Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Situation Critical

American Pastor Saeed AbediniNovember, in some Canadian churches, has been designated as a month of prayer for the persecuted church. It's appropriate, then, to highlight the plight of just one of many thousands of cases of persecution around the world. I have written before of the case of Pastor Saeed Abedini (right), a U.S. citizen in prison in Iran for his faith.

His situation has become even more critical in recent days. According to reports from The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Abedini has been moved from Evin Prison in Tehran to Rajai Shahr Prison in Kara. This prison has been described as "the place prisoners go to disappear."

A Dutch diplomat, Loes Bijnen, described the prison like this: "Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human rights activists and the press. In Raja├» Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don't hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence." 

Coming, as it does, in the midst of an anti-West backlash in Iran, Pastor Saeed's life is in real danger. There is a petition that has been launched in the U.S. to ask President Obama to intervene to bring about a resolution to this situation. If you are a U.S. citizen, please consider signing it. Jay Sekelow describes this as a "life or death situation" and thinks that there may be 24-48 hours to save Saeed.

If you are a believer, it's time to pray. Persecution is nothing new. The Apostle Paul wrote numerous letters during his time in prison, finally giving his life at the hands of a Roman executioner. He said, in his letter to the Colossians, "Remember my chains." It's very easy for us, living in the free world, to blithely go about our daily affairs, never giving a moment's thought to Christians around the world suffering for doing what we so often take for granted.

Whether it's a Pakistani Christian falsely accused of blasphemy, a Christian in China or Vietnam in jail for being a part of an unregistered church, or a Christian in India, beaten for their faith, they ought not to be forgotten. So take a few moments today to pray for those living under the threat of violence and death. How should we pray? Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote "Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."  

Pray for strength and courage for those undergoing persecution. Pray that they would remain faithful. Pray that they would be delivered and that the Gospel message would continue to go forward. Pray for God's presence in the middle of their trial. Pray for their families as they suffer in other ways. Pray for those working through various means to bring about relief and/or release for the prisoners. Pray for government officials who would be in a place to make a difference. Finally, pray that God would keep your heart soft to the needs of others and that they would never have to stand alone.

Related Articles:
No Justice for Abedini
Why is Youcef Nadarkhani Free?
Saudi Arabia Calls For Destruction of Churches
Islam & Christianity
A Picnic - Or A Pilgrimage?


Monday, August 26, 2013

Billy Graham: On Technology and Faith

I came across this TED Talk presented by Billy Graham today. It was given back in 1998, but it is still just as applicable today. What does the world's greatest evangelist have to say about technology? I think you'll find it interesting. Technology may be able to solve a lot of problems, but only God can deal with the human heart. It's worth a listen to someone who has spoken to over 2.2 billion people in his lifetime. We won't have him around much longer.

Related Articles:
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Two Views of the World

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley

In 1875 William Ernest Henley wrote the poem above that has been taken by many as a sort of personal declaration. Invictus has been quoted at graduations and funerals and, I believe, even inspired Mandela during his years of imprisonment (great movie by the way). Henley was a humanist, who believed in the indomitable power of the human spirit. His convictions come through clearly in his poem. His belief is that he alone was master of his own fate. It is the trumpet call of the "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" crowd.

It has been said that Henley's poem was intended to be a fist shaken defiantly in the face of God who who would dare to claim sovereignty over him. The poem below is, of course, a rewriting of Invictus from a different perspective. Dorothea Day was a journalist who, in her younger years, was quite enamored with the writings of Henley, but who later converted to Christianity. Her poem "My Captain" is a retelling of the same story, but from her new Christian perspective.  

Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.
Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.
Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.

I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.
Dorothea Day

On the one hand, Henley would claim self-sufficiency, Day would admit to total dependence on God. Henley appeals to the popular notion that "God helps those who help themselves," (which is not in the Bible, by the way), while Day would fall solely on the grace of God. Finally, Henley's world would revolve around what we can do by ourselves, while Day would focus on what Christ has done and what He can do through us.  

They are two very different views of the world. The question is, which one is true. As a recovered "self-made man" I would side with Dorothea. When we get to the end of ourselves it is good to know that the God who has made us has not abandoned us, nor required us to face the world all on our own. Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and, as the missionary David Livingstone said, "that, my friends, is the word of a gentleman."

Related Articles:
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On the relevance of Christianity
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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Book Review: The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism

Book Review: "The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism," Timothy Keller, New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008. 310 pages.

Before we begin, here's a little bit of background on Timothy Keller. He is the founder and pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan since 1989. He has grown the church to six thousand regular attendees at five services as of the writing of this book. They have also planted many daughter churches. Timothy has an engaging style, making it a part of his strategy as a pastor to deal with people's objections to the faith. This book is a natural byproduct of that commitment.

The book deals with the major objections to Christianity and belief in God that Keller has been confronted with over the course of his ministry. The introduction begins with his personal spiritual journey. Having been raised in the church, but exposed to the conservative/liberal debate within it, Keller's faith eventually became a casualty of a socially radical liberal university. He speaks of three barriers to faith which were erected in his life: Intellectual - did Christianity make sense? Personal - was God knowable? and Social - Could you believe in God and the Bible and also have a social conscience? Timothy has obviously resolved those conflicts in his mind and entered the ministry to help others do the same.

This book is really about engagement; opening a discussion about faith with those who do not believe. Keller "urge(s) skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined 'blind faith' on which skepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them." He also provides first-hand accounts of real people in their spiritual journey. But first he deals with objections to faith which he's encountered.

Objection 1: There Can't Be Just One True Religion
The claim to exclusivity for Christianity is one of the main reasons people gave Keller for rejecting it. This arises partly from the growing liberal value of tolerance - we don't like for anyone to tell anyone that they're wrong - and a negative view of religion in general as divisive and a root of many of the world's problems. Keller deals with this objection by first laying out the options some would propose: we can outlaw religion; condemn religion or keep religion completely private.

Keller explains the presuppositions behind each and then shows why each approach has and will fail. He then launches into an apologetic for Christianity, and a call for the church to follow the model of the early church in bringing its very best into society.

Objection 2: How Could A Good God Allow Suffering?
Here again we find one of the most common objections to belief in the God of the Bible. If God is loving and all-powerful, why doesn't He intervene to prevent suffering? The problem with this objection is that it begs the question: on what basis do we believe that suffering and evil are wrong? As C.S. Lewis concluded, in a purely naturalistic world, we should expect that pain and suffering would be the norm. Yet we have a sense that this ought not to be. Where did that come from? We all must ask, believers and non-believers alike, where does evil come from?

For the Christian, we find the answer in the Biblical record of the Fall of Man and the introduction of sin into the world. According to Keller, "Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering. The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with a powerful hope. It promises that we will get the life we most longed for, but it will be an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice or salvation."

Objection 3: Christianity Is A Straitjacket
The argument here is that since Christianity adheres to a moral code and to a source of absolute truth, the resultant religion must be the enemy of freedom. The questions that must be dealt with here are multifaceted: the nature of truth, community, Christianity and freedom. The underlying assumption here is that "true freedom is freedom to create your own meaning and purpose." It also assumes that all truth is relative, but is it?

Keller answers each of these questions, first by pointing out that, despite our protestations, we all cling to some source of truth, either objective or arbitrary - it's unavoidable. He then demonstrates that within each community there must be an underlying set of agreed upon beliefs and practices which, of necessity, are somewhat restrictive. He also shows that Christianity, far from being culturally rigid, has from the beginning allowed for cultural diversity while maintaining an adherence to orthodox faith. Finally, of freedom itself, Keller tells us that "freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions." Within Christianity we are free to be the people God created us to be.       

Objection 4: The Church Is Responsible For So Much Injustice
Here Keller identifies three issues: First is the issue of the glaring character flaws of many Christians; second is the issue of war and violence and the church's complicity; third is the issue of fanaticism - what of Christians on the fringe? The first issue is based on a misconception that Christians believe that faith in God makes them better people. It doesn't. One can find Christians at all stages of character development because behavior change is a gradual process, and church should be full of people who are flawed because they are people in process. The second issue is more troublesome, for it is obvious that a great deal of harm has been done in the name of Christ over the centuries. It is wrong and goes against the very teachings of Christ. Finally, fanaticism, tending to express itself in legalism, has pushed many honest seekers out of the church.

It is important to remember that the Bible is also critical of people who act like this. Keller reminds us that "true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor and marginalized." It's not only the church that has been guilty either. In the twentieth century the greatest cause of injustice (human rights abuses, pogroms, death camps, genocide, etc...) were atheistic regimes. This in no way excuses the church when it has been wrong, but it demonstrates that injustice is a human problem, not a Christian one. On the other hand, it has been those motivated by Christian motives who worked to end slavery, campaigned for civil rights and lead the way in social reform, often at great personal cost.

Objection 5: How Can A Loving God Send People To Hell?
With this subject, Timothy shares that many secular minds believe that it is a contradiction to believe in the equality of all people and yet believe in the concept of hell. Keller found several connected beliefs lurking beneath the surface of this one: a God of judgment simply can't exist; a God of judgment can't be a God of love; a loving God would not allow hell. At their root these are preferences. We all would prefer that there would be no hell. The first belief in particular goes against our Western sensibilities and our doctrine of tolerance at all costs. Keller goes to C.S. Lewis to demonstrate that this belief is a cultural adaptation.

As to the second and third charges, relating to the love of God, the implication is that God cannot be both judging and loving. But is that true? The Bible clearly teaches that God is both. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf says it this way, "If God were not angry at injustice and did not make a final end to violence - that God would not be worthy of worship..."

Objection 6: Science Has Disproved Christianity
The famous atheist Richard Dawkins stated that one cannot be an intelligent scientific thinker and still hold religious beliefs. Is he right? In this chapter Keller shows how the supposed war between science and Christianity exists only in the minds of those who hold certain (unscientific) presuppositions. For example, the presupposition that "No supernatural cause for any natural phenomenon is possible" is not a scientific statement, but a philosophical one. He could have done more with this chapter, but this quote is telling: "A majority of scientists consider themselves deeply or moderately religious - and those numbers have increased in recent decades. There is no necessary disjunction between science and devout faith."

Objection 7: You Can't Take The Bible Literally
Keller draws on his own student experiences for this chapter, recalling how many of his college courses caused him to question the reliability of Scripture. It was when he began to do research on his own that he realized how little evidence there was for this revisionist school of thought. The influence of this skeptical view of Scripture has been waning in recent years. Anne Rice, who converted to Christianity after a successful career as a novelist, wrote that "I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I'd ever read." Keller goes on to deal with the typical challenges to the reliability of Scripture, providing solid reasons that the Bible can be trusted historically and culturally.

He quotes C.S. Lewis, who just happened to be a world-class literary critic, as saying: "I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, and myths all my life. I know what they are like I know none of them are like this. Of this (gospel) text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage... or else, some unknown (ancient) writer... without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative..."

In the remaining chapters of the book Keller moves from a defensive posture to providing a positive case for believing, including chapters on:
  • The Clues of God
  • The Knowledge of God
  • The Problem of Sin
  • Religion and the Gospel
  • The (True) Story of the Gospel
  • The Reality of the Resurrection
  • The Dance of God
Even a synopsis of these would take up considerable space but, suffice to say, the book is worth reading, whether you are a skeptic, a seeker or a Christian wanting to deal with some questions. It's not an accident that this book hit the New York Times bestseller list. I'll end with a great quote from Keller: "Jesus's life, death and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalized, physical wholeness to the diseased and dying, community to the isolated and lonely, and spiritual joy and connection to those alienated from God. To be a Christian today is to become part of that same operation, with the expectation of suffering and hardship and the joyful assurance of eventual success."

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"Truth" - by Ravi Zacharias



Monday, August 05, 2013

What is Truth?

During a series I taught recently on apologetics, one of the follow-up questions dealt with the subject of truth. They asked whether the definition of truth was important to the defense of the Christian faith and, if so, what is truth? We could spend a few weeks on this question, but I'll do my best to answer satisfactorily.

Firstly, the definition of truth is vital to the defense of the Christian faith, as it is to any worldview. This question of truth is at the root of many of the disagreements taking place today and, in fact, throughout history. We can begin with a simple definition: truth is that which conforms to reality, fact or actuality. But this statement will often lead to more questions. What is reality? These word games are often played by the disingenuous and argumentative.

I like the approach that Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias took at a university Q and A. One member of the audience asked Ravi, "How do you know that I exist?" Ravi smartly replied, "And whom shall I say is asking?" Much of the debate over truth is simple semantics; and arguing over words. At the end of the day, each of us must live in the real world, a world where truth is objective, and not something arbitrary.

We can look at logic to help us to understand truth. For example, the law of non-contradiction tells us that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. I cannot be home, and not be home. One of those statements may be true, but not both at the same time. We can apply this principle to our discussions of faith.

Our modern world has taken a position called cultural relativism -  the view that all beliefs, customs, and ethics are relative to the individual within his own social context. In other words, “right” and “wrong” are culture-specific; what is considered moral in one society may be considered immoral in another, and, since no universal standard of morality exists, no one has the right to judge another society’s customs.

The problem with this statement is that it's not liveable, and we judge people's customs all the time. We speak of human rights and tell nations that they must respect them. Why? Why must China respect human rights when they believe that collective rights trump individual rights? Who are we to tell them that they are wrong? What of women's rights? The rights of the child? Without a belief that there is such a thing as absolute truth - without a standard - we are all simply left shouting our opinions. 

Each of us believes in truth or we would make no factual statements. Otherwise we could never be believed. Part of our problem is that we have lost the ability to debate logically and thoughtfully. We say things like, that may be true for you, but it's not for me. Like Winston Churchill said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” But if truth is something real and concrete, it matters.

In dealing with Christianity this is particularly important, for Christianity is a faith based on history. We believe that Jesus Christ came, lived, died and was resurrected at a specific place and at a specific time in history. These are truth claims, and they matter. They are either true or they are not. If the claims of Christianity are not true, it should be placed on the rubbish heap of human ideas along with myriad other religions. But if it is true - it changes everything.

C.S. Lewis wrote of this in Mere Christianity: “The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort. Now a clearly maintained distinction between what the Faith actually says and what you would like it to have said or what you understand or what you personally find helpful or think probable, forces your audience to realize that you are tied to your data just as the scientist is tied by the results of the experiments; that you are not just saying what you like. This immediately helps them realize that what is being discussed is a question about objective fact — not gas about ideals and points of view.”

For the Christian, the ultimate expression of truth is found in the Bible; in Jesus who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6). Jesus made this statement as God in the flesh, God who provides the absolute standard by which everything and everyone is measured. Here is a divergence between Christianity and many of the other world religions. Jesus claimed to be the way, the truth and the life. Christianity claims - and evidence backs this up - that Jesus rose from the dead.

Islam, on the other hand, claims that Jesus was never crucified, contrary to the evidence. Many religions claim that Jesus was simply another in a long line of teachers sent from God. Yet he himself claimed otherwise. To believe both is to violate the law of non-contradiction. Many today would claim that Jesus was simply a good man and a gifted teacher. Yet his claims to Deity would certainly nullify the "good man" claims. And what of the resurrection?

To find our way around this we must explain the numerous eyewitness accounts, the growth of the church in hostile environs, the conversion of antagonists like Saul of Tarsus, the willingness of the disciples to die for a lie if they knew otherwise. We also must ask why the Romans or the Jews didn't produce the body of Jesus if they had it. Witness the radical changes in culture brought about by followers of this Jesus, and ask yourself if he was just a man.

This question of truth is not a new one. In fact, over 2,000 years ago there was an encounter between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, a Roman Governor. It's found in John 18:37-38 - Jesus was dragged before Pilate to defend himself to the Roman ruler. Jesus said,  “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate famously replied, “What is truth?” Perhaps the truth is that only those who are honestly looking for it can find it. 

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Friday, August 02, 2013

Redefining Success

How do you define success? There are many different definitions. Some measure success by the bank account balance, house size, or number of toys. Others would look at the letters beside their name, the recognition of peers, or plaques on the wall. Still others would simply look around them and gauge success by comparing themselves with their neighbors. What about you?

For many, it's probably not something that is consciously done, but rather, success would be what makes them feel good about themselves. So, again, for some success is a rare thing indeed. There are many who I have encountered over the years who hardly ever feel good about themselves.

I've thought long and hard about this subject over the years, and done a lot of striving and struggling to reach what I thought were worthy goals. More often than not, in my younger years, I was trying to reach some arbitrary benchmark. "I'll be successful when I get my first real job," or "when I get married... have children... buy a house... get out of debt, earn a promotion, etc..."

At one point I realized that a great part of my struggle was in trying, in my mind, to measure up to what I believed my father expected of me. That always seemed to be a moving target. For a great many men that I speak with, that is a common refrain. We fathers, while usually well-meaning, have a hard time communicating to our children that we love them and are proud of them. The result is a lot of men with driven personalities for whom enough is never enough. But that's a different subject.

A number of years ago I actually sat down and reflected upon what it meant to be successful. How is it defined? How is it measured? How do we know that we've achieved success? I realized that we can't begin with this question, or we are driven again to arbitrariness. It really leads to an existential question, why are we here?

The answer to this question frames the question of success, and the answer comes from one's worldview. For many who believe that we humans are simply the byproduct of the impersonal + time + chance any answer to this question must, of necessity, be purely subjective. We define success for ourselves. The problem with this self-definition is that the payoff for achieving success is fleeting, followed by the question, "now what?"    

But for those who believe in a Biblical interpretation of reality, our reason for being leads us back to a Creator God who made us on purpose. He made us for Himself and intended for us to live our lives in relationship with Him. The Westminster Larger Catechism  states that "Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever." This ancient teaching reminds us that we are not here to serve ourselves.

When Jesus was challenged by some of the legalists of his day to tell them what was the greatest commandment in the law, he replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40) So, Jesus tells us that the chief aim of our life is to walk in proper relationship with God.  

I have a definition of success that I've used for many years now: success is finding what God wants me to do and doing it. This, of course, begins with relationship. God wants us, first and foremost, to be reconciled with him. If we have never come to the place where we've acknowledged our sin and our need of God, that is the first step to take. Everything else flows out of that. God, who created us, knows what is best for us. We are to live our lives in such a way as to maintain that relationship.

I often have people ask me, "how do I know what God wants me to do?" My response is that most of God's will for your life and mine is revealed in Scripture: how we ought to live, treat others, handle our money, etc... When we are exposing ourselves to God's Word and spending time in prayer we learn to hear his voice - maybe not in an audible, weird way, but he still speaks to us. For a good book on the subject, read Bill Hybel's book, "The Power of a Whisper."  

I like this definition because it grounds my life in ultimate reality. This is God's world, after all. History is His Story. He calls us up into that greater story to play our part. I hope that, when I've come to the end of my life, I can say with the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." This, to me, will be success.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

No Justice for Abedini

Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini with his wife, Naghmeh, and his two children. While
(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)  
Last month Naghmeh Abedini (see photo) celebrated her ninth wedding anniversary alone at home in the U.S., while her husband, Saeed, suffered in Iran's notorious Evin prison. He has been in prison since he was arrested in September 2012 while building an orphanage.

His crime was supposedly "endangering national security," but it is quite obvious that Abedini is being held for his work as a Christian leader. While he is not the only Christian imprisoned for his faith in the Islamic Republic of Iran, he is probably the most noteworthy, if only because of his American citizenship.

Reports from sources in Iran indicate that Saeed has been tortured and beaten. Then he was denied medical care as the Muslim doctors who were called refused to treat him. Yet President Barack Obama remains strangely silent, leading to a call for action from Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan's Purse. “Many in the international community are expressing outrage over this blatant example of religious intolerance,” said Graham, who also heads the international relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse. “I ask that our government do the same and demand that Pastor Saeed Abedini be released and allowed to return home to his wife and family in the United States.”

We, in the West, have little to no idea of the horrifying experience many Christians go through in many parts of the world. Iran, China, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria and many other nations have been the site of incredible injustices as followers of Christ have been falsely accused, beaten, tortured, imprisoned and often murdered. According to Philip Yancey, "Human rights organizations claim that more Christians were martyred in the twentieth century than in all the rest of history combined."

Christian Freedom International has provided a map and information on their website detailing the worst offenders (the five I listed above made the Top 10 offenders list). While I highlight the plight of Abedini, most Christians in these countries suffer silently, unknown and out of the minds of all but their family and friends. High profile cases like Saeed's often result in release because of political pressure - I hope that happens in this case. Last year we were talking about Youcef Nadarkhani, who was freed, then re-arrested, then freed again; then arrested again. He is currently free, for who knows how long.

Regardless, as a follower of Christ, I must constantly remind myself to pray for those who are being persecuted for their faith. The Apostle Paul, no stranger to persecution, wrote to the church in Colosse from prison and concluded his letter this way: "I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you." (Colossians 4:18) 

Around the world today, hundreds of thousands of Christ-followers would say the same - "Remember my chains." As those privileged to live in one of the freest countries on the planet, we ought to do all that we can to promote the cause of justice for those unable to speak for themselves. Become informed, and use whatever influence that you may have to bring pressure to bear on those who can make a difference. And pray. As John Wesley said, "You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed."

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Falling Idols

Ernie Harwell, the legendary sportscaster for the Detroit Tigers, said that "Baseball is a lot like life." That's true in many ways, but I'm thinking this was not what he had in mind. The baseball world is waiting for the next foot to fall in the doping scandal which will hopefully mark the end of a scandal-plagued era. A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) is rumored to be facing a multiyear or even life-time ban from baseball for using performance enhancing drugs. Only recently Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, the 2011 National League MVP, was suspended for the remainder of this season for the same thing.

The expectation is that a sizable number of the top stars of Major League Baseball will be called to account for their behavior, after a lengthy investigation aimed at cleaning up the sport. One of the questions being asked is, will this convince the other pro sports to clean up their games as well?

Cheating is not a baseball problem; it's not a sports problem; it's a human problem. It extends into every area of our society. According to surveys in U.S. News and World Report:
  • 80% of “high-achieving” high school students admit to cheating.
  • 51% of high school students did not believe cheating was wrong.
  • 75% of college students admitted cheating, and 90% of college students didn’t believe cheaters would be caught.
  • Almost 85% of college students said cheating was necessary to get ahead.

In 2012 scores of students were asked to withdraw from Harvard University after an investigation into allegations of cheating. It is, indeed, everywhere, with the common theme being that it's only wrong if you get caught. How did we arrive here?

I had an uncle who was a farmer in a rural community in Ontario. Every once in a while we would sit down for a conversation. During one of those chats he started reminiscing about the good old days when people could be trusted. He believed that your word was your bond and would close deals with a hand shake. He would never have thought of "fudging the figures" or altering the scales to make more money on a crop. In fact, he would rather lose money than to go back on his word. While not everyone in his generation acted with the same integrity, a great many did. What has changed?

C.S. Lewis spoke of this in his book "The Abolition of Man." Lewis was criticizing the removal of values from the education system in particular and society in general. Education without values, in Lewis' mind, would produce men and women with head knowledge, but no hearts - no chests. What he said back in 1943 resonates in 2013: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

This leads to the question, what is our basis for values? Unless we find an appropriate answer to this question, it is simply a matter of opinion. Is it wrong to cheat? Why? Who is hurt if a player is using anabolic steroids, or whatever the drug of the day is, to enhance his performance? What does it matter if a student cheated on their exam in university? Does it make a difference?

It makes a difference if it's your doctor and he or she doesn't know what they're supposed to know upon graduation. It makes a difference if it's your investment broker playing fast and loose with the facts and your money. As C.S. Lewis said, "A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional...values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process." We hear of government corruption and ponzie schemes and we shake our heads in disgust. We know it's wrong. But why is it wrong?

Without a universal standard, it's simply a choice: somebody trying to get ahead. Yet we have this sense, all of us, that this is morally wrong. Where does that come from? The question inevitably leads us back to God - the lawgiver. While we may have removed him from public discourse, we are having a hard time living in the vacuum left behind. We long for the days when men had chests. Think about this when you teach your children, and don't be surprised if, after removing objective values, you end up with men and women with no integrity.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

A Word of Encouragement

We live in a world that can be pretty inhospitable at times. One of Jesus' least popular promises was that "in this world you will have trouble." Isn't that the truth? Some days can really wear on you.

I have been feeling tired and a little run down lately, as the pace has been hectic. This is, of course, largely self-inflicted as I tend to take on more than I can chew. Add to the physical wear and tear the emotional baggage we pick up along the way, the inevitable people problems and the occasional speeding ticket and we can start to feel like things are in a bit of a tailspin. What can we do when it begins to feel like the wheels are coming off?

One of the best pieces of advice I can give is this, when things aren't looking good to you, change your perspective. When life is dragging you down, look up. I have found this to be one of the most helpful things that I can do.

The Psalmist David, no stranger to difficult times, wrote in Psalm 121: "I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." Have you ever stopped and thought about the God who is revealed in Scripture? As David states, God is the maker of heaven and earth. Genesis 1:1 simply begins with the four words "In the beginning, God..." It's a simple statement of fact, a declaration, if you like.

Before anything was, there was God, eternal, the uncreated Creator of all that we see.  David Coppedge writes that "astronomers estimate that there are as many galaxies outside the Milky Way as there are stars in it. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, taken in 2004, imaged 10,000 galaxies in a cone of space so slim you could cover it with a grain of sand held at arm's length. Integrated over the entire sky, that would mean there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the visible universe, many with more than 100 billion stars each. According to Psalm 147:4, God calls them all by name."

Yet this God, the God who also formulated the intricacies of human DNA, is concerned with you. He sees every sparrow that falls, and he sees everything we are going through as well. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." 

I find that it always helps, in the middle of whatever mess I have created or have had dropped in my life, to ask the very important question, where is God in all of this? If you don't see him in your picture, you need to invite him in. Jesus said in John 10:10 that "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

This doesn't necessarily mean that all of your problems may be solved - it may actually be quite the opposite. But what it will mean is that your main and foremost issue will be resolved - that of your relationship with the God who loves you. His answer to the pain and the suffering on this planet was to enter into our experience and suffer with us. He triumphed over death and the grave, defeating the adversary we couldn't handle on our own. He said, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." 

What has God done for you? He has given you Himself. He has given you his presence. For those who trust in him, he has guaranteed their future. God loves you, yes you! Warts and all. He loves you in spite of your failings and even in spite of your outright disobedience. Some of you just need to sit back and let that soak in for a while. GOD LOVES YOU! Love him back. As Michael Green said, "Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead men live."

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Quotes from "Light in Dark Places"

http://billysbestbottles.com/wp-content/uploads/WhoSaidIt.pngI've been collecting quotes for over thirty years and I'm often asked for copies of the quotes I use. A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending RZIM's Summer Institute at McMaster Divinity College entitled "Light in Dark Places." In this post, I'll provide some of my favorite quotes from the week, organized by speaker. I have included quotes at the bottom of the article from some others that were quoted by the conference speakers. I hope you enjoy them.

Lee Beach
"A life beautifully lived is the most powerful argument we have for Christ."

Stuart McAllister
"Something unexpected happened - the resurrection - and it has changed the nature of reality."

"Looking good and feeling good has replaced doing good and being good."

"Western culture will sing its last song, in the words of Frank Sinatra, 'I Did it My Way.'"

"We all want judgment for the other person, but mercy for ourselves."

"The church is a cradle to help God's people be God's people."

"If your faith isn't worth dying for, it's not worth living for."

"You can either be rebels without a pause, or rebels with a cause."

John Patrick
"If Newton had not had his God, he would not have gone looking for his laws."

Anna Robbins
"Our network of relationships forms our identity."

"Everywhere is somewhere in God's kingdom."

"I don't have the truth; the truth has me."

Michelle Tepper
"God exercises his mercy and upholds his justice at the cross."

"Often when we say we want justice, what we really mean is that we want revenge."

"Only the author of life has the right to define the meaning of life."

Steven Studebaker
"Neither ignorance nor selfishness are Christian virtues."

Ravi Zacharias
"There are four absolutes that converged on a hill called Calvary: evil, justice, love and forgiveness."

"The laws of nature are written by God in the language of mathematics." - Galileo

"Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." - Albert Einstein

"Comparison is the mother of clarity." - Os Guinness

"God is never late, never in a hurry, and always on time." - Selwyn Hughes

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot

"A humanly speaking hopeless situation is irrelevant when God's involved." - Tom Tarrants

"Everyone says forgiveness is a great idea, until they have something to forgive." - C.S. Lewis

"Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead men live." - Michael Green

"Human beings are logical - but slowly." - Unknown

"Our past may explain us; it does not excuse us." - Unknown

Please feel free to share your favorite quotes in the comments section.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Light in Dark Places

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague and I attended a week long conference put on by RZIM and hosted by the McMaster Divinity College. The theme was "Light in Dark Places." The experience can best be described as drinking from a fire hydrant. I'm still processing a lot of what I heard, but I'd like to highlight a few of the takeaways from the 32 sessions, some of which are likely not what you'd expect from an apologetics conference.
  • Personal growth requires investment.
This is not an earth shattering revelation, but a gentle reminder that real growth comes at a cost. That cost may be monetary, as in tuition, conference fees, materials, etc. But it also involves, perhaps even moreso, an investment of time and energy.

I'm reminded of a conference I attended a few years ago during which someone spoke of the idea of leverage and creating space. If something is worth learning or doing, and there are only so many hours in a day, therefore something must be sacrificed in order to make it happen. That may mean getting up a little earlier each day or spending less time with television or whatever it is that wastes your time.

Author and speaker Charles Swindoll, many years ago, made the decision to rise one hour earlier each day and to spend that time in writing. He has now written more than seventy books and become one of America's most respected pastors. An hour a day is a powerful thing. What changes do you need to make to allow your top priorities the time they deserve? 
  • There's no substitute for reading.
I have a lot of books. Almost every visitor to my office comments on my rather large library. Yet when I attend conferences such as these I invariably add another 10-20 books to my must-read list. Information is power, and to be able to have that information at your fingertips is invaluable. I find myself humbled in the presence of men and women who have such a great grasp of their subject that they are able to recite from memory a seemingly endless supply of pertinent information.

This is not intended to shame anyone - not all are cut out for academia - however, each of us should take advantage of our opportunities. As Mark Twain said, "The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read." It has been said that one hour of study per day in any subject will make you an expert in a couple of years. Try it with something you're interested in.

For those of you who commute, aren't audio-books just the greatest thing since sliced bread? Pop a CD in or download a podcast and make use of that time to expand your mind and your horizons.
  • How you live your life matters.
I'm going to finish off with this one. No doubt many of the thoughts I'm currently processing will find their way onto future blogs, but this is important. I know a lot of people who like to argue. I know a lot of Christians who seem to think that they can bully someone into the Kingdom of God through the sheer weight of their intellect. They're wrong. It is a truism that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Apologetics is really about people. It's about helping people in their search for truth. Sometimes it's easy to forget that we are dealing with people, not just facts. As 1 Peter 3:15 says, "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." To quote Lee Beach, one of the conference presenters: "A life beautifully lived is the most powerful argument we have for Christ."

Jesus said, in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” A close examination of the life of Christ is paramount to anyone planning on participating in furthering His Gospel. His was a life of service, of humility, of compassion and sacrifice. When He invited us to join with Him in His cause He didn't offer the perks of power - prestige, wealth, popularity. Rather He said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)

We'll give the last word to Stuart McAllister - "How you live speaks volumes to others." Go shine a light in a dark place.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

3801 Lancaster - House of Horrors


It's a story too horrible to think about. When I've shared this with people they have responded with disgust and disbelief. Newborn babies summarily executed, their bodies stored in jars and freezers. The trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell will wrap up shortly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has been charged with the murder of seven newborn babies, as well as one mother, at an abortion clinic. The evidence presented in the trial shows that there were hundreds of babies who were killed this way over the years.

This trial would have peeled back the curtain on the abortion industry in the United States. It would have, if not for an unwillingness on the part of the mass media to cover this story. It took the sustained efforts of pro-life bloggers to shame outlets like CNN and the New York Post into giving the least bit of coverage of what has been called "The Trial of the Century." It should have been a front-page story for months.

There are some subjects that we simply do not want to talk about; this is one of them. But here is my challenge to you: do what you have to do to force yourself to watch the video below. We must not ignore the reality of abortion and - Canadians - remember that there is no legal limit on abortion in Canada whatsoever. To continue to remain willfully ignorant is to be complicit. It reminds me of a story that emerged after World War 2.

There was a church in Germany that was next to railroad tracks. Trains would run past the church on a regular basis, carrying prisoners bound for the gas chambers. As they gathered for worship on Sundays, the congregants learned to time their service so that they would be singing hymns while the cars went past. As it came close enough to hear the cries of the prisoners, they would sing louder to drown out the sound, as if not hearing meant it wasn't real. Are we doing the same? Please watch the video below, and take action. Call your political representative, support a Crisis Pregnancy Center, consider adoption, or at least offer to help a single mom who's struggling.  

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Facing up to the Horror of Abortion

A friend of mine sat across the desk from me yesterday, excitedly describing what he had learned about the development of his unborn child (15 weeks gestation). He's already a very active baby, moving around in his mother's womb. His loving parents look forward to seeing him as he is revealed to the world in another five months or so.

Contrast that picture with the reality of what is happening in abortion clinics and hospitals around Canada. Even more disconcerting, a few articles have surfaced recently that have, once again, shed light on what has become our society's dirty little secrets - "after-birth abortion" and "gendercide" - and the mainstream media's extreme bias against the pro-life movement.

Let's start with Canada, where columnist Warren Kinsella came out with gun's ablazing against Canadian parliamentarians who dared to put forward a motion asking the House of Commons to condemn the practice that sees female fetuses aborted for the sole reason that they are female. He dismissed the motion as an attempt by backbench parliamentarians to get their name in the headlines and to bring the abortion debate in the back door. Other liberal commentators said the same thing when MP Stephen Woodworth put forward a motion calling for a review of Canada's 400 year old law defining "human beings."

The bottom line with Kinsella and others seems to be that we're not allowed to talk about abortion or changing the law - ever! In their minds the issue has been resolved, not only for them, but for all of us. How dare we keep trying to bring it back up for debate! He resorted to name-calling, declaring them to be "dishonest," "nobodies" and "pipsqueaks." And, of course, he threw in the tried and true pro-abortion rant that they are trying "to move the country back to the bad old days, when the only choice women had were coat hangers in back alleys."

Of course, none of this hyperbole actually dealt with the hard truth that, in Canada, an increasing number of women are now aborting their babies simply because they are girls. The American news outlet, The Economist, ran an article entitled "Gendercide in Canada," detailing skewed birth rates in portions of the population whose country of origin was in the Far East (where sex-selective abortion is rampant). This evidence has lead to calls on the banning of revealing the sex of an unborn child until 30 weeks gestation.

This is all simply a side story to the truth that there has been NO LIMIT ON ABORTION in Canada. It is repugnant that our government(s) lack the courage to take a good, hard look at the evidence and protect those most innocent members of society.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the major media outlets are right now bringing shame on themselves by completely ignoring the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor in Philadelphia. Gosnell is charged with killing seven babies who were born alive, and testimony has revealed there were hundreds of others. He`s also charged with the death of a woman under his care in his abortion clinic. According to FoxNews.com, neither NBC nor ABC have carried any news on this story. CBS has not covered the trial and CNN has almost completely ignored it. They were even critical of Fox News for its limited coverage.

Perhaps the reason is that the details coming out of this are so horrific that people don`t want to know - crying babies killed with scissors, etc... It is revealing the ugly reality that the abortion industry doesn`t want people to know: every abortion stops a beating heart. These children are alive - they move away from the instruments that are trying to kill them. Their only crime is not being wanted.

If this is enough reason for someone to kill an unborn baby, then it makes sense that Alisa LaPolt Snow, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, defends "after-birth abortion" (the killing of a child born alive after a failed abortion). This is exactly the crime for which Gosnell is on trial, and Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion supplier in the U.S., is defending infanticide by saying, "the decision to kill an infant who survives a failed abortion should be left up to the woman seeking an abortion and her abortion doctor."

We need to light up the blogosphere and let people know what is actually happening. As I post these and similar stories I get replies like "hideous," "heartless," "awful," and "monstrous." Yes it is, and it must stop! 

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: Unspeakable - Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil

http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347827620l/173445.jpgBook Review: "Unspeakable - Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil," Os Guinness, New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. 242 pages.

I have had Os Guinness' books on my bookshelves before, but I had never taken the time to read them. Then I had opportunity to hear him speak at the RZIM Summer Institute in 2012 and realized I needed to start reading his work. He is a man with a brilliant mind and a great grasp of history. In "Unspeakable," Guinness takes on one of the most challenging issues we face as human beings, that of evil: it's source, its substance, its remedy. A daunting task to be sure.

It's difficult to know where to begin with this review - I can't imagine how challenging it would have been to write the book. To each of us, this subject is uniquely personal. We all have, or will, experience or witness evil and suffering in our own lives. As Guinness says: "One of the effects of globalization today is that our eyes vastly outreach our hands and our pockets. We always see more evil and suffering than we can possibly respond to."

Os builds his book around seven questions:
  1. Where on earth does evil come from?
  2. What's so right about a world so wrong? (Or "why me?" or "where's God?)
  3. Are we really worse or just modern?
  4. Do the differences make a difference?
  5. Isn't there something we can do?
  6. Why can't I know what I need to know?
  7. Isn't there any good in all this bad?
Throughout the book Guinness explores these questions through the lens of different worldviews, taking pains to respectfully share each point of view. He makes three arguments throughout the book: "that there are important differences between the various answers to evil; that these differences make a difference; and that the differences make a difference not only for individuals but for societies." 

His thoughtful and reasonable approach provides a great deal of insight into an issue which has long been discussed, but not understood. He destroys the modern myth that most evil is perpetrated by people of faith. In fact, the twentieth century was the bloodiest in the history of the world, largely due to the atheistic regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and the like. But the biggest question arising out of the discussion is number 5: "Isn't there something we can do?"

 Guinness provides three features to a biblical response to evil and suffering:
  1. There is an acknowledgement that evil resides in each of our hearts.
  2. There is a commitment to forgive the evildoer appropriately, though without condoning the evil deed. (Witness the success of this approach in post-apartheid South Africa.)
  3. The commitment to take a practical stand against evil and injustice.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The bottom line to all of this is that each of us are challenged to take a stand against evil - that begins in our own hearts. This book shares many brilliant examples of brave men and women who have dared to stand and who made a difference against evil. Let me conclude with a quote from one of the giants of the twentieth century, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. "Let us not forget that violence does not and cannot flourish by itself; it is inevitably intertwined with lying. Between them there is the closest, the most profound and natural bond: nothing screens violence except lies, and the only way lies can hold out is by violence. Whoever has once announced violence as his method must inevitably choose lies as his principle... The simple act of an ordinary courageous man is not to take part, not to support lies! Let the lie come into the world, even dominate the world, but not through me." (Nobel address, 1970)

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Book Review: Switch - How to Change Things When Change is Hard

http://www.flipitconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/scaled.switch-heath.jpgChip and Dan Heath's book "Change" was one of the books recommended at a Leadership Summit I attended a couple of years ago. They are a couple of sharp young guys who wrote this book after doing extensive research in psychology, sociology and other fields on how to bring about transformative change.

I found this book appealing as a pastor because a large part of what I do is try to help people bring about positive change in their lives. This book is written to help leaders understand why and how people change, what keeps us from changing, and how to overcome obstacles to change.

For instance, in each of us we find that there tends to be a conflict whenever even a positive change is suggested. As psychologists have discovered, our rational mind (the rider) understands the need to change, but our emotional mind (the elephant) resists change because change involves action and disturbing existing routine. However, if we can find a way to overcome that tension, change can happen quickly.

They begin by highlighting three surprises regarding change which were discovered through studies. The first is that What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. In other words, we ought not to assume that people don't want to change. Often, they are in situations that make it difficult for them to change.

The second surprise is that What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. This is because often people are trying to change through the power of self-control, which can be emotionally exhausting. Self-control is an exhaustible resource. The bigger the change, the harder it is for someone to force themselves to make.

The third surprise is that What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. Sometimes we really don't know how to get to the other side, we just know that we want to change. We can find ourselves spinning our wheels because we just don't know what to do.

In the book, the Heaths provide a three-part framework for helping to facilitate change and to overcome these three problems.
  1. Direct the Rider (Rational Mind) 
  2. Motivate the Elephant (Emotional Mind)
  3. Shape the Path
Using real life examples and case studies, we can see how even entrenched behaviors can be changed when the right information is provided clearly. We may assume that people simply don't want to follow our advice when, in fact, they don't understand the situation in the same way that we do. Ask yourself how you can demonstrate it more clearly.

They also demonstrate why it is important to engage people's emotional side in order to build momentum. If a person doesn't feel that change will have a worthwhile benefit they will resist. It's human nature. But when the emotional side of us is engaged, a great deal can be accomplished.

Finally they talk about one of the greatest ways to facilitate change - shaping the path. This speaks of environmental changes. This may be as simple as hiding the large plates and using only the smaller ones if your goal is to lose weight. Or it may mean using a two-step switch that requires two hands to activate for dangerous equipment in order to keep hands clear.

There are great examples in this book of ordinary people who were able to bring about radical change.
  • Medical interns who defeated an entrenched medical practice that was endangering lives.
  • A home-organizing specialist who developed a simple technique to overcome the dread of housekeeping.
  • The manager who reversed the reputation of a customer-support team from failures into standard-bearers.
This book is well worth the read for anyone who leads people, because leadership is all about facilitating change. If you have some changes that you need to make in your life, this may be helpful to you as well. For those who know me, do you think it's a coincidence that my desk and office are now clean for the first time in recent memory? I think not!

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Can We Talk About It?

It was Timothy Keller, author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, who wrote that “Tolerance isn't about not having beliefs. It's about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.” We all nod our heads in agreement as we read, but this is not what we Canadians popularly understand when we speak of tolerance.

Tolerance, for many in Canada, has come to mean an unquestioning acceptance of any and all viewpoints - excepting perhaps that of traditional Christianity. There has been a remarkable trend in mass media, social media, and human rights tribunals towards the muzzling of viewpoints that are not "tolerant." But what do we mean by that?

The dictionary definition says that tolerance is: "The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with." It is akin to the old saying by Evelyn Beatrice Hall that "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." This, I believe, is necessary in a civil society: thoughtful debate in the free marketplace of ideas.

We, in Canada, have largely lost this ability. (Though, admittedly, social media is turning those tables, for better or worse.) We find, for example, at Ryerson University in Toronto where a young woman, wanting to establish a "Men's Issues" club, was denied permission by the Student's Union. This is not new, but it's usually pro-life groups that are shut down in our universities. In our Human Rights tribunals, it tends to be outspoken critics of hot-button issues related to homosexuality or Islam that are singled out. 

We have blindly accepted assumptions and believed lies, which have then influenced social policy. It is commonly held in Canadian society that all religions are basically the same. Therefore, criticizing a religion is considered out of bounds, unless, of course, you're talking about majoritarian Christianity. So, some unquestioningly accept that Muslims ought to be able to practice their religion the way they see fit. This lead to the wrong-headed suggestion in 2004 that Islamic Sharia law should be instituted in the Muslim community in Ontario through tribunals. 

The reasoning was that since Christian protestants and Catholics could use religious tribunals to settle disputes, they ought to be able to as well. But, again, this ignores the fundamental differences between the brand of Muslim faith, practiced in most majority Muslim nations around the world, and that of Christianity. In the minds of our "tolerant" society, the only "fair" response was to ban all religious tribunals. This happened in 2005. 

There are too many rabbit trails to pursue on this issue, but my point is this: it's time to re-institute the civil public square. Perhaps this is being done through social media, but my hope is that we can truly begin to dialogue in the mainstream about meaningful issues.There are some principles that I've tried to put into practice in my life that have helped me; perhaps they can help someone else.

Everyone is worthy of respect.
I might not like you, but it doesn't mean that I can't treat you with respect. I can and should separate what you are saying and what you represent from how I treat you. As long as you are civil and not abusive, we can continue to dialogue. When people start calling names, that tells me they've run out of ideas. We don't have to agree about everything to be friends.

Everyone has the right to be heard.
The truth is, some people's views are downright offensive, but we live in a free society. Our freedoms ought to be limited when we do real harm to others. As someone has said, "My freedom to swing my arm ends at your nose." The caveat ought to be, once again, that we speak respectfully to one another. (Perhaps this lesson could be taught in our provincial and federal legislatures.) 

I believe that one of the greatest challenges to our free society is political correctness. A great many people feel as though they cannot be heard because someone has decided that an issue is off-limits. The most obvious example to me is the absolute refusal of the mainstream media to allow a pro-life perspective to have any meaningful airtime. But, once again, I digress.

Everyone should be faithful to the facts.
It's too easy to throw out facts and figures, but are they true? As they say, 99% of all statistics are made up on the spot. When we play fast and loose with the truth we ought to be held to account for it. While there will be honest differences of opinion, they are usually over the interpretation of the facts.

This last part is for Christians. As followers of Christ we have an added responsibility to represent Him well. That means, regardless of the situation and circumstances, we are to treat others the way that we would like to be treated ourselves. Paul tells us to "speak the truth in love." While we do have a responsibility to stand up for the truth, the Biblical path has always been the high road. Remember, Mother Teresa and the Westboro Baptist Church (those who picket funerals and hate homosexuals), both claimed to be following Christ. Which do you think was truly following Christ's example?
The following is most often attributed to Mother Teresa, but was actually written by Kent M. Keith. Either way, it's good advice. 
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” 

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