Tag Archive: faith


Our youth ministry at EGCC regularly participates in hands-on ministry endeavors so that our students have an opportunity to experience a practical side to their faith. We have assistance numerous times at the local soup kitchen, we have operated two short term missions trips to the Dominican Republic during March Break (2008 & 2010) and we have participated in other local events. This summer we are doing something that we have never done before: we will attempt to plant a Jr. High Youth ministry at a sister church in the city!

This is the plan: we know from the body of research that exists regarding teens and faith that students are most receptive to faith in Christ in their Jr. High years (i.e. ages 10-14, grades 5-8). It makes sense therefore that this is out target group. We are in the process of planning an entire week long Jr. High day camp to be held at our sister church and staffed by a mix of volunteers from our youth ministry and their youth department. This will be held from August 22-26. We will blitz the surrounding neighborhoods with flyers & posters as well as engaging the online community with a Twitter account, Facebook page, custom website, and a YouTube promotional video. All of this will be coming online shortly.

What are we expecting for an outcome? We are praying and expecting that significant relationships will be initiated between our sister church and their surrounding neighborhood. We want to see this week long summer camp turn into a weekly Jr. High ministry at our sister church; plans are already underway for this to happen. Ultimately we want to see these Jr. High students grow into well discipled Sr. High students and bring a new dynamic of youth and leadership to come alongside of the existing leadership at our sister church. These are ambitious plans…but all things are possible!

What can you do to help in this effort? If you are a teenager that attends Emergency Ministries, we need a few more volunteers to work on preparations as well as running the events during the week of the day camp. If you are not a teenager please pray for us, our sister church, the neighborhood, and the ministry staff that will carry on this program in the fall.

As with most other youth event, I will provide a daily blog update during the summer missions project so that you can keep on top of what we are doing and so that you will know how to pray for us that week. Stay tuned for more info!

After having been involved in youth ministry for a decade now I have come to observe that as far as faith in God is concerned there are two critical moments a teenager’s life: the moment they enter the teen years and the moment they exit the teen years. Statistics have backed this up saying that an individual is most receptive to faith in Christ as they enter the teen years (I shared these statistics in MISSING PEOPLE: Where have all the Jr. High boys gone?). Statistics also say that an individual is most vulnerable for walking away from their faith as they exit the teen years more than any other time in their life. My personal observations over the years have found this to be true.

David Sawler is an author and church planter in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia who wrote a very timely book about this trend of students simultaneously exiting their teen years and shedding their faith. The book is called “Goodbye Generation” and deals with the reasons why this statistics are the way that they are. Among the many great reasons stated in the book here are three that struck me most:

1. Teens today do not understand their Bible.

Teens today can likely recount the stories of Noah, Moses, Jesus…and so on. However, they view them as simply stories. Rare have the times been when teenagers have been shown how Noah and Moses were more than just individuals living interesting lives. Unfortunately teenagers have little understanding of the themes and messages in the Bible as a whole (scholars may call this ‘literary unity’). Instead most teens emerge into young adulthood with a smattering of stories but no real overarching view of how God has been progressively working in humanity from the beginning.

2. There has been a lack of spiritual parenting within the church.

Who were your spiritual parents? Were they your biological parents? Were they family members of relatives? Were they friends? Who shaped you during your formative years in the faith? Tragically teenagers are given their own pastor, their own room, their own program, their own band, their own life…and passing the faith from generation to generation does not happen as it could.

3. There has been a lack of family emphasis in youth ministry.

Families shape people, not ministries. Parents shape people most, not pastors. Quality youth ministries must engage parents and families as a whole. I must admit that I am not sure how this paradigm will work within many churches; youth pastors tend to be 19-22 years old when they begin…and what 40+ year old would seek parenting advice from them? I can’t say I blame them. As I approach 30 and now have a family of my own I feel like I am just beginning to be able to speak to this aspect of youth ministry. Prior to now I have largely left it untapped. Nevertheless, it remains an important theme of successful youth ministries.

There is much great food for thought in this book; I would recommend it to both parents and teenagers alike. David’s second book on this topic, Before They Say Goodbye, has just been released this year and appears to be as promising as his first!

www.goodbyegeneration.com
www.beforetheysaygoodbye.com

Have you ever heard that great song “End of the World” done by Great Big Sea? I was amazed at how many students today have never heard of the band Great Big Sea…where has musical taste gone these days! Great Big Sea was a staple band when I was in university just 10 years ago; they even played at my wife’s high school prom and THAT was a BIG deal!

All of this to say that our culture today is really quite interested with how we all got here on earth (i.e. the beginning of the world) and also with how we are going to leave here (i.e. the end of the world). There have been so many predictions about the end of the world over the past 2000 years that if it was possible, I am sure that God would have succumbed to the peer pressure of it all and just ended everything already!

But then, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised about this apocalyptic obsession that we have today; Jesus told us to be waiting and be watching for the end to come. Jesus didn’t tell us to become obsessed however and he most certainly didn’t tell us that a few really smart people would figure it out someday and sound the alarm. If history has taught us anything it is that statistically, 100% of the entire end of the world predictions thus far have been inaccurate. I think that is a pretty solid trend that we can be confident about.

We currently are facing the most recent ‘end of the world’ prediction by Harold Camping of Family Radio; a California based broadcasting organization. Camping uses a number of biblical genealogies to determine the age of the earth and subsequently the ‘end of the world’ which will begin with the rapture of ~3% of the earth’s population on May 21, 2011 and the subsequent destruction of the earth on October 21st, 2011. Camping is no newcomer to this ‘date setting’ group; he also predicted the ‘end of the world’ in 1994…and obviously lived to tell about it.

I think the author of the Peanuts comic strip had the most interesting thing to say about predicting the ‘end of the world’:

“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.” Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip.

There is some truth to what Camping is saying (i.e. that there will be great changes to us and to the world around us some day); however, there is a lot of myth associated with what he is teaching too (i.e. that we can know the time and the date). Here are a few facts to help set the record straight.

1. This “end of the world” will take place at some point.
Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ will come back at some point in the world; when he does come back a number of great things will take place. Those who are faithful and accept Christ in this life will have an inheritance of honor and rule with him in the life that comes next (Col 1:10-12). Those who are not faithful and reject Christ will be confronted with the reality that they were misguided and they will answer to God for this (Rev 20:12-13). Those who have previously died will be returned to life to either rule with Christ or answer to God depending on how they lived their life (1 Thess 4:13-14). Finally, there will be a new earth and a new heaven that will be void of all sickness, death and disease. It will be like restoration of the Garden of Eden from the book of Genesis; our bodies will also be restored to that Garden of Eden state (Rev 22:1-3, 21:1).

2. No one knows when this will take place.
For as many of the Scriptures that we have that describe what will take place at “the end of the world” there are those that tell us that we will not know the time…and that no one will. In fact, the bible teaches that the end will come like a ‘thief in the night’. Never have I known a thief to book an appointment ahead of time!

3. What should we do? We must be ready.
Each of us must ensure that we are living in such a spiritual state that we are prepared to meet Jesus when he returns. This is a serious and somewhat fearful thought, yet it must be considered. Remember that you do not have to be perfect; what is required is humble submission to Jesus Christ within which there is no condemnation (Romans 7:1).

Also, we should continue preaching the words of God to all those around us. This is what Jesus asked us to do when he left us.

So, don’t worry about these doomsday predictions: statistically you have nothing to worry about. However, pay close attention to the fact that while these recent predictions are based on shaky ground there is truth in the fact that Christ will return and he hopes to find his people ready.

Good morning readers! I have a bunch of things on my mind today and so I thought that I would let them all out for you to see and hear about. Here we go!

1. If you were in Monkey Barrel this past week we talked about VAMPIRES! No, we are not setting the Bible aside and now preaching from popular media. What we are doing is taking popular media and demonstrating how lines up or does not line up with a Biblical worldview.

Now that you are done having a heart attack about us talking of Vampires in Monkey Barrel, let me tell you what we talked about. First, we discussed the various occult-like beliefs and behaviors associated with the whole world of vampires and its somewhat close association with Wicca. These are things that our Biblical worldview tells us are very real and certainly not good, pure and noble pursuits. Secondly, we saw that there are a variety of other practices associated with Vampires that are perhaps not spiritually-related but nevertheless contradictory to our Biblical worldview. Finally, we noted that those who engage in a lifestyle of fantasy and use that as a mask to avoid the pain of real life here and now are not doing themselves any good whatsoever. We need to pursue life with Jesus Christ, not fantasy.

A full discussion about this will be posted next week once I present this material to the Emergency Ministries group.

2. The second thing on my mind today is the Royal Wedding! Not the dress, not the hats, not the people, not the ring, not the weather, not the kiss, not anything like that…..come on now, what about the Royal Wedding do you think I would deem worthy for including in this blog post? ……..the sermon by the Bishop of London! I encourage you to review a few excerpts from the wedding sermon delivered earlier this morning at Westminster Abby as I was quite impressed with the truth about love and marriage presented to millions of viewers today. You can see some excerpts at http://www.officialroyalwedding2011.org/blog/2011/April/29/The-Bishop-of-London-s-Sermon

3. The third and final thing on my mind this morning is a new blog series that I have been thinking about and will begin to write shortly. I want to put the idea out there now to increase your expectation and whet your appetite. I plan to write a series entitled “The Top 10 Threats to a Teenager’s Faith”. In this series I will draw from my experience of 10 years working with teenagers to highlight some common pitfalls I have seen over and over again with the anticipation that perhaps it may assist some teenagers and parents from repeating the mistakes that others before them have already made.

That’s all for this morning!

p.s. I have noticed that my Katy Perry post from well over a month ago is STILL getting many hits every day and is currently my most popular post. Perhaps you’d like me to review more artists in the near future?

Lets take a poll….

If I asked you how many Canadians would say that they believe in a God that is different than we are and has the ability to  control things that we cannot, how many do you think would indicate that they do? In 2003 a Harris poll of American adults and found that 90% of them believe in God. However, simply believing in God is not the point of the message of Jesus Christ.

If the question from the Harris poll was changed to ask how many American adults believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…the God of the Old Testament of the Scriptures, the same God we call Jesus Christ in the New Testament…I think that number would likely drop considerably.

You see, simply believing in God is not the same as putting your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Acknowledging that Christ’s death (which we celebrated last Friday) and resurrection (which we celebrated last Sunday) are the very things that guarantee that Jesus Christ truly can save us from the destructive choices and patterns of life that we see on earth today. Jesus can provide a life beyond all that we can see because he has power over death.

So, simply believing in God, belief in someone or something out there, is just not the point because that does not bring someone into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.

James 2:19

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

It makes you wonder sometimes about the difference between faith in Jesus Christ and all the other gods and faith systems that surround us. Undoubtedly you are going to come up against people who feel that there is no difference between faith groups so long as you are sincere…after all there are some common practices that everyone adheres to, right?

Yes, there are some common practices and we are going to take a look at them. But is there something deeper that distinguishes faith in Christ? We’ll take a look at that too.

The Qu’ran says:

“Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets; and Allah is aware of all things” (Koran 33:40)

The Bible says:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

Muhammad is proclaimed to be the messenger of Allah; Allah is aware of what Mohammed is up to.

Jesus is also proclaimed to be the messenger of God; but Jesus is also a part of the living essence of God (the trinity is a whole other blog post!). God sent himself (Jesus) to interact with us personally as people.

The Qu’ran says:

“The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled…a duty imposed by Allah.” (Koran 9:60)

The Bible says:

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:3-4)

Both Islam and Christianity require that their adherents give to a common collection so that it can be distributed to those who need it. Both are concerned with the common good of the people around them.

The Qu’ran says:

“…pilgrimage to [Mecca] is a duty unto Allah for mankind, for him who can find a way thither.” (Koran 3:97)

The Bible says:

“…[lets] not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

Islam asks its followers to gather together in Mecca for worship at least once in their life. Christians ask that we gather together in church and follow a process of discipleship together as we learn and experience Christ together.

There are certainly some things that we all do the same. Does that mean that we all accomplish the same goal so long as we believe in a God somewhere? Not really….

When the Apostle Paul was travelling throughout the world and preaching the message of Jesus Christ he came to Athens (yes, in Greece) and noticed that the people were very religious (they believe in God…). If that was the whole point he would have just left them alone there.

However, Paul did not. Instead, he stood up and said this:

Acts 17:22-2People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

Paul preached the message of Jesus Christ to them. Believing in a god is not the point…having a faith relationship with Jesus Christ IS the point.

Keeping that in mind, we should not get too excited that 90% of American adults believe in God. We should not get too excited if even 50% of our school would acknowledge belief in God and we should not get that excited that 100% of students present at Emergency Ministries raised their hands confessing belief in God (and 100% of you did…).

What is more important than simply believing in God is having a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. The different between this faith relationship and all other spiritual pursuits in our culture comes down to motivation:

We do not follow Jesus Christ because good things (law) is what he requires.

We do not follow Jesus Christ because our family or our country requires it (or even endorses it!)

We do not follow Jesus Christ just because we like the people who do or because Christian always have the best food.

Our motivation is this: we feel a deep sense and longing to love God and to love our neighbor. This sums up the basic message of faith in God. This is an internal motivation that will be demonstrated in the way that we live our lives. Sooner or later the fruit of our life (what is on the inside) will be shown on the outside in the way that we live.

Simply believing in God does not affect this fruit; having a faith relationship with Jesus Christ does!

Luke 10:27

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

I’m back on track: here is what I mean to say last night!

Remember that really unfair trick I pulled on all of you last night? Remember when I got you all to take a piece of paper out of a hat and two of you lucky people got gold stars? That meant that you and a friend could sit wherever you wanted to last night (like even on a comfy couch). It was just downright unfair!

Life can be like this sometimes, eh? School can be like this, church can feel like this…and I am sure that Emergency Ministries can feel like this sometimes. It can kind of feel like life is all about what special privilege you have or who you know.

I want to encourage you, however, that the message of Jesus has nothing to do with what you have or who you know. There is no special privilege that exists for just certain people (even for me!) and it does not matter who you know so long as you know Jesus Christ.

 

Romans 3:22-23

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

 

Different religious traditions have disagreed with this very basic notion and have stated that they way to advance in their ranks is to have something great (wisdom, intelligence, money, birthright) or to know someone who does.

The Hindu belief system organizes its people into a “caste system”. There are four classes: priests, nobles, peasants and manual laborers. Then there are those who are outside of the caste system and they are called out-casts.

Those who are born into a higher caste system have access to more spiritual and practical privilege and are believed to have lived better in their previous life to merit this great life now. (This notion of reincarnation is, by the way, completely outside of our Christian worldview. There is only one life here and now; we will move beyond this life but never return in this way again).

Moreover, the Hindu faith follows the law of Dharma, which states that if something has been a certain way it should continue to be that way. To move from one caste to another violates some sort of natural law of reincarnation (which, once again, is bogus).

The message of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with this oppression of some and privilege of others. There is no human being better than us and there is no human being below us. There are no castes. There is no hierarchy, there is no privilege, and there is no birthright. Jesus does not care who your parents are, what house you live in, what part of town you live in, whether crazy guys walk by your house with crowbars (inside joke…ask me about it), or anything else. Everyone comes to God on equal footing.

There are two other popular groups around us today that sometimes invoke (or use) the name of Jesus Christ but do so in a distorted way that does not reflect the truth about God.

Jehovah Witness:

Their belief system states that only a choice number of people will actually make it into the presence of God after this life: 144,000 to be exact. (This number is arrived upon by a misinterpretation of Rev 14:1) Others who follow the JW group but are not quite good enough to make into the 144,000 will get to live in a new Earth, but everything else will be destroyed.

So, everyone is striving to be within the elite 144,000 club. This is not equality before God but instead a competition to make it close to God. Unfortunately they tie this message in with the name of Jesus Christ.

 

Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints):

Faithful Mormon men will be exalted to godhood. The only hope for women is to be sealed in marriage to a Mormon man. It must be nice to be a man, not so much to be a woman. Again, a gross misinterpretation of a number of passages of Scripture is taking place…too many to get into here but stop by and we can chat about it.

Once again, this faith group does not promote equality but rather privilege and getting ahead by who you know (or in this case who you are married to).

Need I say it again: within the message of Jesus Christ there is no privilege, there is no hierarchy that you are placed in because of who your parents are, how old you are, how long you have been coming to church, how long you have devoted your life to Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 4:12

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

 

Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

This reality comes with great freedom but also great responsibility. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of Jesus Christ….but there are no automatic acceptance tickets offered just because your family is Christian or because you come to church.

Everyone stands before God as an individual and needs to make that choice to devote their lives to Christ or not. Everyone is actually making that decision continually in his or her life…you are both saying yes to Christ and growing daily in that relationship as you continue to say yes or you are saying no to Christ and are continually rejecting the growth that you could have in a relationship with Christ.

We closed the night last night praying for Jesus Christ to become the leader of our lives; some of us may have prayed that for the first time and others perhaps as a rededication. If you prayed that last night or if the reality of Jesus Christ has really been on your mind lately I want to hear from you!!! Send me an email, a facebook, a comment on this blog, a phone call…anything!

Have a great week! I look forward to the conversations that I will be having with many of you.

Sorry all my Emergency Ministries folks that it has taken me so long to get this post together an online; we had a special event on Friday night (which rocked!) and some other things got in the way. However, I have not abandoned you…here is “what I mean to say” this past week at Emergency Ministries.

There are just some things that are meant to be together, right? PB & J, babies and diapers, old people and handkerchiefs…those sorts of things. There is another pair of things that are absolutely necessary to be together; the message of God and Jesus Christ. You can’t have one without the other and if you try you will have a deficient message.

In his new book, Rob Bell sums up Christianity as this: “For God so loved the world…”. This, however, completely ignores Jesus Christ and his time on earth. It ignores the fact that Christ died and was resurrected (which is what we are celebrating at Easter). Basically, Rob Bell has decided that the message of God can go forth without Jesus (in some times and in some cases) and to that I must fundamentally disagree. Jesus Christ IS the message of God and it cannot be separated.

John 14:6 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So why would you want to remove or replace Jesus? Maybe people do not want to admit that they need someone, that they cannot always have everything together all by themselves. Some people have failed to realize that they are messed up just like everyone else; I guess being messed up is pretty normal. Some people just like church and how it makes you feel; they like the treats, the music, the friendly faces…but they are not interested in Jesus. Church is their social outing. Others reject the violence inherent in the story of Jesus and still more people think that the whole notion of Jesus is just a cute little kid’s story that is not real (just like Barney and the Wiggles…and thank goodness for that!).

Nothing, however, can ever replace Jesus Christ in the message of God. Why you ask? I’m glad you asked. Lets take a look at Jesus’ resume….

Jesus claimed to be sinless.

John 8:46 “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?”

2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This is a central hallmark of Jesus: he lived as we did but did not sin. Jesus was born to a virgin (Mary) and was distinctly different in that while he was human he was not subjected to the brokenness of humanity. Jesus was tested in every way that we are; this should be encouraging for us because he gets it! He gets us! It could have something to do with the fact that he is…GOD. Which leads us to line number two on Jesus’ resume…

 

Jesus said that he is God.

Many other faith groups provide answers to questions that in some cases actually work. Muslims have ways to resolve conflict within their people groups; it is called Sharia Law and has proved to be successful in the governance of their own people.

Sharia deals with many topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexuality, hygiene, diet, prayer, and fasting. Where it enjoys official status, Sharia is applied by Islamic judges. (Wikipedia)

What Sharia lacks and what other worldviews lack is something greater than themselves for those times when things get too escalated and go beyond what they can handle as human beings.  When you have a conflict with another student at school, who does it go to? It goes to the Vice Principal, someone with a greater position, authority, age, and direction.

So, what happens when the greatest, oldest, most authoritative person on the earth encounters things that he/she cannot resolve on their own?  What happens when even Buddha and Mohammed do not have it all together? (Mohammed had to repent of several sins committed against the words of the Qur’an) What hope is there then?

The message of God says that there is hope in something greater than us…and that hope is in Jesus Christ.

John 8:19 “Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.””

John 14:9 “Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Because Jesus is God and is greater than us, he can therefore do things that no human could ever do…like this:

 

Jesus can save us from sin and death.

We read the bible that sin leads to death. Imagine if God was the life giver and turning away from him was death. Imagine Rapunzel in the recently released movie TANGLED…her hair was the life giver and so losing access to it was tragic.

Jesus not only pointed out the fact that life apart from God is death, he showed us that God had the ability to overcome death! Jesus returned to the living after three days dead!

John 11:25 “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

Notice something interesting here; Jesus refers to himself and not just a group of teaching….he always say I!

 

Jesus points us to him, not just his teachings.

Jesus does not say that you need to be good people to earn his favor; we talked about that last week. Jesus does not say that there are rules that you have to do all by yourself in order to make him happy. In actual fact, he points to himself and not a list of teachings.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

John 8:12 “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus presents himself and invites people to get to know him. Jesus says that there is a spiritual part of you the needs to be fed; he wants you to feed it with him.

So, embrace and feed that spiritual part of yourself. Feed it with Jesus, the one whose resume has shown that he is greater than us and therefore can be there to do the things that we cannot.

 

p.s. Next week I will endeavor to be more prompt!

 

 

Great night last night at Emergency Ministries! I felt like some of you really ‘got it’ last night when I was talking about the unique message of Jesus Christ. Let me reiterate what I meant to say.

To start with, I need you to give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down for each of the people in the following pictures…based on whatever criteria comes to mind (smart, ugly, pretty, old, young….good, bad…).

Have you noticed a trend here? You gave thumbs up to people who you thought had done enough great things to deserve that. You gave a thumbs down to those people who you thought had not done enough good things or perhaps have done too many wrong things. This is logical human nature…is it not? We have to earn our own keep; we get repaid good things for the good we do and evil things for the evil we do.

Our culture has given a trendy name for this: it is called karma. In actual fact, this notion of karma has nothing to do with the message of Jesus Christ and is actually opposed to what Christ came to declare. Somehow our worldview has shifted…

This notion of karma comes to us from the Hindu faith, which says that we will be repaid for our life’s actions in equal measure; good for good and bad for bad. The Hindu faith also says that after this life we will be reincarnated into a new form that will depend on our actions in the previous life. This is interesting because we were created in the image of God and so what higher form could one be reincarnated into than humanity? Could we become God himself? No…scripture says that there is only one God and we will never become that.

A few other faith groups have impacted our worldview instilling this “I must be good enough” notion. Within Islam there are five pillars that devout believers must fulfill to earn the favor of Allah.

1.     Recite a profession of faith many, many times.

2.     Do the salat prayer five times each day while facing Mecca.

3.     Donate to charity.

4.     Fast during the month of Ramadan.

5.     Make one pilgrimage to Mecca.

No matter what your life’s circumstance, you MUST carry out these five pillars or else be subject to the potential wrath of Allah.

Even more interesting is the Buddhist faith. The basic tenants of this faith are these: life is suffering and suffering comes from desire for things. There is a way to make suffering end by eliminating all desire. Buddhists must always strive to have the right beliefs, say the right things, have the right motives, avoid the wrong things, make the right kind of effort, think about yourself the right way, spend time doing the right things…and you HAVE to do ALL of this ALL BY YOURSELF!

Basically being Buddhist is like being a Vulcan on Start Trek; eliminate every unique and personal shred of who you are to achieve perfect peace.

All of these faith groups appeal to our rational senses of earning our keep and getting nothing that we do not deserve. Essentially we are on this rat race of trying to hold our lives together. We have work, school, family, appearances, desires, likes, dislikes, arguments with friends and people…and at the end of the day we need to emerge unscathed and a complete person that has it all together. At the end of this we wonder why so many teenagers are silently dying inside with feelings of being alone, misunderstood be parents, feeling not good enough, easing the pain with alcohol, drugs, cutting…and some with suicide.

It’s real tough to do everything the right way all the time…right?

Let me tell you about something that just does not make logical sense but should blow your mind.

Jesus Christ says that his ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8)

Jesus Christ says that he looks on the heart.  (1 Sam 16:7)

Jesus Christ says that we’re never going to have it all together on our own…that’s normal. (Romans 3:23)

Unlike every other belief and faith system on this earth, Jesus Christ gets you and me. This is probably because Christ is the one that created us. The way out of this rat race of always trying to do things well enough on our own is to give direction and leadership of your life to Jesus Christ. This is more than just agreeing to a new set of beliefs; there is a spiritual change that takes place in the world when one person gives direction of their lives to Jesus Christ.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. (Romans 8:9)

We do not have to do everything on our own; the Spirit of God comes to live inside the spiritual part of our bodies and helps us with change. Instead of condemning us when we fall short (as is the case in the other faiths discussed here) the Spirit of God reaches out with compassion and says, “Lets do better next time”.

This is all much more refreshing than having to do everything good on our own all of the time.

So you see, being ‘good’ or ‘good enough’ has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead it’s about being different. It’s about building something great using the blocks that you have been given. It’s about having spiritual direction from the one that knit this whole world together. It’s about falling off the path and then getting back up and carrying on further than before. It’s about going on a journey together to somewhere new instead of just spinning our wheels stuck in the same place or going around in a circle and always coming back to the same spot.

In Jesus this becomes reality.

For any of you who may not know who Rob Bell is, let me begin by saying that he is perhaps one of the more creative, out of the box, and relevant deep thinkers in the Christian faith that I have seen in the last few years. He seems to package charisma, oratory skill and decent content all in one package that truly makes a person want to re-evaluate their life and to come to know God in a fresh way. Bell is also the writer of the NOOMA videos, short videos about topics in the Christian faith that are structured in such a way to make you think for yourself. I first encountered these videos as a seminary student and have used them multiple times in youth ministry to spark discussions.

Bell is an author too. He has written numerous books including Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and others. His most recent book, Love Wins, was just released on March 15th, 2011, and has sparked an amount of controversy in Christian circles. The controversy is twofold: (1) the claims that the book makes appear at times to step outside of what would be considered Christian orthodoxy, and (2) Bell’s reputation (especially with the emerging generation) coupled with his charisma is such that I suspect he could convince a drowning man to buy a case of aquafina…or dasani…or both

Rob Bell’s influence on our culture is what it is; it cannot be changed and we cannot fault the man for being who he is. Some of the content of this new book however makes me squirm. I say that I am almost defending Rob Bell because I don’t think the book is as bad as some are making it out to be; however, it certainly does push the boundaries in several areas.

Lets start with the good stuff. There are some really great things in this book. First, Bell encourages us to rethink our talk about heaven and hell. The full motivation and mission for our Christian life here and now ought not be to escape hell and get to heaven as fast as possible (contrary to some of those great old hymns of the church…and this comes from someone who still does enjoy hymns!). The hope of the New Testament Christians was not to escape earth and go to heaven but rather they looked forward to participating in a new kingdom on earth that was governed and lead by Jesus Christ. When Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and went back to heaven, their desire was for the approaching day of his return where they would participate in a new kingdom on a perfected earth that was governed and lead by Jesus Christ. Bell wants us to recast our thinking about hope so that it not so much about ‘there and then’ but participating in something ‘here and now’.

Jesus said it best himself: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15, NIV). Jesus Christ’s presence on earth changed things; it brought the kingdom of heaven closer than ever before. From this point on we see an increase in spiritual things on earth: healing, resurrection, gifts of the Spirit. There is a dynamic feature of the kingdom of God that is presently breaking into our world on a regular basis and participation in that kingdom ought to be our greatest motivation and mission…not just getting out of here as quickly as possible.

The journey is as important as the destination.

Now, lets dig a little deeper. Bell is accused of being a universalist in his theology (i.e. all will end up in heaven at some point, love will win). He denies this and I (think) I believe him. He does spend time in his book talking about human existence apart from God and what that looks like…I can only assume he imagines that some will continue to choose this existence?

There are two things however that he indisputability argues for that I am not quite so sure about: Bell speculates about the possibility of repentance even after death and speculates about the fact that many people from other faith groups (Islam, Buddhism) will be given equal position in the kingdom of God when Christ returns. Bell actually does more than speculate: he attempts to convince his readers to consider the idea that life could be this way. He calls it a ‘better story’…

Neither of these thoughts is new in Christendom and space does not permit a full examination of either of these here. The first is complete speculation and does not seem to have biblical merit. The second is more murky; most Christians would suggest that though we are all born into sin Christ will accept unto himself those souls who die before having the ability to choose or not to choose God. We talk of an ‘age of accountability’ although attempting to place a firm number on this is difficult and likely not useful. What I believe that Bell is appealing to here is the notion that some people in some parts of the world and in some faith groups may recognize that there is a higher power than themselves but not know exactly what the nature of this higher power is; they have never heard of Jesus. Bell speculates that if a person has not had an opportunity to hear of Jesus, despite their age, God will look favorably upon their spiritual pursuits. I think however in our world of information and social networking that this case very much a minority. Most Muslims follow Islam not because they have not yet heard of Jesus but because they choose Allah over Jesus. This is a fatal flaw in Bell’s argumentation.

Bell’s unique writing style, almost poetic, and confident way or writing (without any citations or references except a list of ‘you should read this’ books at the end) gives somewhat of a false authority to what he has to say; the fear is that Bell’s compelling style and the voice that he has in the young adult generation of the present day is going to lead to spiritual confusion en mass. I must say that I am concerned about the same thing.

This book is not for the faint of heart or the easily influenced…but if you can read critically and are ready to exercise your faith (and perhaps clarify some aspects that you were a little rusty on) I would encourage you to analyze what Bell has to say here.

Shane Bertou is facilitating a discussion of this book chapter by chapter on his blog at http://www.shanebertou.wordpress.com. They are currently on chapter 1 and will be moving to chapter 2 this week. I am going to try and follow this conversation and perhaps add to it. I invite you to do the same.

Japan: God’s Wrath?

Many people are now talking about the crisis that struck Japan just a week ago. I myself have been enthralled with http://www.cnn.com and http://www.cbc.ca as they share pictures and stories of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear emergency that is all converging in just one week! This has certainly been an extremely unfortunate week for all of those living in Japan.

In the midst of crisis times like this there is always much talk about why. We saw the same thing happen after Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, and especially after the 9/11 events in New York City. I remember being in seminary during the aftermath of Katrina and watching a taped message where a pastor declared that Katrina was God’s judgment rained down on “sin city” as it was called. My classmates and I remember thinking that this was perhaps a hasty remark; I cannot remember the last time any human being knew the mind of God clearly enough to assume that he/she knew God’s motivation for causing/watching/allowing (whatever word you use, although I prefer the latter) whatever calamity takes place on earth. Furthermore, if Katrina was indeed God’s judgment on New Orleans, why just that city? Why not Los Angeles too? Is there something inherently better in the people of LA? Why not the town that I live in or the town that you live in? Are we better than those in New Orleans?

Although I have not yet heard a pastor declare such a statement regarding Japan (I have not gone looking for a statement like this either), I have perused a few blogs this week that have indicated such a sentiment has indeed been expressed. So, on top of all that those in Japan have had to deal with (and indeed are still dealing with) we need to heap a boat load of offense on them saying that if they had been good enough little boys and girls the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster would have been directed to a more evil nation? Being “good enough” does not grant anyone favor with God anyways!

The religious demographic of Japan is primarily Shinto and Buddhist with a small minority of Christians and Muslims. Likely some will use this statistic to say, “see, I told you God was bringing calamity upon such a pagan nation!” This is somewhat inconsistent with our own Christian scriptures however. Consider these passages:

Matthew 5:45b “…He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Luke 13:4 “…or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?”

Job 1:20 “…The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

There does not seem to be an indication that human tragedy is focused exclusively on the just or the unjust, the repentant or the non-repentant. The fact is that we live in a time when the perfect kingdom of God is still just on the horizon (though visible) while the imperfect kingdom of humanity lingers. Thus, we see glimpses of both of these in our world: we observe sunrises and sunsets each day, we enjoy beauty, love, friends, family, we rejoice over new life created, we see lives changed in a moment and we see health miraculously restored to people both through medical intervention and other unexplainable sources (i.e. God). At the same time we observe relational strife, murder, abortion, rape, abuse, suffering…earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear disasters. The bible teaches that there is an approaching moment in time when there will be a complete merger between the kingdom of God and the kingdom that currently is (with the kingdom of God replacing and making all things new [Revelation 21]); until then however we must live in a world that experiences the reality of both kingdoms.

I wonder if there is a place on earth where disaster could strike and no one would attribute it to sinfulness? Canada…not likely. United States…been there and done that already. Israel? You might be able to make a case for God’s protection of his covenant people but yet we see that they too experience strife in this world also.

I put this topic out for discussion to a number of theology students at Vanguard College; I asked them what they would do if someone approached them in the foyer this Sunday asking about God’s role in the Japan disaster. One keen student suggested something that is somewhat refreshing for times like this.

Stephen Adam said:

“…we hear about so many people dying through this tragedy, but I wonder how many people God saved when he heard prayers. The news will focus mostly on the large number of dead and the destruction, but who knows about some small family that miraculously survived by Gods hand.”

Now there is something to think about. While it rains on the just and the unjust alike, we know that “…the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Continue to pray for the people of Japan so that they can recover well from this terrible disaster.