Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Change Your World

I've been thinking about politics this week. I watched part of President Bush's "State of the Union" address last night; I was reading about Stephen Harper's reflections on his first year as Prime Minister of Canada today, and I just finished reading about William Wilberforce (shown at right).

I guess I tend to be an idealist. I like to think that there are people who mean what they say and live their lives with integrity. I want to believe that people, ordinary people who care, can make a difference. Yet what I so often see is the politics of compromise and posturing for the photo-op. Is it possible today to rise above partisan politics and actually just do the right thing on a consistent basis?

That's why I included William Wilberforce. He served in the British Parliament in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and made as profound an impact as anyone in his time. He was born to privilege and position and yet risked both by embracing unpopular causes, simply because he believed in them. Along with an, at first, small group of sympathizers, Wilberforce took on the most powerful cartel in the British Empire in defence of the weakest.

A lifetime of labour enabled him to see not only the end of the slave trade in the British Empire, but the advancement of many worthy causes that ultimately changed the course of history. What causes a man to work tirelessly for almost forty years in parliament? It certainly wasn't the money - he already had that. In fact, during difficult times for the country, he gave away, in at least one year, more than he earned in order to help relieve the suffering.

Something had shifted in the psyche of this man who was elected at the ripe old age of 21. An old schoolmaster of Wilberforce's joined him on a trip to the continent and, over the course of time, led him to commit himself to the study of the Bible. Later that year he sought counsel from none other than John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace," and somewhere in those events he committed himself to follow Christ, whatever the cost.

He saw the corruption in politics, which he'd seen first hand, he'd witnessed the vulgarities of British society. (Some estimates claimed that up to 1 in 4 women in London at the time were engaged in prostitution. One-eighth of the deaths in London were blamed on excessive drinking. Animals were tortured for entertainment and frequent executions drew huge crowds.) He wrote in his journal: "Almighty God has set before me two great objectives, the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners."

His story is inspiring and, thankfully, will be told in a movie being released soon called appropriately "Amazing Grace."

Here's the question. What are the causes today which are worthy of a life-long commitment? What is it that can make your eyes shine with passion? Wilberforce, with his Biblical worldview, believed that he could succeed in spite of all of the odds because it was God Himself who had given him this task. The lives of thousands and the destiny of millions was changed for the better because of it.

Perhaps you and I were not born to privilege like Wilberforce. We may not carry the same influence as he did. Yet each of us can affect the lives of those around us in a positive way if we will.

That's what I believe that the church is: it's a community of people who have decided to follow Jesus Christ - wherever He leads. Jesus was a revolutionary who refused to use physical force, but rather, the power of truth. The church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). In spite of its failings - and they have been many and well-documented - God changes the world through the transformed lives of ordinary men and women.

I believe that there is a generation of people who are looking for something or someone to believe in. Are you tired of being let down and disappointed? Take this challenge. Search for the Christ that Wilberforce found and see what that does for your perspective!

Monday, January 15, 2007


Wesley Autrey was simply waiting for the train with his two daughters. He wasn't planning on risking his life, he just reacted. A young man nearby began to have a seizure and staggered backwards, falling onto the tracks of the New York subway. Death appeared certain, as a train was already coming out of the tunnel and into the station.
What happened next shocked a city. Wesley, a construction worker and navy veteran, leapt onto the tracks, situated the man between the two rails and flattened himself down on top of him. The train cleared them by less than an inch. the young man is recovering in hospital and Wesley is trying to get used to his new found fame. You can watch a video of an interview with him by clicking on this link.
Understandably, Autrey is being hailed as a hero for his actions. We hear stories like this and we hope that, if placed in that situation, we would do the same thing. But, the question is, what makes us, as human beings, applaud actions such as these? This is obviously a worldview question.
Stark materialism can't provide a satisfactory answer for it. Neo-Darwinists call acts like this the result of "enlightened" selfishness. So, a Neo-Darwinist would say that parents care for their children and family as a way of guaranteeing that their "selfish genes" get passed on to the next generation. But, even if this explanation were reasonable, it certainly doesn't explain why someone would jump in front of a train to save a stranger.
In a worldview in which meaning is limited only to this earthly existence, self-sacrifice in acts of heroism are actually the peak of stupidity. What possible selfish purpose would it serve for someone to lay down their life for another if that would end their opportunity to perpetuate themselves.
On the other hand, for a person with a Biblical worldview, this type of act makes complete sense. Jesus said that "Greater love has no-one than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend."
Since this life is a pre-cursor to an eternal life with God, and since each human being was created in God's image, heroic acts like this are to be admired. It's hard to deny that we know this intuitively. That's why we all look up to heroes!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Worldview continued...

We've now looked at the easy part - the four questions that a worldview needs to answer: the questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny. Obviously, anyone can throw out an answer to these questions, so we need more than the four questions in and of themselves. Ravi Zacharias uses three tests to verify any statement's claim to truth. I think you'll find them helpful.
The first of these tests is the test of logical consistency. Is what is being claimed logically consistent or are there obvious contradictions? Many people's worldviews fall apart at this first question - they simply contradict themselves.
The second test is the test of empirical adequacy. In other words, is there any evidence to support what is being claimed? Anyone can make a claim, but that doesn't make it true. What facts or datum back up those claims? This test separates mythology from the historical claims of Christianity.
The third test is experiential relevance. The question here is does it work in real life? For example, atheism would have to make the claim that there is no real basis for values - and therefore they don't exist in reality. But this leads to some ridiculous claims. Ravi Zacharias recounts a speaking engagement at a university. One young man wanted to argue that there was no such thing as evil. Ravi asked the following question: "If I were to place a live baby on this table; take a sword and proceed to cut that baby in pieces, would that be evil?" The student was obviously pushed into a corner and stated, "I would not like it, but I could not call it evil." Yet, instinctively, none of us can live with that conclusion. We know that evil exists. So, in this case, atheism fails the experiential relevance test.
So, in review. The three tests are: the test of logical consistency, the test of empirical adequacy and the test of experiential relevance. I hope that you will find these tests helpful in your search for truth.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Worldview - Part 4 - Destiny

The final question in helping to define a worldview is "what is our ultimate destiny?" Once again, from a Biblical perspective, man's destiny springs from the fact that God created us in His image. His original intension for us was to be in relationship with Him. Man's disobedience brought about a separation between us and God. This precipitated the coming of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice to build a bridge back to God.
Herein lies the choice. The Bible teaches that the eternal life God offers is available to "whoever believes in Him (Christ)..." The word "believe" in the New Testament is not simply an intellectual assent but it implies a commitment, a reliance on Jesus as Saviour. On the other hand, those who choose not to accept God's offer of reconciliation will face an eternity in that condition. Hell has been called "God's ultimate compliment to man's freedom to choose."
So, in summary, the Bible teaches that man was designed with a soul that lives on after the body dies. His destiny stretches far beyond the confines of earthly experience.
Conversely, an atheistic view of man ends at the grave. Since he is simply a product of a blind evolutionary process, he has the same ultimate destiny as a dog, a cat or even a bug. This view of man diminishes his value and ultimately leads to despair.
One of the byproducts of a Biblical worldview is the concept of hope. Failure does not have to be final. Redemption is possible. Even the worst reprobate can have the hope of a better eternity as demonstrated in the promise of Jesus to the thief dying beside Him - "Today you will be with me in paradise."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Worldview - Part 3 - Morality

Today we're dealing with the third issue in the examination of a worldview, and that is morality. The question is, "how do I determine right from wrong?" Again we'll begin with the perspective of a biblical worldview.
The Bible teaches that morality flows from the very character of God Himself. We learn that God is a righteous God, and that He demands the same of us. The Ten Commandments have provided the framework for the legal system of the Western world for centuries. Those commands are not arbitrary, but are reflections of who God is.
For example, God is the life-giver, the Creator; therefore, we are not to commit murder. It is wrong because each person is created in the image of God and, therefore, valuable. God is faithful, He keeps His commitments; therefore, we are not to commit adultery. He ordained marriage and designed it for one man and one woman for one lifetime. We are to be faithful to each other in that relationship because God is faithful. The same is to be said of God's commands regarding not lying; not coveting, etc... There is a reason these things are wrong - they violate God's character.
In our society today we see the result of decades of moral relativism as our secular culture has done away with a fixed moral compass. As non-Christian influence has expanded we've seen a growing disregard for human life with abortion on demand and an increasing tendency towards euthenasia. If we are simply the products of time and chance and a blind evolutionary process then who is to say what is right or what is wrong.
It was the Nazis after World War II that were being tried for war crimes who clearly demonstrated the difficulty when we declare there are no absolutes. They asked who we were to judge them, by what standard were we going to hold them to account? If there are no absolutes, who judges what is right or wrong? This is where modern man runs into difficulty. On the one hand we know that some things are right and some things are wrong; on the other hand, without an absolute standard we don't know why. We're left with standards that float on the whim of public opinion, watching a legal system make decisions which make us scratch our heads. Much of this stems from the secular worldview embraced by much of Western society.
An argument I've heard from some is that you don't have to believe in God to be moral. This is true. There are, I'm certain, a great number of moral atheists. However, logically, they have no reason to be moral. If they believe that there is no higher authority, and that there are no absolutes, therefore morality is simply one choice among many. They have no reason to be moral unless it is of some personal benefit to them.
Ultimately the question boils down to this: Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Most people, regardless of their religious beliefs, come to the conclusion that there are some things that are simply right or wrong. Where does that realization come from? Scripture would tell us that all humans are born with some sense of right and wrong because they are created in God's image.
Tomorrow we'll look at the final question and then look at some cultural examples.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Worldview: Part 2 - Meaning

Sorry for the delay - it was a busy New Year's Eve. But here we go with part 2 of our series on Worldview. If you're just tuning in, you may want to go back and start with the introduction. The last edition dealt with the question: where did we come from? Today's question is: what is the meaning of life?

From a Biblical perspective, the meaning for which we were created springs from our Creator. God made us to have relationship with Him. As Augustine said, "Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being: You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."
Throughout Scripture we find many references to the fact that God calls us to co-operate with Him in His plan of redemption. Simply put, the Bible speaks of an originally perfect creation, defined by a deep and loving relationship between God and mankind. This was followed, however, by man's disobedience and rebellion against God, which led the human race into spiritual separation from God. God's ultimate answer to this rebellion was the willing sacrifice of His Son to pay the price for our rebellion, and to satisfy the demands of justice. Jesus Christ became the way back for all of us into relationship with the Creator.
Those who come to God in Christ and are restored to relationship with God become a part of the community called the church. The church has been described by the Apostle Paul as "the Body of Christ." We are His agents in the world, with the expressed purpose of being "ambassadors" for God, helping others to be reconciled to God. As people created in the image of God we are called to reflect His nature by using our creative gifts to make the world a better place. The Bible teaches us that, as Christians, everything we do reflects on God. For that reason, Christians, though not perfect, ought to be exemplary in whatever enterprise they find themselves engaged.
Following a secular worldview would lead to the conclusion that there is ultimately no meaning in life. We are simply here to have a good time while we can. There is no real purpose to help others other than it may make us feel better about ourselves. Some secularists would counter that meaning comes from perpetuating the species and becoming a part of the ongoing process of evolution. But that is only cold comfort when at the end of your life you simply face oblivion and non-existence.
Other religions, such as Hinduism, would tend towards fatalism, as demonstrated in the Indian caste system. According to that religion, you were born as you were as a direct consequence of karma - the cause and effect of how you lived in a previous incarnation. They view it as bad karma to interfere with this process. Therefore, outcasts (lower caste people) in India are unable to rise above their lot in life and are faced with a lifetime of poverty in the hopes that their actions might provide for a better life in their next go-around.
What is your purpose? Is there meaning in your life? Why? All questions worth asking. As Plato said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."