Monday, 21 July 2014

A Devotion for This Morning


(Cross posted from here)

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
    until the disaster has passed. (Psalm 57:1) 

This verse has special meaning to me because it helped me through a very difficult time of my life. I think of it now, not only for anyone who may be going through a difficult time, but for our brothers and sisters, Christians in the Middle East (Mosul, where apparently Christians and any sign of their existence are being eradicated from the city) and Nigeria, for instance, who may also be going through struggles we cannot even imagine. 

Yesterday’s lectionary reading was from Romans 8, about the sufferings of this present time not being worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, and the creation itself groaning to be set free from its bondage to corruption when Christ returns to set everything right. I can imagine these Christians in Mosul pleading, “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” 

Have mercy on me is the cry of desperation. It was the cry to Jesus of the tax collector, of a Canaanite woman, a blind beggar. Of David, the Psalmist. People don’t generally cry, “Have mercy on me” when things are going well; as Matt Redman says in in Blessed be Your Name, “when the sun’s shining down on me, when the world’s all that it should be…”  No, people plead for mercy when they are in the deepest of trouble; when things are at their most hopeless. And here David pleads it twice.

But it is a reassuring verse. “For in you I take refuge…” How reassuring to know God – to know that there is a place of refuge. How hopeless would it be if we didn’t know there was this place of refuge? How hopeless it must be for those who don’t know Him.

We may sometimes have the opportunity to tell some troubled soul about this place of refuge. 2 Cor 1:3-4 tells us that the God of all comfort comforts us so that we may be able to comfort others with the comfort we have received

Where is this place of refuge? It is in the shadow of His wings. We can be confident it is an absolutely safe and firm place of refuge. What could be safer than under the wings of the Almighty, the King and creator of the universe.

The Bible speaks in a number of places about a bird sheltering her young beneath her wings – an owl in Isaiah 34:15.

In Matthew 23 Jesus laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. 

Jesus longs to gather us under his wings, to care for us, to protect us; even those who, to this point, have rejected him. He longs for them to come to him in this way. Here is where Alpha comes in: People are free to choose or reject this offer, it is available to all, and we need to offer it to all. It’s not up to us whether they accept or reject. But if they refuse this offer, their destiny is on their own heads. Jesus assumes no responsibility for their fate. He says, “Your house is left to you desolate.” 

The final phrase in the verse from the Psalm gives hope – “Until the disaster has passed” Not if, but when. – It will pass. We have firm assurance that if we take refuge in the Lord our God, the disaster will pass. Not that we can take this in a flippant or facile way. We can’t necessarily be presumptuous. For some it may not pass in the way we wish or expect. 

As Jesus says, rather paradoxically, in Luke 21: "...they will put some of you to death… But not a hair of your head will perish." 

If we have put our faith in Christ, we are safe. The disaster will pass. As my friend and Alpha RD for Ontario put it this morning, The disaster will pass if we put  our faith in the One who will not pass away. 
Isaiah 43:2 - “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
 
 Again, we may take these verses for ourselves or we may have the opportunity to be a comfort to others at some point. Not so much by quoting various Scripture verses, but by inviting them to come and meet this God who can provide them the ultimate refuge.
 
Blessings,
John

Friday, 11 July 2014

Prostitution and Bill C-36

I'm afraid I'm not all that familiar with the current Bill C-36, the bill to overhaul Canada's prostitution laws. Nor am I familiar with any current laws governing the practice, other than to know that no set of laws or regulations is going to please everybody. Whatever the law, in the end, some people are not going to like it.

But I do have some thoughts on the matter, based on my experiences with those in the trade. I realize that sounds questionable, so I will clarify before I go any further. I ran Alpha in a Provincial jail for about three years, a number of years ago. It was a co-ed institution, so there were women there as well as men. Most of the women there were in for prostitution or drug offences or both. In fact, the two often went hand-in-hand. That is, they would sell their bodies to pay for the drugs they needed to mask the pain of having to sell their bodies.

So let me first take issue with those who would try to glamourize prostitution. These always seems to be some feminist insisting it is a woman's right to be involved in the trade. Bullshit! Not that it isn't a woman's right, but that I believe by far the majority of women involved in street prostitution are not there exercising their right to do so. They are there for a variety of reasons, many of them not of their own choosing.

The question I would ask such a person, or even anyone selling their bodies for sex is this,
"Would you like your daughter to follow in your footsteps? Is this the life you would wish for your daughter?"
I sense the answer would an overwhelming, "No!" There may be some women, at some level, who may enjoy what they do, but most of these girls are not there because they want to be, but because, for one reason or another, they have no other choice. I have sat and spoken with a number of these girls, both in a prison chapel and over coffee in seedy restaurants in inner-city Edmonton, and have heard the wishes hopes and dreams they have for their future. Most would break your heart. At least many did mine. Almost to a woman, they wished to break free of the enslavement of their occupation. One very poignant example was a strikingly pretty young native girl in the jail. She said her ambition when she got out was to get a job in advertising and work in an office building. Trying to keep an interested, or at least neutral expression on my face, my heart just sank within me. Because I knew she didn't stand a chance, the way things then were. She had a practically impossible dream, given her background education and circumstances.

These women who wish to escape the trade need so much support. They need a new community and circle of friends. They need intensive new training and education. They need people to truly love them and walk beside them into a new place in their lives. They need patience, both on their own part and that of those working to help them.

I would love to see more help for them, and I think it would better our society to find ways to provide it. I tried in my own way all those years ago, but I was in way over my head. It's going to take a whole community. Alpha has a program for prison inmates as well as a program of Caring for Ex-Offenders that I would love to see supported and expanded. For more information, and perhaps as a first step in seeing if you can help, please go here. Or check out this facebook page for another fine outreach. These are people who are actually doing something; not just talking or complaining.

There is so much more to say, and I have so many more opinions on various aspects of this issue, but that will be it for now.

Take Care

Thursday, 10 July 2014

From Self-Help to Self-Absorption to Entitlement

Perhaps this is where it all started.

I had some very eye-opening conversations with Michael Harvey recently about the difficulty of inviting people to church, or, of particular interest to me, to Alpha.

The common reason one finds for the seeming inability to invite is fear. Fear in several areas; fear of rejection; fear of imposing our views on others; fear of losing a friend, fear of not having the right words, etc.

As hesitant as people have become to invite, I think we have also seen a corresponding hesitancy to accept invitations.
Why is this? I have some thoughts. I think people today are far more self-centered than in previous generations. We often want to be able to indulge every desire without accountability. I believe the current focus on matters of broadening sexual morality and various sexual rights is a symptom or a result of this new attitude; not a cause of it. Within my own memory, I look back to the self esteem teachings of the 1970's when my own children were young. It began to become the attitude that children should never face disappointment or "failure." Competitiveness and reward for excellence fell out of favour, because, hey, we didn't want less talented children in various areas to feel left out or disadvantaged or, well, less talented.

So, along with this sense of entitlement comes an aversion to accountability. People have become so self entitled, and right and wrong so subjective, that we don't want anybody pointing out what we know they will tell us is wrong. It's an insult that anyone would have the nerve to think that anything we do is wrong. And the Christian faith and church is seen by many as THE paradigm of legalism, rules and enforced accountability.

So we have an image problem. Some churches have tried to solve the problem by softening, relaxing their standards, both in theology and behaviour. It hasn't worked.

We have progressed from an attitude of independence, to self reliance, to self indulgence, to selfishness. The standard commercial buzzphrase in recent generations has become, "You deserve it. You're worth it." But perhaps it began decades earlier, with Dale Carnegie. Perhaps in fact it began, come to think of it, in the garden with the lie, "You can be like gods."

Perhaps it has always been thus, but in recent years it now seems more pervasive than ever.
What can we in the church do about it? How can we draw people with ears to hear into a conversation about the Christian faith without first scaring them away? I wonder if this would work.

Take Care

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

An Open Post to Michael Coren


Hello Michael, 

I'm hoping to continue, even expand, our conversation started on twitter. I have great difficulty expressing even one thought in 140 characters, let alone carry on any kind of meaningful discussion. That, and it seems that anyone attempting to express, however politely and sensitively, an opinion based on what we might call, "traditional" morality, stands the chance of being labelled anti-gay, even hateful. In fact, the two terms are seen by many as synonymous.

 I must say that I do hold such a traditional viewpoint, although I would say my position has somewhat mellowed over time. In other words, I see a difference between the "Church" and the "world". I don't believe we in the Church should be trying to impose our standards on the world. The time for that possibility is well past, if ever it was acceptable at all.

 So I take what I would consider a rather libertarian view of homosexuality in the secular sense. Gay relationships, even marriage, are quite acceptable in society now, and that's fine. It is not my place to condemn, judge or reject any in such relationships, but to treat them as I believe Christ himself would, with love as people created, as we all are, in the image of God.

My problem is that I don’t believe the Church should be blessing, condoning, giving approval or actively promoting such relationships within the purview of the Christian faith. God has given us certain standards for us to enjoy His gift of sexuality, and I believe He gave them because they are what is best for us. I am convinced when we step outside these standards, we are outside of the ideal.

Having said that, and as an aside, it is my opinion that by far the worst departure from sexual standards, and the by far the most damaging to society, is not gay marriage, but:

1.    the acceptance of common-law relationships as equivalent to marriage.
2.    What seems to be the current, "hook-up" culture, i.e. the, "ordinaryization" of sex.

The other side of the gay relationship issue is that if... IF... the Bible's teaching on homosexual activity is correct, then leaders in the so-called Christian church who approve and encourage such relationships do disservice to two groups of people.

    1. Those who engage in homosexual activity and are being told it is acceptable in God's eyes, when it is not.
   2. Those gays and lesbians who feel called to live by what they believe are Biblical standards by remaining celibate are being, in effect, slapped in the face by being told that they are wasting their time, and that their efforts to remain faithful to their consciences are pointless.

Having said all that, I'm sure you are aware that the Bible is silent on homosexual orientation, and speaks only on the sexual activity. In other words, it says nothing about same-sex attraction, only on acting on it in a physical manner.

In the end, I must still disagree with your statement that the matter is not about sex, but about love.  In fact, it has been made completely about sex. We have, in effect, equated love with sex. We have said that if you love someone, same sex or opposite, you must be able to demonstrate that love through sexual intercourse. That seems very much to be the current point, and the only point, all along. Any who follow Biblical standards should not be condemning of love, regardless of the genders of those in it. But let’s be careful of making “love” and “sex” synonymous.

May I point out that these are my personal opinions only and not necessarily those of any organization with which I may be affiliated.

Take Care

PS: I hope you will forgive the appearance of this post. I copied and pasted it from Word, and it did something to the formatting.
J
 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Presbyterians OK with Killing Born Babies?

(Please read this whole post before coming to any conclusions on the title)
I have not been posting all that much lately on this blog. Much of my time and thoughts have been with my other blog. Frankly, my thoughts on all things controversial have been put into perspective thanks to one of my regular readers and commenters.
I have been convicted more and more lately that my attention should be focused more on the proclamation of the good news of the Christian faith, and less on societal and/or political matters that, in the end, are or secondary importance at best. In other words, the world is the world, and however disastrous the direction I see it heading, the Kingdom of God is of infinitely more importance.
I still see the news, what's happening in the world and the nation, and I am still upset, and shake my head at where I see it heading, but this blog was originally about the Christian faith and it's reasonableness.
Having said that, I believe the decay of things around us is symptomatic of what happens when certain principles, those I see as exemplified by Jesus Christ, are abandoned. These are true love for all, true tolerance, true acceptance, but at the same time, the exposing of hypocrisy and the drawing attention to sin.

So, as much as I see the intolerance and hypocrisy and injustice involved in this story, I will not comment on it, other than to say I enjoy watching Ezra Levant, even if in this story he does seem to exhibit a bit of whatever the descriptive adjective based on the noun, "rant" is.

But this I cannot let go by without comment. At first glance, and going strictly by the headline of the story (and of this post)
Presbyterians OK with Killing Born Babies (no question mark).
one might get the impression (as I initially did) that a major Christian denomination refuses to condemn the killing, not of unborn babies, but the actual murder of those babies when the attempt to kill them in utero has failed. The headline of the linked article would lead us to believe that the PCUSA doesn't care about these babies, but I found that to be somewhat misleading. From the comments section of the defeated motion:
"We affirm that the lives of viable unborn babies—those well-developed enough to survive outside the womb if delivered—ought to be preserved and cared for and not aborted. In cases where problems of life or health of the mother arise in a pregnancy, the church supports efforts to protect the life and health of both the mother and the baby. When late-term pregnancies must be terminated, we urge decisions intended to deliver the baby alive."
and...
"Regardless of one’s support or opposition to legal abortion, the case of Dr. Gosnell is abhorrent to all."
So it seems to me that they do indeed take a stand on the issue, but the motion, like some government bills, tried to tie all sorts of other pro-life wish items (and let me here declare myself, if I have not already indicated my position elsewhere on this blog, to be solidly pro-life) to it. It's what they call an omnibus bill, and governments will try to pass agenda items they want by tying their own items to a bill that the opposition will otherwise support. I find it a bit sneaky.

But back to what I think is the misleading the headline of the piece. Any of us, conservative or liberal, I believe, do our causes great disservice when we are as disingenuous as this.

Take Care

Thursday, 19 June 2014

News From the Bible Society of Egypt

Another update from Here..., sent by a friend who keeps me updated.
How encouraging it is to hear from Christians in the Middle East who are relatively secure and passionate about sharing their faith. Still, we in North America can say nothing about feeling, "persecuted" compared to these brothers and sisters.

I thank God that the military in Egypt overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government there, despite the fact that it had been, "elected." Otherwise we could very well have had another Libya, or Iraq, or Syria, or Iran, or, soon to come, Afghanistan - very dangerous for anyone, let alone Christians, to live.

Keep praying for them.

Take Care

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

#YesAllWomen - Creating Awareness™?


From here...

Read the whole thing, but here are a couple of things I see worthy of special note.

First, this graph, illustrating the relative danger of violence against women by, "Intimate partners" according to household composition.

Note that the safest situation, by far, for a woman is within a traditional marriage. Note also that by far the most dangerous situation is to be a single mother, probably either with a boyfriend or live-in partner. Of course, this cannot be discussed.

The second item I find of note is the map at the top of the story, a time-lapse image showing the geography of #YesAllWomen tweets. The vast majority of tweets come from the most privileged areas of the world, where women probably have the most rights, yet where I would say the sense of societal entitlement (not just women) is also the greatest.

There are solutions to a great many of the world's problems, but, as the saying goes, "There are none so blind as those who will not see."  The two most straightforward, and I believe most effective can be found here...

Take Care

h/t my friend @CatholicJosh

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Adolescent-ification of Our Culture


Here is an interesting post from Mark Steyne, most of whose posts I find interesting.

It struck me, as I pondered his points regarding this picture, that our entire culture is undergoing a process of "adolescent-ification". What do I mean by this? I think an entire book could be written on this concept, and perhaps I will write it some day. I will call it, "What's Wrong With Everything," and it will be a compilation of all my curmudgeonly thoughts and opinions.

It seems to me that this picture typifies an adolescent attitude - that holding such a sign, or tweeting such a tweet, or protesting that somebody should Do Something™ will somehow have an effect. That just because we draw attention to what someone should do, that we can somehow shame or pressure them into actually doing it. I think it is the basis for online bullying. And immature people think that because we can bully a young girl into suicide, we can bully Boko Haram into letting these girls go. In other words, holding up a sign to Create Awarenessreplaces having to actually do something about a problem. This is at a high school level, intellectually, and that is not to insult high school students; it's just a fact of reality. Bill Cosby had it right years ago when he opined that children's brains were not yet fully developed.





A variation on this theme of online action, which is really almost complete inaction, is that people will attack those they see as online bullies with completely venomous attacks themselves. They think it is acceptable to give bullies their own medicine, but by that they become just what they disapprove of. But they don't think it through. They don't see themselves as bullies.
I believe the adolescent-ification I'm talking about today is also seen in the intolerance of the so-called tolerant. No one is so intolerant as those who self-righteously see themselves as tolerant. Adolescent thinking sees only itself; selfishly sees only its own opinion and doesn't extend the same tolerance it demands to allow others their own differing opinions. It doesn't see the logical inconsistency of its own position.

Just my thoughts, and perhaps not as well expressed as they could be, but I reserve the right to edit.



Take Care


PS: I also should apologize for getting off the, "Faith" theme of this blog, but I see much of what's happening in today's society as ramifications of our abandoning of our Christian faith and heritage, and its accompanying servant attitudes.