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.