Saturday, December 30, 2006

Worldview - Part 1 - Origin

The first question to be dealt with in a worldview is that of origin - where did we come from? The answer to this question has a lot of implications for how we live our lives.

From a Christian perspective, the answer is that we were created by a personal God who loves us and has a purpose for our lives. Using the Bible as our frame of reference, we see from Psalm 139 that God was intimately involved in the smallest detail of our formation. Genesis 1 tells that God gave each human being a living soul, designed for relationship with Him. This applies to every human being, and so affects the way Christians are to treat others. Jesus stated that all of God's law can be summed up in two commandments: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and then to love our neighbor (our fellow man) as ourself.

This view of origin changed the way that people treated each other right from the first days of Christianity. Christians cared for the outcasts of society, not because they could contribute anything, but because they were people created in the image of God. It was Christians like William Wilberforce and John Newton who eventually brought an end to the inhuman slave trade for the same reason. Today, still, Christians minister to the poor and the outcast of society because, in each of them, we see the "Imago Dei" - the image of God.

Critics would quickly point to the pogroms and the persecution of which the church has been guilty over the centuries - and that criticism is valid to a point. However, those who would perpetrate such evil in the name of Christianity go against the teachings of the God they claim to serve. In other words, they are living in a manner that is inconsistent with a Biblical worldview. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21). It would be akin to a medical doctor who, rather than healing, contributes to someone's illness, breaking his hippocratic oath.

On the other hand, a secular worldview would take as its view of origin that mankind evolved from a series of random occurrences in amindless universe. We are here simply because we survived while other species didn't. We are merely highly developed animals, whose final destiny is the dust. The logical outworking of this belief is the devaluing of human life. What, after all, is the justification for helping the disadvantaged when they have nothing to offer back to the species?

If we are only flotsam and jetsom in the universe and have no purpose beyond this life, why keep the unwanted child - abortion makes sense; why care for the severely disabled - they serve no purpose. It was this reasoning that led Hitler to destroy millions in the gas chambers of World War II. He was a staunch believer in the superiority of the Aryan Race and set out to destroy the "mongrel races." He believed, as he learned from evolutionary theory, in the survival of the fittest. He was merely helping nature along. The Nuremberg Trials were an eye-opener in that they had to appeal to a "higher law" in order to find the Nazis guilty of crimes against humanity.

While the criticisms of a sometimes violent church history are somewhat valid, as admitted above, what about the atrocities committed by those with a non-theistic view of the world? The worst tyrants in the history of the world have been those who denied the existence of God and therefore lived as though there was no-one to whom they must ultimately give account. I speak of men like Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, Chairman Mao and those who have inherited his office. If you believe that we are all the products of a mindless process, on what grounds do you say that they were wrong?

What I've tried to demonstrate here is an example of how worldview does shape the way we live our lives and affects culture at large. We need to think about what we believe and why because ideas have consequences. We'll pick up on the second question tomorrow.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Worldview - an introduction.

Yesterday we looked at the question of worldview and its importance in helping us find the truth. Today we're going to continue in that theme and look at exactly what a worldview is and how to frame the discussion.
Simply put, a worldview is a lens through which we view the world and by which we interpret events, information and experiences. Each of us has one, whether we have thought it through or not.
I have found Ravi Zacharias, a prolific Christian author and speaker, very helpful in his work on this subject. He says that a worldview has to answer four basic questions: Where did I come from? What is life's meaning? How do I define right from wrong and what happens to me when I die? These can be categorized as Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny. The catch, and the reason that Christianity rises above other worldviews, is that these four categories must be coherent: they must make sense together. The answer to each question must also stand on its own - it has to conform to reality.
Nancy Pearcey has taken a slightly different approach in her book Total Truth. She gives three categories: Creation, Fall, and Redemption. The questions are basically the same. I would highly recommend her newsletter for an example of how a solid grasp of worldview can help you to make sense of the world. Understanding this subject can also help you to better identify the biases and prejudicial tendencies of news outlets and academic institutions. As already stated, we all have a worldview. What we need to do is be upfront about that fact. Tomorrow we'll begin with the first question and look at the different answers we might get from various viewpoints.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christianity & Science

There's a theme that keeps being repeated over and over again in the popular media which basically states that there is a war between religion (particularly Christianity) and science. Time magazine recently did a cover on just this subject. A British television station went one further, airing a two-part special titled "The Root of All Evil?". Both Time and the TV series featured Richard Dawkins, arguably the most famous apologist of Darwinism.

One of the most consistent myths being perpetrated by Dawkins and his ilk is that Christianity promotes ignorance and superstition. He may have some scientific qualifications, but his grasp of history could certainly be improved.

As Rodney Stark outlines in his book, The Victory of Reason, it was Christian Europe that provided the fertile soil for modern science. As he states, Christianity "embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth." It was, in part, the understanding that God was an intelligent being who created in a logical and orderly manner that encouraged scientists to look for the order in nature. There were laws in nature because there was a law-giver.

I think it's a given that there are many, if not most, religions which are anti-science, but Christianity is not one of them. What Christians object to is pseudo-science: making outlandish faith claims and calling it science. Retired Berkeley law school professor Phillip E. Johnson, among others, have pointed out the propensity of some members of the scientific community to make truth claims without the required evidence.

The Discovery Institute is an organization established by well-known scientists such as Michael Behe, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer and Jay Richards who also happen to be Christians. So was Isaac Newton, by the way. All of these men - and countless other men and women - have found that their Christian faith and scientific investigation are mutually compatible.

What intellectually drew me to Christianity was the fact that it is based in history and has a comprehensive view of the world. It has as its central tenet an historical event - the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It presents a view of the world that makes sense at every level. As C.S. lewis wrote: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

Over the next few posts we're going to look at the idea of worldview, and how the Biblical worldview compares with that of other faiths - including atheism. Your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas season again, and once again the debate is raging all over post-Christian North America. Do we say "Merry Christmas" or are we infringing on someone's rights? Do we put up a Christmas tree or is it now a "Holiday Tree?"

Walmart has done its polling and decided that its good for business to dare to say the "C" word. Most others will stick with the politically correct "Happy Holidays." All of this foolishness has once again got a lot of Christians up in arms and writing letters in defence of Christmas. I was tempted to do the same with this blog.
However, the fact is this: we no longer live in a Christian society, and we need to stop pretending that we do. It is not our job to try to make everyone celebrate our Christian holidays just because we do, and just because everybody used to. It's our job to make the way we celebrate so attractive that they want to join us. I love Christmas - it's a great time of year. I like the fact that we can turn our attention to the coming of Jesus Christ into this world. He is the greatest gift ever given, after all.
So, what can you do to demonstrate the real meaning of Christmas? Put up your own nativity on your own lawn. Take a neighbor to see the new movie "The Nativity Story" and talk about it afterwards. Invite a friend to a Christmas Eve service. Take some carolers to a Nursing Home or a street-corner. Give a secret gift to someone who needs it and do it in the name of Jesus. Celebrate Christmas and let your good works point people to our Father in heaven.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Surprise! Hollywood Influences Children.

I know that some of you are shocked by this, but a recent study has confirmed what many have been saying all along, graphic movies have a negative impact on our children. According to an article in the Washington Post and re-run in the Toronto Star, there was a substantial difference in risky behavior between 9-12 year-olds whose parents allowed them to watch 'R' rated movies and those who didn't.

Remember that in Canada the ratings system is quite different, so many movies rated 'R' stateside are actually '14A' here or even 'PG13.' According to the study done by researchers at Dartmouth Medical School, children with permissive parents were 40% more likely to consider using cigarettes or alcohol than their more restricted peers.

This simply confirms what many parents have already assumed to be fact - GIGO "Garbage In, Garbage Out." There have been voices speaking up for years but they have largely been ignored by the mainstream media or dismissed as crackpots. Movie critic Michael Medved has been an especially articulate spokesman in favor of some self-control from Hollywood (don't hold your breath). A couple of books have spoken specifically to this issue, incuding: "Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values" and one he co-authored with his psychologist wife: "Saving Childhood: Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence."
We live in a complicated age. Technology has enabled us to have instant access to news and entertainment from anywhere in the world to wherever we happen to be. This new freedom is not necessarily a good thing if we haven't learned how to discern. This is particularly important for the age group mentioned in this study. We've focused a lot in our society on the unhealthy diets which our fast-food culture has inflicted on our kids, but what about the junk food for the brain that passes for entertainment. Regarding the morality of the movie and music industry the question seems to be "how low can you go?"
I guess the good news coming out of this study is that parents who took an active role in the viewing choices of their children were actually able to make a difference. Don't give up on being parents. Your kids may fight you, your friends may criticize you, liberal media may mock you, but your kids need you. Hang in there!

Stephane Dion's Big Adventure

So, it looks like all of the prognosticators and seers of the future missed the boat. The little guy from Quebec (Oh, Oh!) has surprised everyone with an upset win in the Liberal leadership race. There will be no "Rae days" for Canada and Iggy and Stephen Harper will not have to wrestle over who gets to be the conservative. Instead, it appears that the environment will be front and center in the next general election if Mr. Dion has his way.

Will this be a new day for the Liberals? Can they put the scandals and infighting of the past behind them? Will Dion be electable West of the Ontario/Manitoba border? Time will tell but now the clock is ticking on the next election.

It's an interesting time in Canadian politics. We now have a Conservative minority government which appears willing to take principled stands on issues such as human rights and yet is terrified of allowing their own MPs to comment on moral issues. Bloggers are even now leading a charge in an attempt to force them to declare themselves on abortion and other contentious issues.

There's no such ambivalence from the Liberal camp. With very few exceptions their party is pro-abortion, pro-homosexual marriage, pro-marijuana, etc... They do live up their name, don't they?

The problem that many have with politics in Canada is that, in spite of all of the media hand-wringing about the Liberals, our real party choices seem to start in the Center and move Left from there. There are policy differences, but not on many of the issues which resonate with moral conservatives. For us, it appears that the long walk through the political wilderness will continue for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who Cares? Our fascination with celebrity.

Today's blog is more of a rant. I guess I'm just tired of our culture's fascination with the rich and famous. I'm not one of those who waited breathlessly for the wedding photos from Tom Cruise and his new wife, Katie somebody. Isn't he the one who was recently vilified for his criticism of Brooke Shields taking medication for her post-partum depression? And then he invited her to the wedding. How nice.

Then we get the big debate over whether or not Kelly, the hostess of Good Morning America, is homophobic because she didn't like the fact that Clay Aiken put his hand over her mouth. By the way, Clay has never come out and said that he's gay. Rosie O'Donnell, however, has claimed him as a part of the homosexual community. Not sure yet what Clay thinks of that.

So - how exactly does Rosie end up on a talk show? Because a lot of people actually care what she thinks. I don't get it.

I really don't get it that all of this stuff makes the front page of the newspaper, over and over. Britney whats her name files for divorce from Kevin and everybody's supposed to be shocked? What's the average life span of a marriage in Hollywood anyway - six months? This is Tom Cruise's third already, isn't it?

Anyway. Pardon my rambling. But I think it speaks to the shallowness of our culture that these are the opinionmakers, the molders of minds, to many in our society. We live in a time of celebrity cults - witness the impact that Christopher Reeves and Michael J. Fox have had on recent elections. I think it's indicative of the fact that so few want to take the time and the energy and do the work necessary to actually inform themselves on things that matter.

I think I'm going to try my hand at a few movies and then take a run at the Governor's mansion in some warm state somewhere. After all, I wasn't born in the U.S. either. Maybe, eventually, they'll even change the rules and I can run for President. I'd better sign off for now. I think I'll go and look for a few celebrity endorsements. Hey! Geena Davis once made a movie here, I'm sure she must remember me. With her on my team, who knows...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Remembrance Day

Today is November 11, Remembrance Day, a day set aside to honour those who paid the supreme sacrifice on behalf of our nation. As the child of a Dutch immigrant who was in Holland when Canadian troops liberated that thankful nation, this day has always meant something to me.

We very easily take for granted the freedoms that we enjoy. We do live in a different time and age, albeit with its own challenges. However, try to imagine, if you can, what the world could have been like had Canadian soldiers not willingly placed their lives on the line to try to stop a European tyrant named Hitler, or if all of Korea were ruled by the communists.

There have been other conflicts as well - including the current war in Afghanistan against the Taliban. I'm proud of our soldiers, many of whom are younger than my eldest son. More than forty of them have lost their lives on foreign soil in this current engagement. Each of them have left behind those who love them - spouses, children, siblings, parents and friends.

This Remembrance Day will surely be an especially poignant one, in light of the fact that, for some, the memories are only a few months old. So, take a couple of minutes, at 11:00AM, to remember. It's certainly the very least we can do as a grateful nation. We enjoy today what they sacrificed to provide.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Good News!

Over the last few weeks there have been a number of news reports and op-eds about the videos "Bum Wars" and "Ghetto Fights" and the like. If you look elsewhere on this blog you'll find a couple of articles as well as a response from one of the stores which sold the videos. The good news is that a reversal in policy was just announced. The stores have voluntarily pulled them from the shelves and the Ontario Film Review Board has also announced that they may slap a 'R' rating on the offensive DVD's.

If you recall, the videos included graphic images of thugs beating defenseless people half to death - all for profit. Some teens were actually going out and making their own violent videos in the hopes of cashing in on the new craze.

Brodie Fenlon, who originally broke the story in the Toronto Sun, announced the decision in an article today. Sometimes public outcry can make a difference. If you sent an e-mail or letter or made a phone call, thanks. Let's hope the review board does its job.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What To Do When You Fail

I was deeply saddened upon hearing the news recently of the moral failing of Pastor Ted Haggard. Not all of the details have emerged, and I'm not sure I really care about them. The facts are simple. Ted Haggard admitted to sexual immorality and has resigned as Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado and as President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Aside from the obvious political motivations of the whistle-blower, there are some very important issues raised.
Te Haggard is the latest in a list of high-profile preachers who have had moral failings, including Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. The saddest part of the whole sordid affair is the damage that is done to the church, both local and general, not to mention his family. Trying to repair the damage that is done in one of these situations is like trying to unscramble eggs. The best that can be done is often to simply try to learn from the experience. So, what can we learn from this?
  • Don't put people on pedestals. Ted Haggard founded a church and nurtured it to a weekly attendance of 16,000. That is no mean feat. But it doesn't make him superman. He was a sinner saved by grace, just like any other Christian. He is subject to the same temptations and challenges that anyone else faces. That being said, the greater the leadership role, the greater the responsibility. A Christian leader must take care of his or her personal life, recognizing the impact that they have on those who look to them for leadership. I'm sure that Ted Haggard thought that dealing with his problems would be painful and embarassing, perhaps even career-threatening. However, I'm also sure that the pain he is going through now is much more severe.
  • Leaders need accountability. From all appearances, New Life Church did have a system in place to provide for just this type of a situation. However, there doesn't appear to have been anyone in his life in whom he could confide and who could have helped him to deal with his problem before it became a public mess. One of the greatest challenges for leaders is living up to the expectations of their followers. That can lead to being more concerned with our reputation than our character. Integrity means being, in fact, what we say we are. Maintaining integrity requires accountability relationships with people who know you well and who have permission to ask you the hard questions. While this is challenging, prevention is always better than the alternative.
  • Churches should avoid becoming a "personality cult." It looks as though this has not been a huge problem with New Life as another Pastor has stepped in and can hopefully lead the church through this dark time into better days. It was the problem with Jimmy Swaggart though. His was the face and the voice of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries and so he refused to receive the discipline of his superiors because he didn't think his organization could survive without him for three years. The Bible teaches us that, in the church, while all are important, none are irreplaceable. When we think that we can't be replaced, we should be.
  • Failure does not have to be final. While I'm sure that Ted Haggard and his family feel as though they're living a nightmare, life will go on. Back when Jim Bakker went through his disgrace and imprisonment he became the butt of many a comedian's jokes. But I was impressed with his sincerity in his confessional book, "I Was Wrong." People are generally forgiving if they sense real sincerity. While, quite obviously, things will never be the same for Ted, my hope for him and his family is that they are able to work their way through this and demonstrate the power of God to heal. Someone said that if you've fallen, you might as well pick something up while you're down there.

Life is hard sometimes. People do stupid things. When we've failed we must own up to it; take the consequences. It's not easy to do, but whoever said life would be easy? It's in days like these that I remember what Jesus said: "In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer! I have overcome the world." If you believe in prayer, remember to pray for the Haggard family and all of those affected by this.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Stem Cell Research & The Media

You likely haven't read it in any of the major newspapers or seen it covered by the CBC, ABC, CBS, Global, CTV, etc..., but there's been a major breakthrough in stem cell research. According to an article by Gudrun Schultz, Scientists in Britain have grown a human liver from stem cells taken from blood from an umbilical cord. In other words, no embryo had to be destroyed; no ethical lines had to be crossed. It was simply good science.

You won't have heard this story likely because there seems to be a very real media bias as regards stem cell research in favor of the mantra that embryonic stem cells provide the "best hope" for scientific breakthroughs. You've likely seen video or heard audio clips of Michael J. Fox's impassioned plea for the passage of a bill that would allow for the expansion of this type of research in order to treat diseases like Parkinson's, from which he suffers. Michael's sincerity is obvious, which makes it all the more important to look at the facts.

Regardless of why those embryos were created - another debate entirely - how do you morally justify their destruction when other alternatives are available? Perhaps the question of the day would be this - why would the mainstream media ignore a scientific breakthrough of this magnitude? This "eureka" type of discovery was covered in London's Daily Mail. These scientists foresee a day when "cord blood from millions of babies born each year is banked, creating a world-wide donor register for liver transplant and dialysis."

Rush Limbaugh's crude accusation that Michael J. Fox was "acting" and exaggerating the effects of his illness are simply a distraction from the real issue: is it a good idea to open a door to questionable scientific practices? My answer is a firm no! Just because we can do something does not mean that we ought to; especially when there is a safe and non-destructive alternative.

According to Schultz: "Research using embryonic stem cells is highly controversial because it requires the destruction of embryos in order to 'harvest' the cells. Further, to this date there has been no success in using embryonic cells to treat any disease or disorder. In contrast, the use of adult stem cells or of cells harvested from umbilical cord blood shortly after the birth of a baby have already been used successfully to treat multiple conditions, including spinal injury and blindness."

The point is this: while Michael J. Fox's condition does tug on the heart strings, it is not a valid argument. Emotion should not - cannot - be allowed to override sound reasoning. One of society's main responsibilities is to defend those who cannot defend themselves. In order to do that we must preserve a healthy respect for human life. Embryos ought not to be created to be destroyed; the U.S. should not open that door, and Canada should not have.

During the reign of our previous Liberal government, Bill C-6 was passed, allowing research on frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization (IVF) but no longer wanted by the donors. The language of the bill was clear that testing was limited to these embryos. However, already the line has blurred and IVF donors are now being asked to consent to allowing their embryos to be harvested for research - exactly the type of abuse that was feared in the first place. The argument that such legal changes are a "slippery slope" is not mere conjecture, it's history, as Rory Leishman argues in his recent article.

Our culture needs to move off of its trendy pragmatism, and look once again at a moral framework that protects those who are the most vulnerable. We need to stop being lazy intellectually and work through the implications of the decisions we make. The consequences of doing otherwise are frightening indeed.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Churches in the News

I don't know if you've been watching the news, but it seems like every time I turn on the television, read the newspaper or listen to talk radio, yet another church is in the news. The differences in these churches makes my head spin, as a pastor, so I can just imagine what it's like for someone who has no background in such things. let's start with a brief synopsis of the news.

  • The Church of the Universe - They claim to be following the most ancient of religions - practiced by the Sumerians. Yet, a quick glance at their teachings and history seems to indicate that they exist in order to justify their access to marijuana, which they claim to be the Biblical "Tree of Life." They also, at least in the past, have promoted nudity because Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden. They've been in the news lately because of a recent drug bust. A little bit of research shows that, while they use Christian titles, they are basically gnostic in belief (Remember The Davinci Code?) Gnostics deny most of the tenets of Christianity. Due to their lack of any real organization, they are very hard to pin down, taking parts of varying religious systems. One thing they are not is Christian. Why use the name church? Probably for the charitable status.
  • Dominion Christian Centre - This church is in the news because of a claim that a young woman was kidnapped by her own family and held for ten days in an effort to "de-program" her. Her family claims that the DCC is a cult. The pastor of the church, Peter Rigo, counters that the church "is nothing more than a Bible-based church that believes in praying for the revitalization of downtown Hamilton and positive change for people through believing in Christ." The church was at one time affiliated with Open Bible Faith Fellowship, but no longer. An interesting perspective comes from Suzanne Den Boer, a former attender whose sister is in the church. In watching the recent W5 program on DCC I found the pastor to be bizarre in his behaviour and, by all appearances, controlling and manipulative. The lesson in this is to be wary of churches and pastors with no accountability. The best intentions can lead you into trouble when you rely on yourself for everything.
  • The United Church of Christ I include this denomination because of the recent media coverage of a famous member - Illinois Democratic Senator, Barack Obama. Obama is not only growing in popularity among the population, but also recently received the endorsement of none other than Oprah Winfrey. Part of the reason for his popularity is his appeal across party lines because of his confessed Christian faith. Which leads us to the United Church of Christ. This denomination is typical of the left-leaning Liberal churches which have moved away from the exclusive claims of Christ and have embraced a universalist view - all roads lead to heaven. Obama speaks of being a product of a varied background - his mother took him to mosques, buddhist temples, churches and elsewhere to worship. From his writings, it seems he embraced Christianity because the version he was hearing at the UCC fit with his upbringing and was broad enough to fit everybody in. So he could be a Christian yet be a staunch pro-abortionist. He could be a Christian and yet say that other religions are true as well. I don't need to say that Jesus might have difficulty with that since He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no man comes to the father except by Me." My question for churches that reject the exclusive claims of Christ is, why not simply join up with Rev. Jesse Jackson's "Rainbow Coalition." That would seem to be much more in keeping with their desire to be acceptable to all. The Bible teaches that God loves all people. But the same Jesus who said "I don't condemn you." said "Go and sin no more.

So the big question is, how do you sort through all of the myriad of options out there to find a good church? Is there such a thing? Absolutely. the question is for you. Are you looking for the truth, or for a church that will tell you what you want to hear? Jesus Christ established the church with a clear mandate to "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel... teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you." The disciples of Jesus had been prepared to lead the church from the first days of Jesus' public ministry. It was them to whom He had given the responsibility of communicating His message; they gave their lives for that cause.

Throughout history men and women have bravely stood against all kinds of opposition for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the church has survived in spite of persecution. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the church is the temptation to compromise on the truth in order to be accepted by a society demanding political correctness. There is a fine line to be walked.

God calls us to be accepting of all; yet His Word also calls us to repentance. Repentance is the act of acknowledging our sin and turning from it. So we welcome the sinner, we all are sinners, after all, but we are called to leave our sin behind; not glory in it. When we identify leadership within the church, we ought not to look for mere charisma and talent, but the qualities for Biblical leadership laid out for us in the New Testament. We are to look for people of good character, who are students of the Word of God, men and women of self-control and sound judgment.

Churches are also called to be places where people are enfolded into caring communities. The book of Acts describes those communities. They are characterized by love for each other, devotion to the teaching of the Word, to prayer and to fellowship. The early church didn't set out to change the world; they changed the world by being the church. They didn't operate by control and manipulation, but in demonstration of the power of the living God who lived in them by His Spirit. People were drawn to the church because they cared; not by coercion. They didn't stay because they were threatened; they stayed because they had found the truth and the life that Jesus Christ had promised.

If you have been hurt or confused by a church, I'm sorry. Please keep looking. Find one that is a Biblically functioning community. The search is worth it, and when you find it, it will be worth the effort.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Apologize! Should He Or Shouldn't He?

Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, and a well-known preacher in his own right, has recently found himself in a great deal of controversy. Some church leaders in Winnipeg are demanding that Graham apologize over comments that he has made in the past that Islam is a "very evil and wicked religion."

This is just the kind of fodder that Canada's broadcaster, the CBC, loves to see. For the net news item, go to this link. They no doubt will be following Franklin's every move in Winnipeg, where his organization has planned a large evangelistic outreach.

The multi-faith group getting the publicity have organized what they are calling "Operation Bless Our Enemies." Apparently the group is led by Aiden Enns, who is a well known activist and the editor of Adbusters magazine. It is made up of Mennonite, United and Anglican church members, as well as representatives from the Muslim and Jewish communities.

While I would like to take this protest at face value - that they're simply trying to convince Mr. Graham to do the right thing by apologizing for his remarks, a short look at Mr. Enns' other causes would tend to indicate otherwise. You also have to wonder at the choice of venue for this protest by this group of mostly "Christians."

What would be the motive for handing out handbills to people attending the event and asking them to sign them and leave them on collection plates? The goal of the Winnipeg festival was to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a cause which, one would assume, Mr. Enns and his friends would support. It would seem to me that if he were sincere, he would find some other way to get his point across to Rev. Graham, rather than disrupting the proclamation of the Gospel and perhaps turning someone off to the message. My suspicion is that this has a lot more to do with politics than a concern for Muslim sensibilities.

That being said, should Franklin Graham apologize. His father, the Rev. Billy Graham, said on Larry King that he didn't agree with his son's position but that he had every right to hold it. In previous attempts at explaining himself, Franklin has said that he has nothing against Muslims but that the religion itself is based on error - an obvious statement for a Christian who believes in the Bible and the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. He has made his position clear in a public statement.

I think that, by and large, what Graham stated is true: Islam has proven itself historically to be a religion that advances with violence, seemingly endorsed by many of its leaders and its holy book. His statements were not politically correct and, therefore, made for great press and fodder for the liberal media. Franklin's father has always shied away from taking controversial public statements - as is his right. Apparently his son will say what he thinks.

But let's look at the evidence. Does Franklin Graham hate Muslims? As head of "Samaritan's Purse," a large Christian relief organization, he has overseen the ditribution of compassionate aid to millions of people, worldwide. His claim - and I have no reason to question this claim - is that more aid has gone from his organization to Muslims than to any other group in the world. That aid would total in the tens of millions of dollars. That doesn't sound like the efforts of someone who hates Muslims, does it?

Rather, it seems to me to be the outworking of a Christian leader who believes that the words of Jesus - "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me." - are true. Therefore, all other claims to the contrary are false. Christianity and Islam have fundamentally different teachings and therefore they cannot both be true at the same time. Rev. Graham is making the very logical statement - as a Christian minister - that Christianity is true and Islam is false. I would like to suggest that Mr. Enns and the other "Christian" leaders with him either lay down their label or explain how two contrary and opposing views could both be true at the same time.

To wrap it up, could Franklin Graham have been more sensitive? Absolutely. Should he have stated his position more diplomatically? Almost certainly. Should he apologize? If you read his statement, I believe you'll find that he clarifies his position well: he is opposed to the Islamic religion, but loves and respects Muslims as individuals. For that position he need not apologize. Opinions welcome!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thoughts on Fatherhood

This week marked the anniversary of my father's death. It was Thanksgiving weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving) in 1994. I remember that none of us kids (there are six of us) had made plans for a large family gathering. All of us had our own families to deal with. But, surprisingly, my Dad took it on himself to set something up. He told us that he was taking care of the meal, just be there. So, Thanksgiving dinner was Kentucky Fried Chicken. As usual, there was a lot of fun around the family table, with more than twenty of us cracking jokes and remembering years past. Also as usual, Dad went in and fell asleep in his chair.

Later that night I got a call that Dad had been taken into hospital with abdominal pains. By the time he had been diagnosed and transferred to Toronto for surgery by air ambulance, his heart had been weakened too much to pull through. He died of an aortic aneurysm at only 62.

I remember the ache I felt when I realized that he was gone and I never got a chance to say goodbye. As they were loading him in the air ambulance, I didn't want to think that he might not make it and I just told him to "hold on." I'd love to have that moment back. I'd like to be able to tell him what he meant to me and how much of a difference it made knowing that I had a father who loved me and was there for me.

My father was an immigrant from Holland who grew up there during the Nazi occupation of World War II. The things he experienced left an impact on him, but he didn't often speak of it. He had to grow up too fast, being the oldest child in a large family. His father loved him, but didn't verbalize it, and neither did he. I really don't think he knew how to say what was in his heart, as much as he wanted to.

I did watch him with his grand-children, though. It was almost like he had another shot at it, and he regularly told them how much he loved them. I was envious. Looking back now, as I'm a little older and hopefully smarter, I think I can understand him better. And I still miss him a great deal.

Last night I was watching a rerun of "8 Simple Rules." It was the episode after John Ritter, the actor who played the father, had passed away suddenly. You could tell that there wasn't much acting involved as the cast was still grieving themselves. I was shocked at the raw emotion I felt and how I was immediately brought back in my mind to that day twelve years ago when it was me grieving. And I was grieving all over again.

It made me realize just how important our fathers are to us. Many have grown up in homes without fathers, but it still doesn't diminish their importance, it simply leaves a void. So many of the wounds of people whom I encounter stem from a broken or poor relationship with their father.

I know that I feel the weight of this responsibility in trying to raise my own three sons. I want to do all of those things that good fathers should do, and yet I'm rarely sure of what, exactly, that means. When a group of men at a father's seminar were asked to write a one-sentence description of their feeling as fathers, one of them put it this way: "I feel like a dachsund dog running in deep snow."

I think I know that feeling; yet the struggle is worth it. I know my boys need me, and they need me to be the very best that I can be, because every boy wants to be proud of his dad. So when I don't know what to do, I'll ask somebody who does. When I'm faced with something too big for me, I'll pray that God will help me. I want to do my best because I know there's a lot at stake.

Let me close with a story. During the winter of 1993, workers at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Ohio, made a discovery. While renovating part of the building, they found a picture that had been hidden in a crevice under a display case. The man in the picture had a bat resting on his shoulder; he's wearing a uniform with the words "Sinclair Oil" printed across his chest; he looks gentle and friendly.

Stapled to the picture is a note, scribbled in pen. It said: "You were never too tired to play ball. On your days off, you helped build the Little League Field. You always came to watch me play. You were a Hall of Fame Dad. I wish I could share this moment with you. Your Son, Pete." Nice. I miss you, Dad.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More On "Street Fights."

I actually received a response to my letter from HMV Canada. I must say I am disappointed but not surprised by their answers. I've included the letter below in its entirety for you to read for yourself. For those who want the short version, they basically say that they are not censors and if people want to buy this, they have no moral obligation not to carry it.

This begs the question: whose job is it, and where do we draw the line? Do all of us really have to have somebody else tell us what we should or shouldn't profit from? Is there no longer any personal or professional moral or ethical obligation to do the right thing? How do you try to justify profiting off of a drunk getting beat up purely for entertainment purposes? Who really needs a censor to tell you that's wrong?

Well, that's my rant for the day. If you want to check on the origin of this discussion, look below at "Things That Drive Me Crazy." The letter from HMV Canada follows.

Mr. Denbok:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Like other retailers, HMV offers a wide variety of entertainment product in our stores. This product spans a range of topics and subject matter leaving the personal choice of purchase to the individual consumer (subject to age-restrictions). Certainly we are aware that not all products we offer for sale will meet the value or moral judgment of each individual. As such, product of this nature, while available in some of our stores, is not actively promoted.

It has always been our practice not to act as a censor in terms of the entertainment product we offer for sale in our stores. We realize that entertainment product is a matter of personal taste. While we at HMV may not always agree with or like the content of each and every piece of product available for sale in our stores, or the fact that it is available at all in the marketplace, the reality is that we don’t decide what to stock or sell based on our own personal preferences or biases. It is our belief that the determination as to whether such product is approved for distribution in the mainstream consumer market falls under the responsibility of our elected officials and is subject to rating by Provincial Film Classification Boards. We then determine whether there is demand for this approved product amongst our diverse customer base. Given on average, nearly one million consumers per week shop at our stores, those tastes tend to be quite diverse.

We do understand that all product we carry will not meet the expectations of all consumers all of the time and we and our staff work hard to meet our obligation with respect to refusing the sale of age restricted product to those consumers not meeting the criteria. In the recent article in the press, it claims that we failed in that instance to do so and for that we are most apologetic. In that regard and in an effort to ensure we reduce the possibility of such an error we are in the process of initiating additional safeguards to ensure we don’t sell age restricted product incorrectly and so that we continue to meet our responsibilities as a community partner. Until those safeguards are fully in place we have removed identified titles from the sales floor in those stores that carried them. That being said, we do not censor or restrict product beyond the requirements established by Provincial law as to do so, in our opinion, would be to make value judgments on behalf of all our consumers.

Again, we do appreciate that you would take the time to send us your concerns on a matter that is obviously of great importance. While we would hope that at some time in the future you might again consider HMV we also respect your right to choose to shop in retail venues that you believe are most consistent with your beliefs and values.


Diane Blois
Vice President Human Resources

My response is as follows:

Dear Diane:

Thank you for your response. I do appreciate it. I understand your position, but I do believe that it needs to be reconsidered. What you basically told me is that if and when snuff films and child pornography become legal in this country, your company would be glad to carry it, rather than make a moral judgment.

It is incumbent on each of us, whether in our business or personal lives, to be responsible "community partners." Surely your company has some standards, some level below which you refuse to sink, whether or not a censor board is asleep at the switch. I truly hope that those who make such decisions in your business will reconsider their position.

Yours Sincerely,

Tony denBok

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Christians Need Not Apply

It's been fairly obvious for quite some time now that politics is a dangerous profession for practicing Christians in Canada. Not only is the mainstream media quick to pull out the "scary" label, but opposition benches seem to feel there's no line they shouldn't cross. A recent article by John-Henry Westen bears this out.

The latest example has to do with Darrel Reid, the newly appointed Chief of Staff to Environment Minister, Rona Ambrose. Upon hearing of his appointment, Bill Graham, leader of the Liberal Party declared the decision an "affront to democracy." What was Mr. Reid's crime? Was he a child-abuser, a thief, perhaps he stole someone else's identity? No, his crime was that he was formerly head of the Canadian branch of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization with American roots.

While Pat O'Brien, a former Liberal M.P., is quoted as being highly critical of the Liberals, it seems that all of the Canadian mainstream parties have, at least, made the public expression of Christian values taboo among their candidates or M.P.s. I find it amazing that, in a culture that prides itself on its diversity and tolerance there is such blatant discrimination and even hostility to Christians in public life. Witness the vilification of Stockwell Day who, while certainly not perfect, was not as bad as the press or the opposition made him out to be.

The assumption seems to be that Christian values somehow impair the judgment of a politician, while an irreligious person or a non-practising Christian somehow is free from pre-conceived biases. The obvious fact is that we each have a worldview - a lens through which we interpret events and which informs our decisions. The secularizing of our political scene has simply deprived us of the benefit of informed debate.

We wonder why we see such a frightening decline in the moral judgment of our youth, our politicians, our leaders in general. Somehow we find ourselves unable, or unwilling to connect the dots. The ever-quotable C. S. Lewis wrote, "We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful."

Honestly, would we rather be lead by men and women who feel we will one day be held accountable for our choices, or to those who believe that the only thing we need to fear is being caught? It seems to me that, while there are moral atheists, having someone with a Biblically informed worldview would, and should, add a lot to the tone of public debate. Chew on it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Things That Drive Me Crazy

I wrote a couple of letters today to some company presidents. I don't remember if I've done that before but an article I read in the newspaper got me all riled up. The article was written by Brodie Fenlon and describes some of the disturbing content which is being packaged and sold by "respectable" outlets such as HMV and Music World.

The DVDs in question include titles like "Ghetto Fights" and "Wildest Street Brawls." These include brutal real-life gang violence. One example has a man dragged from his parked car and beaten repeatedly until he was unconscious. There are worse examples. Is it any wonder that our youth are increasingly becoming de-sensitized to violence. (And let's not get started on violent Video Games).

What particularly irks me is the companies that have decided to profit from this carnage and add to the pollution flowing through the TVs of our nation. Apparently Universal Canada distributes this junk through its partner Navarre Canada. Navarre's video product development manager Francine Winkley blames Ontario's film classification agency for not rating it as adult. She says that "it's not up to us to be the censor board." She also claimed that the videos are "absolutely not worse than anything you see on TV."

Here's my question - is there no such thing as being a good corporate citizen; looking out for the public good? When did we stop caring about anything other than whether or not we'll get arrested? What about the effect that this stuff has on our society? I'm not holding my breath waiting for a response from these guys, but it did feel better to ask. By the way, Music World said they'd received no complaints. Why don't we change that? Find the nearest Music World and ask them politely why they are profiting off some innocent person getting beaten up on video. It seems to me to be a matter of time before "snuff films" and child pornography hit the mainstream. God help our children.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


The Watchmaker
Take a look at this video and share your thoughts.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Join the dialogue

I found a new favourite blog today, put out by Charles Colson's friends at "Breakpoint." I like it because I think the subject of worldview is one of the most neglected, yet most helpful, topics to help people establish themselves. What a truth Malcolm Muggeridge expressed when he said that "we've educated ourselves into imbecility." Anyway, I hope that anyone who stumbles across my little blog will find their way to the link below. I do believe it will be helpful.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"And That's The Truth..."

Quotes of the Day:
"Our society finds truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted. In its purest form, truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder; it is a howling reproach. What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions, they are the Ten Commandments."
- Ted Koppel
(From commencement address at Duluth University)
"A mind bent on suppressing or hindering the truth will ultimately find the lie it is chasing."
- Ravi Zacharias
The Real Face Of Atheism
Someone has said that the one common belief which college students glean from their education is that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Relativism has seized the day with its denial of absolutes and resulting historical revisionism. What can we believe in anymore? Into this cultural chaos the words of Jesus still ring with clarity: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no-one comes to the Father but by Me." (John 14:6)
The obvious question still remains - is it true? It was Plato who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." What do you believe, really? Ideas matter. A meaningless life leads to sometimes disastrous decisions, not only for oneself, but for those we may care about.
It's time to re-open intelligent debate. Let's break out our ideas about what we truly believe and hash them out, discerning truth from error. Can what you believe stand up to scrutiny? Can you really live your life in a manner consistent with what you say you believe? Think about it!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On the relevance of Christianity

Quote of the Day:
"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."
- C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis became a Christian "kicking and screaming" after a long process of soul-searching, comparing religions and examining philosophies. What he found was that this person named Jesus simply would not be ignored. He found that the common view of Jesus - that he was just a good man - was simply not possible. Jesus, Himself, claimed to be God. Lewis realized that he was left with some very simple options. Jesus was either who He said He was, which verified the claims of Christianity; or He was a liar, because He tried to convince His followers He was someone He wasn't; or He was a lunatic, Himself convinced that He was Divine. But how could a lunatic still be viewed as one of the greatest teachers in the history of the world and be revered by other religions the world over.
As G. K. Chesterton wrote: "Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting as it has been found difficult and left untried."
The question of the day, then, must be this: is it true? Could it possibly be true that a man who died two thousand years ago in the Middle East actually did rise from the dead? If so, what difference could that make in our lives? C. S. Lewis, and millions before and after him, have concluded that it makes all the difference.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Thoughts on the news.

  • Does anyone else think the reaction of many muslims worldwide to the Pope's comments is a little odd. The pope quoted a medieval source who said that some of the teachings of Islam were "evil and inhuman" and referred to "spreading Islam "by the sword." Thus far, seven Christian churches in Palestine have been attacked by Muslim mobs and an Italian nun working in Somalia was murdered. Seems to me that there may be a better way to demonstrate your religion isn't evil and oriented towards violence than arson and murder! Just a thought.

  • In the meantime, students are getting ready to return to Montreal's Dawson College. This was, of course, the site of the shooting rampage by 25 year old Kimveer Gill. As reported, Gill was a big fan of ultra-violent video games. The more blood and gore the better. What's wrong with culture that allows people to profit off of a schoolyard massacre by selling a video game that glorifies mass murder? These type of events always touch off debates about censorship, but we have always had censorship and always will have. You can't yell "fire" in a theater or say "bomb" on an airplane because it's not in the public's best interests. Isn't it about time we realized that promoting murder, killing cops, beating women, etc... in video games ought to be stopped? Again - just a thought!
Dehydrated Food

Saturday, September 16, 2006

What's the world coming to?

I read today about a family in Germany who ran afoul of the law for refusing to enroll their children in public school. They insist the school system is preaching an atheistic worldview to their children and reserve the right to homeschool their own children with the Christian values they believe.
Here's the question. Who determines what is acceptable for a parent to be teaching a child? Apparently this local government in Germany felt so strongly that these parents were corrupting their children that they actually put the mother in jail for ten days. The father fled with the children and took refuge in Belgium with a Christian organization.
I know there's been a lot of debate in the U.S. about the whole Homeschool movement. In Canada homeschooling seems to be tolerated but frowned upon (depending upon the school board). Any homeschoolers out there? Any anti-homeschoolers out there? Where do we draw the line?