he likes to call himself – heaven knows why – came into existence?  I can't believe it.  If this were all, then the cynics, the hedonists, and the suicides are right: the most we can hope for from life is amusement, gratification of our senses, and death.  But it is not all.
"Thanks to the great mercy and marvel of the Incarnation, the cosmic scene is resolved into a human drama.  God reaches down to become a Man and Man reaches up to relate himself to God.  Time looks into eternity and eternity into time, making now always, and always now.  Everything is transformed by the sublime dream of the Incarnation – God's special parable for fallen man and a fallen world.  The way opens before us that was charted in the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The way that successive generations of believers have striven to follow, deriving themselves the moral, spiritual, and intellectual creativity out of which have come everything truly great in our art, our literature, our music, the splendor of the great Cathedrals, and the illumination of the saints and mystics, as well as countless lives of men and women serving their God and loving their Savior in humility and Faith.  It's a glorious record – not just of the past, but continuing now.  The books are open, not closed.
"The Incarnation was not a mere historical event like the Battle of Waterloo, or the American Declaration of Independence – something that's happened, and then was over.  It goes on happening all the time.  God did not retreat back into Heaven when the fateful words “It is finished” were uttered on Golgotha.  The Word that became flesh has continued and continues to dwell among us, full of grace and truth.  There are examples on every hand; we have but to look for them.  For instance, the man in Solzhenitsyn's labor camp who scribbled sentences from the Gospels that he pulled out of his pocket in the evening to keep himself serene and brotherly in that terrible place.  Then, Solzhenitsyn himself – a product of this world's first overtly atheistic materialist society who yet can tell us in shining words that 'it was only when I lay there, on rotting prison straw, that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good.  Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either; but right through every human heart and through all human hearts.  So, bless you, prison for having been in my life.'  What insight, what wisdom, acquired in a Soviet prison, after a Marxist upbringing!
"Again, there's Mother Teresa and her ever-growing Missionaries of Charity going about their work of love with their own special geography of compassion moving into country after country.  Sisters, now of many nationalities, arriving in twos and threes at the troubled places in this troubled world with nothing to offer except Christ, no other purpose than to see in every suffering man and woman the person of their Savior, and to heed His words, 'Insofar as ye did it to the least of these, my brethren, ye did it unto me.'" (For the whole article, go here).
So, what do you believe? It matters. Do you have answers for the basic questions of life?
  • Where did we come from?
  • How can we find meaning?
  • How do we define morality?
  • What is our destiny?
And finally, do our answers form a coherent whole? Do they hold together? I find that many people pick and choose what they believe and, consequently, the worldview they hold to cannot hold water and is ultimately not liveable.

Have you tried to answer these questions? If not, take a stab at it, and please, share your findings. I'm thankful that I discovered the answer to the ultimate questions of life in the person of Jesus Christ. Where has your search lead you?

Related Articles:
Worldview - Part 1 - Origin
Worldview: Part 2 - Meaning
Worldview - Part 3 - Morality
Worldview - Part 4 - Destiny


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Thoughts on Suffering and Hope

Today I had the chance to listen to some great teachers talk on the subject of hope, and more specifically, hope in tough times. I wanted to try to share some of those thoughts with you.

I have seen a few things in my lifetime. I have witnessed suffering and had a little of my own. Nothing I have seen compares to what I have heard about today. There are some very sad stories in our sometimes ugly world. But even amongst the suffering, there are incredible stories of hope.

I heard today from two young women whose life experiences have allowed them to see and hear first-hand what I have only read about in newspapers. The first was Amy Orr-Ewing, Director of Programmes for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and Training Director for RZIM Europe. Amy has had opportunity to minister around the world, even smuggling Bibles into Taliban territory, her group placing one in the hands of a leading Taliban Imam.

The story that she shared that struck me today, however, was of an Anglican archbishop in Africa by the name of Benjamin Kwashi. He has the unenviable task of ministering in a particularly volatile region in Nigeria. You may have seen him in the news as Christians in the City of Jos were attacked and killed by Islamic militants on numerous occasions in recent years.

It is a dangerous place to be a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A few years ago, militants came to his house to find and kill the archbishop. Not finding him home, they instead brutalized his wife, Gloria, in unimaginable ways. He came home to find his wife in this state. She spent a number of months in the United States in recovery, including surgery to restore her eyesight. After her physical recovery, he asked her what she would like to do, was she willing to return to this dangerous place? Her answer was yes, there was work still to do. She returned to the scene of this brutality to continue to share the Gospel.

Some time later her husband was alone when, once again, the militants came to try to finally silence this leader of the church. They brought him into the yard to take his life. He asked if he could be allowed a few moments to pray to his God - his attackers agreed. In African style he raised his hands and began to pray loudly. He prayed for several moments and waited with his eyes closed for several more, expecting death. When he finally opened his eyes he found that he was all alone. His son came home just at that time and asked his father what had happened. He had just crossed paths with thirty armed militants who were running away in terror. What they had seen God knows, but the archbishop continues his ministry - there is hope in the darkness, and the church grows. Among other things, the Kwashis accommodate 50 orphaned children in their home whom they feed and educate. A further 150 children, housed nearby, are also educated in the compound.

Naomi Zacharias has worked for Coca-Cola as well as interning in the Executive Office of President George W. Bush. Her interest in global issues regarding children and women lead her to become the director of RZIM Wellspring International, an organization helping to equip organizations aiding women and children at risk around the world.

Naomi spoke of the plight of women caught up in the web of human trafficking, and the challenges of trying to help them. She has gone to places where 40-50% of the children are sold into the sex trade. She articulately speaks of the humanity of each of these people. They are not simply statistics, they are individuals, each with their own story, each worth redemption, and that we are all called to try to make a difference, even if it doesn't seem like we are making progress.

As C.S. Lewis said, “Sorrow turns out to be not a state, but a process." There are times when all that we can do is to be with someone in their pain; to hear their story - to help to restore their dignity. As Christians we must remember that, even when it seems dark, this is not the end, and there is still more of the story yet to be lived out. Our role is to love and to care and to share. As Naomi said today, "Heaven is the happily ever after but until then, we live in some very hard realities."

So, why persevere? Why keep fighting when it seems as though the odds are overwhelming? She gives two reasons for us as believers:
  1. We persevere because it's right.
  2. We persevere because people matter.
This is true regardless of the issue. Here's the question of the day: what can you do - today - to make a positive difference in someone's world?

Related Articles:
Great Ideas
A New Look At Justice
Easter - Hope Lives!
If God Is Good, How Could This Happen?

Monday, June 11, 2012

What's Wrong With the Church?

Today I sat in on a number of sessions with some of the leading thinkers in the church today, men like Os Guinness and Stuart McAllister. The sheer volume of information is hard to digest, but I'd like to share some of what I picked up today.

It's no secret that in many places across North America the church is in trouble. In many circles, churches are experiencing declining attendance and offerings. In the U.S., the religious right has lost much of its credibility and effectiveness and, many say, its way. In Canada, many Christian leaders have become cynical, wringing their hands over what to do to turn the tide.

In a round-table discussion tonight, some of the issues discussed that are facing the church are these: cynicism, pessimism, selfish entitlement and short-sightedness. Many leaders are looking at the move away from the Christian morality which once defined our culture and are at a loss as to how to reverse the trend. They have a very short-term view of things.The selfish entitlement is partially the result of the prosperity Gospel and its kin. A generation of Christians have come to faith believing that it's all about them; they have an incomplete Gospel.

So, what are the answers? How do we change the perspective of those Christians who have lost a sense of hope?

I'm not talking about vacation here. I'm talking about moving away from our view of the world that sees everything through the eyes of Canada or the U.S. There's a great big world out there. The time for ignorance is long past, particularly for Christians. We need to take a look at what the issues are in the world around us; not just in our own back yard. If you can't afford to travel, at least read news stories from other parts of the world. Find out what's happening in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, etc... Subscribe to the news feeds for some Missions organizations. Understand what is happening and why the church is growing in many parts of the world. Broaden your vision.

Look at History
This is particularly true for church leaders. We must understand the past. What has the church experienced throughout history from which we can learn? Are there any parallels to our time? How can the church best influence culture? History bears witness to a church that has often faced obstacles which seemed insurmountable. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Five times the church has gone to the dogs, but each time it was the dog that died.”

Too many of our young people have become disillusioned with the church failures of the recent past. While those are not to be minimized, they do not negate the truth of the Gospel. A larger view of history reveals that the church has been responsible for much that is good in our world - hospitals, public schools, universities, a myriad of charitable organizations that have enhanced the lives of millions, and so much more. Christian leaders like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King, Jr., motivated by their faith, have brought about changes that have shaped society for the better.

Keep Eternity in Mind
The Bible tells us that we are made for eternity, yet many Christians act as though this is all that there is. Jesus came to redeem and restore. He came to establish a Kingdom of righteousness that will endure forever. Part of the fulfillment of that awaits His return, but part of it is to be accomplished as we live out His teachings in this day and age in the real world conditions that surround us.

What does His Gospel have to say about human trafficking? or the AIDs epidemic in Africa? In light of eternity, what ought our response be to poverty? How ought we to live our lives as Christians in a world that is in desperate need of hope?

We need to understand what the Church has actually been called to do. When Jesus said to "Come," He didn't say to come to a party, He said "Take up your cross and follow me."  It was a call to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. The early church changed the world because they walked in obedience to the teachings of Jesus, even when it cost them dearly. When the Romans would abandon unwanted children by the open sewers to die, it was the Christians who took them home and raised them as their own. When disease spread and families abandoned their own, it was Christians who stayed behind and nursed them until they recovered or died. Why? Christ commanded us to love our neighbour.

For the church to find itself again, (and not everyone is lost) it needs to return to the simple truths of the Gospel. Hope lies in Christ - not politics. I didn't come to Christianity to make me happy, I came because it's true. The message of Christ conforms to reality and He and He alone provides the hope that every soul longs for. I, for one, believe that the best days of the church are ahead.

Which of these do you feel is the most pressing need in the church today?

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Follow Me!