Tag Archive: religion


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.

So, last night at Monkey Barrel we started a new focus that we will continue from now until the end of May…and then all the grade 8s will be graduating on to Emergency Ministries!!! (but that is another story).

To sum up our new focus in one word, it would be PURSUE. We are talking about pursuing a relationship with the Messiah; Jesus Christ. The present focus in the world of Christianity is the season of lent where Christ followers do a variety of things (the most common is give up something) as they get ready to celebrate Easter. Our focus will be on understanding the ‘mystery of the messiah’ as this mystery pertain to our life.

My first observation from the evening last night was this: Jr. High students are not nearly as obsessed with Justin Beiber as I thought they would be! We talked about how God had created each one of us as a perfect masterpiece in his very own image (NOTE: being in the image of God does not mean that we all ‘look’ like God because we obviously all look different. The image of God means that deep inside us we have a connection or a link with God that is different than every other thing in creation). Imagine if you really liked Justin Beiber and someone took your nice poster (like on the left) and wrecked it (like on the right).

Again, IF you liked Justin Beiber you would probably be devastated. This is the same devastation that God felt when his perfect masterpiece (you and I) was messed up by sin. (SIN = doing my own thing my own way without any care about what God thinks or feels about it). This ‘sin’ changed our relationship with God; it made it more distance. God, however, has never stopped loving us. In fact, God is so devastated about his wrecked masterpiece that he has spent his entire existence since that point attempting to fix what was broken.

This is when our discussion got a little more disgusting…because God used animal sacrifices in the Old Testament as a means of demonstrating to us that the problem of sin in our life was just as ugly (i.e. Leviticus 5:5-10). When you think about it, if God is life and has created us, walking away from him logically leads to death. This is why animal sacrifices were associated with ‘atoning’ for our sin (that means to make amends for or fix a broken situation).

Animal sacrifices however were not a solution for fixing the broken masterpiece (i.e. you and me), they only point out how broken things were. This is the mystery of the Messiah; he came with the purpose of providing a fix to our brokenness.

And the Messiah was……….JESUS CHRIST of course!

Hebrews 9:11-12

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”

Jesus is the new and permanent High Priest that not only points out how we are broken but also gives us a way to fix it. If we invite God to be the leader of our life his Holy Spirit with dwell within us and begin a repair process that will be complete when Jesus Christ returns to this earth.

I challenge you to PURSUE the mystery of the Messiah: begin a journey with Jesus Christ this season of Lent.

More on this next week!

p.s. Don’t forget about the 5 for 5 world tour challenge. Your first challenge is in your inbox today!

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.

The issue of pro-life versus pro-choice has been raised in a Catholic High School in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Let me tell you first what happened:

After a pro-life rally at the school one student placed a red piece of tape on her uniform with the word “life” on it as a silent stand for the pro-life position. The school allowed this to happen. Shortly following this event a different students decided to place a green piece of tape on her uniform with the word “choice” on it as a stand for the pro-choice position. The school requested that the student remove the tape and when she (and several others) would not they send them home on a two-day suspension. Social networking sites are now railing against the Catholic school board and religion in general for being too one-sided and exclusive. Many are calling this grade 10 student a hero and are using this as evidence of the hypocrisy present within religion (i.e. that the pro-life position was supported but the pro-choice position was not).

Here are my thoughts: if there was not public support for a Catholic school board then there would not be a Catholic school board that is publically funded. That being said, the fact that there is public support for this separate school system means that many families within Ontario want to have their children educated within institutions that are governed by specific religious (Catholic) morals and ideals. While we can debate whether or not suspensions were the best way to handle this pro-choice campaign, I think that we ought not to be surprised that the Catholic school did react to a viewpoint that they do not support. If they had not reacted they would be delegitimizing their very existence. Who would support a separate school system that was not really distinct in any particular way.

Catholic schools are inherently pro-life and so campaigns against this ideal (i.e. pro-choice) are not welcome there. Lets get real practical about this: when during election times have you seen a Liberal candidate hanging a sign for the local PC or NDP candidate in his constituency office window? Never! Neither would the Liberal candidate tolerate a staff member in his/her office displaying PC or NDP literature or promotional materials. Consider this: when have you seen the Montréal Canadians hockey team come onto the ice wearing Toronto Maple Leaf jerseys? In each case the institution is simply being true to what it is; this is a matter of identity and not a matter of closed mindedness or hypocrisy.

Expressing your viewpoint is different than creating a campaign for something. I can assure you that students at Emergency Ministries do not all share the same viewpoint on many issues (including the pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints). Students are welcome no matter what viewpoint they hold. Moreover, I have had conversations with students about a variety of issues where their thoughts differ from what I would consider orthodox Christianity. They are still welcome at Emergency Ministries and I am more than happy to have them there. However, we will never allow campaigns for pro-choice or for any other position that we cannot support or endorse. This is not hypocrisy; rather, this is our unique identity. We have looked at the world, examined our faith, and have decided that this is who we are.

What do you think?

You can check out the news report on this at http://www.tbnewswatch.com/news/136109/Students-sent-home?sms_ss=gmail&at_xt=4d7acaf774bd652e%2C0

So I watched Glee last night…and about half way through the episode I was having a bad case of déjà vu about their portrayal of God, faith and Christianity; it just seemed like they were perpetrating all the cliché statements of pop culture concerning faith. I felt as though the whole foundation of Glee (i.e. the plight of the underdog) had more depth and more integrity than what was playing out before my eyes.

My hope was restored as the show concluded as there did seem to be an attempt to present a balanced perspective; no solid conclusions were reached but there was balance.

All of this has me thinking about the role that prime time television plays in educating our culture. If I were not a person of faith I may have finished watching Glee last night and been somewhat perplexed. Is faith really worthless? Is there really no God; Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) certainly had a convincing argument to support this fact. What about supernatural things taking place in our world today; are they really as ludicrous as a ‘grilled cheesus”?

I think that we all (myself included) need to take a step back from prime time television to realize that its purpose is not to educate but to provide lighthearted and satirical entertainment at the end of a busy day. These programs give us a moment to exit the constraints of the real world where the rules are changed and characters are free to say and to do what they wish. In a stuffy world of confusing political correctness and nauseating conversations about proper etiquette, the genre of shows like Glee help to provide relief and humor from all of this; to this end they do accomplish their task.

There is an unfortunate and undesirable side effect related to the humor and comic relief brought about by prime time television; many people actually believe everything they hear.

The writers of last night’s episode of Glee managed to fill the show full of clichés and stereotypes related to having faith and not having faith. There was the appearance of the image of Jesus in a physical object (the ‘grilled cheesus sandwich’), there was the classic ‘I asked for it and God did not answer, ergo he does not exist’ argument, there was the notion that keeping faith out of school is a good thing, there was the extremely trendy statement ‘God created me a homosexual and yet condemns me for this very fact’, and a host of other popular statements. There was enough reality and emotion in what was presented for the viewer to be almost convinced that this is the way the real world actually is.

The thing is, the writers of this episode of Glee were under no obligation to provide a balanced ‘peer reviewed’ perspective of faith and of God. Prime time television in general is under no obligation to ensure the complete accuracy of the information that they present and they are under no obligation to resolve every dilemma that they raise. Their genre is one of entertainment and not education; however this distinction is becoming muddy in our present day.

I am sure that some will commend Glee for confirming God’s non-existence last night without realizing the subtle nuances that were present and without really examining the arguments that were raised. Let me (gently) correct the record as one who works in and studies faith and God: none of the arguments and/or dilemmas presented on Glee last night were new, nothing presented on Glee last night is as simple or as clear-cut as it may have appeared, and no new conclusions or syntheses about faith and God were construed by the characters on the show. It certainly was entertaining, but that is all.

I commend the writers of Glee for achieving somewhat of a balance last night. Emma Pillsbury’s (Jayma Mays) reminder that although God works and speaks in mysterious ways, but probably not through a grilled cheese sandwich, was a tactful way to dismiss the ‘grilled cheesus’ while not dismissing faith. I also commend the writers for demonstrating the faith of students like Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley) as firm and unwavering. Finally, I think that it was in good taste (and balance) that once Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) seemed to accept prayer as a legitimate expression of sympathy and grief we see his comatose dad begin to respond to his son’s presence for the first time.

I am not sad that this show aired, in fact I am somewhat glad. Glee’s whole foundation is built around exposing stereotype and cliché in a comical fashion. The basis of the show is about the competition between sports and arts in a local high school and the typical students involved in each. Last night’s episode placed the topic of faith and spirituality in the minds and conversations of the general public and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

To fix our confusion of the genres of entertainment and education I think that conversation and blogging such as this is so necessary so that once we jump back into the real world we can make sense of what we saw and perhaps dreamed about just the night before.

What do you think?