Wednesday, 31 January 2007

An Atheist’s Accusation - God is Unreasonable

I have had this objection presented to me: if God exists, he is unreasonable and unfair in expecting humans to be perfect, while, if He is omniscient, knowing they will not be. Then He “wimped out” dumping on His only son the penalty for what He was unable to get mankind to do.

The one who says this seems to be hung up on the idea of God expecting perfection. In fact, He doesn't expect it. But He does require it. What we need to realize is the difference between expectation and requirement. I see it a lot like a parent dealing with his own children. We set a standard of behaviour we require them to meet, but if we are at all realistic, we realize that they will not always be able to meet that standard. However, when our kids do something wrong and are sorry for it, we forgive them.

God also has provided a way, through Jesus Christ, for us to receive forgiveness from Him. He has excluded no one from this process. It is open and available to everyone in the world and has been for all of history. By the way, God did not "send" Jesus, as if he were a separate entity to earth to die. Trinitarian Christians believe that He came Himself as Jesus. It was a self-sacrifice, not something He sat back and relegated to someone else. Jesus lived a perfect life on behalf of those who come to him by faith. Jesus' righteousness is credited to all who trust in God and not in themselves for their salvation.

Those who continuously choose to reject God exclude themselves from this process of forgiveness. God cannot be accused of overlooking anyone. This attitude of rejection is revealed by one atheist who says that if he met God, he would call Him an SOB, spit in His face and turn his back on Him forever. If he did that, why should he expect forgiveness, or why, even, should he care. Again, to use a parental analogy, if one did that to one's mother, for instance, cursing her for giving birth, spitting in her face, and turning away from her, it is not the mother who has terminated the relationship, but oneself. If one then misses out on the benefits of that relationship, who is to blame? Certainly not the parent!

It is free will that allows this kind of choice. Surely you would have it no other way. Would you rather be forced to love God? Would you rather have no choice? There may come a day when those who have so arrogantly rebelled will say, "Yes, I wish I'd been forced," but then it will be too late. The time for choosing will have passed. Now is the time. Today is the day. This is the hour.

It is possible to have a relationship with God and to know He exists. Ultimately, aside from all the masses of evidence supporting His existence, this relationship is the only way to know. Believers happen to know that He is real. We know through the witness of the Holy Spirit, given by God to those who are His, which non-believers do not have. To the non-believer this, I know, is foolishness. The Bible even says so, but let me try to give you an illustration.

Suppose I hold a coin clenched in my fist and say to you, "I have a coin in my hand." You have no way of knowing whether I do or do not. You certainly cannot tell me I don't. You have no basis for believing or disbelieving me. In the same way, if I say I know that God exists because I have a relationship with Him you cannot tell me I don't. You just don't know. If you contradict me, you cannot know you are right, but I can know you are wrong. I can know that you are wrong for the very reason that I know I am right: I have that "coin in my hand." I have God in my life.

Take Care

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

They Still Haven't Found What They're Looking For

"U2-charist": Bono moves in mysterious ways

Here’s a church where they may be singing, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, but it seems to me that maybe they should sing, to paraphrase Amazing Grace “Now we’ve lost what once was found.” Or perhaps, “We’ve lost what was once for all delivered to the saints”. I don’t know if they are trying to be relevant or if they really think there is some true Christian significance to U2”s music. I don’t know which is more pitiful. If they want to call it a concert, well OK, but a church service? A communion service? Please!

I don’t know if the aforementioned church is one of them (I may be doing them a disservice with this post), but I shake my head at churches that scurry around in all directions like little insects, trying to find ways to attract and keep people. Searching for relevance. Considering compromise after compromise.

Here's a novel suggestion. How about the truth? Proclaim Jesus boldly and exclusively. Offer Jesus plainly, clearly and with open hands, and those with ears to hear will hear. Those who will come will come. Just like you’re introducing a friend to a friend. I know. I’ve been a member of an Anglican Church (link below) that does it, and it’s full every Sunday. Or how about another? J.I. Packer’s church, St. John's Shaughnessy . There are some good ones still around.

It shouldn’t be a numbers game. Not everyone will receive the message enthusiastically. They didn’t even in Jesus’ time when they met him face to face, as in the case of the rich young ruler and many religious officials. But I’ve seen it time and again, in my time with the Alpha Course (link below). When Jesus and his Gospel message are presented plainly, when the Word of God is proclaimed clearly and considerately, and when answers are given with gentleness and respect, people’s eyes are opened. I’ve had so many people say to me, “Oh, I see it now… It all makes so much sense.”

Unbiblical gimmicks are not necessary.

Take Care

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Desmond Morris on Evolution

I watched a program on the human sexes with Desmond Morris. In it he made a most extraordinary claim.

Talking about “prehistoric” man and woman and their respective roles, he made the following statement, or something similar: “Gradually men evolved specialized skills needed for tracking and hunting prey, whereas women developed a wider variety of skills relating to their wider range of duties.”

Excuse me, but I have to call balderdash on this one. How many blind assumptions and leaps of logic do we see here? First of all we are talking prehistoric. That means before recorded history, or at least, outside of recorded history. It may even have been parallel to some of the history we do know, but it was undocumented. We have no record of it. No one at that time or in those places wrote it down. How does he know what happened before history? How does he know that men and women did not always have different skills that resulted in their different roles? Or in fact, that they were not given specific roles and commensurate skills in the beginning by their Creator? Why did these skills have to evolve from some kind of homogeneous uniformity, as he seems so confidently to assume?

Next he assumes that somehow these skills evolved in the first place. In other words, by implication, that men and women were somehow less skilled or even less intelligent then than we are now. Again, he has no basis to do so. Modern society may be more technologically advanced, but just because these people were prehistoric does not necessarily mean that they were lacking in skills or intelligence compared to modern man. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that humans who lived in times and places of which we have no record were in fact very much more similar to ourselves than we might imagine. If I were one of his “prehistoric” people I think I would be quite insulted by his insinuation.

Then he assigns to the process of evolution the abilities of a creative force. Evolution, he seems to be saying, saw that men and women were developing different roles and therefore needed to have different skills and so saw to it that they received the abilities they needed. Others have thought this way as well. One will catch them saying that evolution did this, or evolution accomplished that, as if evolution is an intelligent entity with a mind of its own, able to plan for the future. Allow me to coin a phrase to describe this: “Evolutionary Theism”. Basically it means that Evolution has become their god, a personal creator/designer with intelligence, knowledge and foresight.

People who believe in it (and there are many) have just replaced one kind of faith with another.

Take Care

Friday, 26 January 2007

Hustle and Flow

I watched a movie last night, Hustle and Flow. It is not a movie I would recommend for believers, or anyone else for that matter, without severe qualification for language and content. But I want to make a couple of points.

For one thing, the movie actually portrayed a Christian (Key’s wife) in a good light. In most movies in which Christians are portrayed nowadays, they are characterized as psychopaths or caricatured as narrow-minded and bigoted ignoramuses. I was surprised that this woman was portrayed as a genuinely “nice” person with a kind heart.

Second the movie portrays a certain lifestyle, along with its immorality and language issues without pulling any punches. It is a lifestyle with which readers of this blog (if there are any) might be fairly uncomfortable. But it is a real lifestyle, the periphery of which I have been acquainted (see my posts below about my prison ministry). There really are people who live like this, in every city in our country, but they are real people, and not only do they often have dreams of success and finding better lives, they need Jesus just as much as anybody does.

We in our comfortable western WASP civilization have no idea of how some of these people think. Often they know nothing else. We sometimes think all they need to do is turn their lives around, start living their lives right or “pull up their socks.” We criticize them when they don’t, saying it’s all their own fault. In fact, it is almost impossible, because they know nothing else. To think they can find happiness with a middle class job, in a middle class home is just an illusion. It would be like putting them on Venus. It is completely foreign to them. I mentioned Ralph from my prison ministry days. One night he had nowhere to go, so I put him up in my spare bedroom. He slept on the floor because he couldn’t sleep in a bed. I have heard of cases where a mother would place a gasoline-soaked rag next her baby’s head in its crib, to keep it quiet while she “partied”. What chance has that baby of a “normal” life, aside from God’s grace and intervention?

DJay, in the movie, dreamed of becoming a rap artist, and in the end, seemed to have met with some success, but that’s in the movies. I have sat with inmates or inner-city residents, addicted to drugs or alcohol, with virtually no education, and listened with a saddened heart as they told me of their dreams. Ralph dreamed of owning his own mechanic shop and working on cars. I actually did give him a job installing truck accessories, but he was absolutely incapable of the discipline needed to hold it down. One day he just didn’t show up and that was that. Another hoped to be an advertising copywriter. Women told me they would like to work in an office, or in sales. They would picture themselves sharply dressed in business attire, but with no skills, education or experience, many just went back to the one job they did know and at which they could earn a living -- hooking.

It has been several years since I was involved in this type of ministry. I look back and wonder if I did enough. I regret not doing more, but then I just don’t know what more I could have done. The challenge is overwhelming.

What’s the point of all this? All I can say, I guess, is this; if we have a chance to help someone come to know Christ, however distasteful we may find their background or lifestyle, we must not just "pass by on the other side of the road".

Take Care

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Conversations With A Hindu

Here is something I came across in my own files and found interesting to read again. It is a discussion I had some time ago on a website devoted to debunking the Christian faith, with a Hindu apologist. His user name was Hindu (go figure) and mine was, even then, John K.

Posted by a Hindu:
I know there are absurdities in Hindu mythologies and I consider them as such. I agree that certain aspects of my own religion are as absurd as the concept of virgin birth in Christianity. As a matter of fact, there are instances of virgin birth in Hindu mythology itself (Mahabharata says that Kunti gave birth to her first son, Karna, as a virgin. She had received some mantra from a sage that could be used to invoke any divinity and conceive his child without sexual intercourse). I can also list many more instances. However, I, and almost all Hindus, consider them absurd and mere dramatization/fictionalization of actual events
John K: I guess I must ask, then, "What is the point?" If you subscribe to a religion, parts of which you don't believe, or consider absurd, why bother believing at all? What you end up with is a custom tailored, "do it yourself" religion which has no real basis in reality. An honest person owes it to himself to seek what is true, aside from what just "feels good". If something is true, one should embrace it. If it is false, one must reject it. This attitude, BTW, was the basis of my question above regarding the Greeks and their myths. Yes, they had a religion, and gods they worshipped, but did they really think of their myths as true fact, or mere stories, as apparently does Hindu?

Hindu: The difference is that while the truth of Christianity depends on the authenticity of its historicity, truth of Hinduism is independent of place and time, depending entirely on the eternal truth as contained in its philosophy. Rituals and myths are only true to the extent they agree with philosophy. Thus while Hinduism is not at all affected even if all its myths are found absurd, there can't be any Christianity without virgin birth and historical authenticity of the Bible.
John K: I agree absolutely. I would add to that the resurrection. But in fact these things are true and did happen and therefore will never be proven false. The truth may be widely questioned, even widely doubted but it will never be discredited.

John K: We are dealing, not with the natural, but with things outside of the natural; i.e. supernatural.
Hindu: Supernatural can't be unnatural. Moreover, the moment supernatural takes form (as in case of any incarnation, avataar of God, as in case of spirit taking the form for the benefit of mankind and as in case of Jesus) and decides to be defined by space, time and matter, it submits to conform to the natural so long as it remains in that form
John K: I don't know how you can say that with such certainty. If the God of the Bible is true, He can do anything He wants to. He is not limited by your rules or anyone else's. In the case of Jesus, yes, He did choose to set aside some of His Divine attributes, but no one or no law of nature forced Him to do so.

John K: It is almost by definition the nature of religion. Religion is a manifestation of mankind's search for God and therefore by necessity, not of this world.
Hindu: I leave this as it is beyond the scope of this discussion.
John K: I'm not quite sure why.

I must admit I do not know much about your faith, but are your own gods not supernatural, outside the physical realm?
Hindu: They are not. If mythologies sometimes describe them to be so, it is merely an indication of their potential, not applicable to their manifestation in space, time and matter. Brahmam is absolute, it is unmanifested and hence not part of space, time and matter. Everything else, including gods, are manifestation of parts of the potential of Brahmam. That is, Brahmam manifests itself to be described by space, time and matter which we call as nature and all that it contains. In other words, Brahmam is beyond space, time and matter but we try to understand it, grasp it through that which our minds can comprehend first, that is form, symbols etc. Gods are part of that form and symbols.
John K: Sounds like something outside the physical realm to me.

John K: We believe, of course, that if God created the universe and everything in it, He can also intervene in it in any way He chooses.
Hindu: I don't believe so. I believe that God is not whimsical. I believe that the very first instance of creation (Hindus call it manifestation) by God was perfect and God doesn't have to intervene in such a way that violates his own previous acts.

John K: I agree that God is not whimsical. But His intervention in worldly affairs in the person of Jesus was not whimsy. God created the world and called it "good", but he also gave man free will, which has allowed people to seek Him or turn away from Him. It is for the redemption of mankind that Jesus came to make possible a way back to a relationship with God for anyone who wants it. I don't consider this a trivial reason.
BTW, Am I anywhere near the truth if I think that the Christian doctrine of salvation is somewhat replaced in Hinduism by the idea of reincarnation?
Which all leads me back to absurdity. Is reincarnation really any less absurd to an outsider than the virgin birth?

P.S. What is the Hindu story of creation (or manifestation)?


Take Care

Monday, 22 January 2007

Sexual Relationship Blues

“Between Two Worlds” links to this video by a woman named Dawn Eden, a very clever take-off on Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” from about 1965. I think Dylan’s must have been one of the very first music videos. (Leave it to Dylan to have been the first of something, as he was a groundbreaker in so many ways) I don’t know much about Ms Eden, but she has written a book, Thrill of the Chaste. She apparently partook in the “sexual revolution” in former days and then came to see the futility of it.

I see it too, all around me. As an employer, I have seen some of my own employees caught up in this trap, time after time over the years. I think of it as the “ordinariness” of sex in relationships in recent years. Sex just seems to be a de rigueur part of any relationship for young people now. Entering into a sexual relationship outside of the commitment of marriage more often than not leads to disaster, and yet it seems to happen so easily these days. The trouble is that the relationship begins with physical attraction and too-quick consummation. Then the parties get to know each other and the fights start. Usually it is the woman (or more often, young girl) who is hurt most. I don’t know if girls nowadays are so pressured into it, or if they are so insecure in themselves that they think they must cave in to a boy’s advances to keep him. Maybe it is the feminists’ “defeminization” of girls in the name of “liberation” that is to blame, and it’s just the “cool” thing to do. But when you get right down to it, it is actually the girl in the situation who has the control. We all know what (most) young men want. It’s the girl who can say, “No!”

By the way, if you want to see Bob Dylan’s original version, here it is:
One interesting sidebar here is the phrase from Dylan’s video, in my opinion one of the all-time classic song lines, “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” from which the 60’s or 70’s radical group known as the “Weathermen” took its name.

Take Care

Sunday, 21 January 2007

The Love of Christ

Just home from church. One of the choruses we sang reminded me of this piece that I wrote some time ago.

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (1)

What a wonderful passage of Scripture! I feel so inadequate, yet joyfully so, when I consider it. The more I read it the more I realize that no words can do it justice. Anything I might say to try to explain it can only take away from it. Read this passage and when you think you have grasped all there is, read it again and you will see you don’t even begin to get it. When I stand before this passage of Scripture; stand in its overwhelming shadow and consider it, it seems to expand larger and larger until it fills the whole universe, while I grow smaller and smaller until I am no more than a speck of sand before it.

It teases us. On the one hand we are asked to know this love… on the other, it surpasses knowledge. How cruel, yet how wonderful! Oh that our frail human minds might truly know how vast is the love of Christ, but what a glorious futility there is in realizing it is far too vast to comprehend. However much we come to know of the love of Christ, there is always more to know: It is inexhaustible. On the one hand it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we come to know the love of Christ. On the other it is only that very same Spirit of God who shows us that we really can’t grasp it. It is truly beyond understanding. On the surface we might agree, “Yes, the love of Christ is long and wide and high and deep”, but the real question is, “How long and how wide and how high and how deep?” Only if you truly love the Lord can you realize our powerlessness to comprehend it. The more you love Him the more you realize it is impossible to grasp.

You are beautiful beyond description
Too marvellous for words,
Too wonderful for comprehension,
Like nothing ever seen or heard.
Who can grasp your infinite wisdom?
Who can fathom the depth of your love?
You are beautiful beyond description,
Majesty enthroned above.
And I stand, I stand in awe of you.
Holy God, to whom all praise is due,
I stand in awe of you.

The love of Christ is wide. It is as wide as the universe, as long as eternity, as high as the heavens from which he came and as deep as the sea into which he casts our sins the moment we confess them. And when we look at the symbolism; long and wide, high and deep, we can picture the ultimate representation of his love – the cross, where from eternity past he knew he would come to give his life as a ransom for many. Our Lord Jesus Christ left his father’s side and made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! (2)

It was an infinite condescension for the King of the entire universe to become a man, but how much even more to become despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; to take up our infirmities and carry our sorrows; to be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we have been healed. (3)

Such love! Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ...neither death nor life, neither angel nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (4) Praise be to God!

Amazing Love! How can it be that Thou my King would die for me?

Take Care

1 Eph 3:17b-19
2 Phil 2:7,8
3 from Isaiah 53:3-5
4 Rom 8:35,38,39

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Alpha In Prison (III)

There is another story I will tell you from my prison Alpha ministry; this one more poignant and one I remember with regret and sadness.

I mentioned that the prison was a co-ed institution, so both men and women attended the course on Wednesday nights. One thing we never did was ask why people were there. If the information was volunteered we would listen in sympathy and confidence, but it was never ours to pry into someone’s past who didn’t freely volunteer it. But it was a safe bet that many of the women were there on charges relating to prostitution and street life. One particularly touching case was a very pretty girl whose father was a Pentecostal pastor. I’m sure there was heartbreak in that family. (Already, as I write this, I am convicted of what I just wrote. Forgive me, God, for not remembering that there was heartbreak in every story in that prison). But that’s not who I’m writing about here.

There was one girl in one course who really seemed to be making headway. She was a Native girl who had been involved in prostitution, the drug culture and life on the street. But we could see the change in her every week. She was enthusiastically singing the worship songs, asking sincere questions, contributing avidly during the discussion time, and sure, we all felt, to turn her life around and begin to live for God. I don’t know, I must confess, if she prayed the prayer asking God into her life, because we did not allow men to pray with women, one-on-one and I don’t remember whether the woman on our team ever told me.

One of the things that prison inmates really value is some record of an accomplishment. So for the prison Alpha, for the end of every course, I printed up a “diploma”. It was just a certificate I did on my computer stating that so-and-so had completed the Alpha Course. Prisoners would proudly hang them on their cell wall. They were a source of badly needed self-esteem and a sign that someone recognized them for achieving something. This particular girl was to be released the week before the course ended, and she told me on her last week how sad she was that she would not get the diploma. At the end of the evening we hugged goodbye and prayed for her future life.

Some time later I was helping Ralph, who I wrote about below, get established in his life outside prison. I actually gave him a job, which lasted for a short time. On one occasion I drove him down to the very seedy area of town he used to frequent in his former life. He had to go into a particularly squalid drinking establishment to see a former acquaintance who owed him some money. He went in while I waited in my pickup across the street. When I looked diagonally across the intersection I saw a familiar face. It was the girl who had shown so much promise in our prison Alpha. I waved at her and she came across the street to my truck. Now, let me say that in this area of town there was only one reason any woman would be hanging around a street corner as this girl was. I honestly don’t know if she came over to me because she recognized me or because she thought I was a “customer.” She stumbled up to my truck and said, “Hi” in a slurred voice. Her eyes were glazed by drugs. She leaned against the door and through the open window I could smell the type of strong yet stale alcohol odour that comes from having been drinking for several days. She was sad. She was miserable. She was pitiful. My heart sank. By the time she got close to the truck she recognized me.

Do you know what she asked me? She asked if I had her Alpha certificate! As miserable as she was; as stoned as she was; as far as she had fallen; the most important thing to her at that moment was a certificate affirming that she had completed an Alpha course.

I remember feeling completely dejected. I never saw her again. To my shame, I don’t remember her name. I wouldn’t give it I did. But I pray for her, wherever she is now. Perhaps you would pray too. God knows who she is, and she is in His hands.

Take Care

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

The Apostles’ Creed II (the opinion part)

I previously wrote about the Apostles’ Creed. In fact you will notice that I include it in my profile as a major part of what I believe. Let me now, however, give you a couple of my own pet peeves associated with it.

The first is the tendency on the part of some reformed or evangelical groups to mistranslate the term, “holy catholic Church” as “holy Christian Church.” I find this regrettable. Many orthodox Christians cry out against the move toward inclusive language, in church or even in the Bible. There is something about, “Father/Mother God” that just seems ridiculous, and many of us would walk out of any church that prayed like this. Yet they will quite happily recite that they believe in the “holy Christian church” without batting an eye. In my opinion there is no difference, in principle, between the two, as far as the issue of mistranslation is concerned. Granted, the Creed is not the inspired canon, but both are examples of concessions to 'political correctness.’ That is, both are cases of the original words being changed so as not to offend certain people. In the case of gender neutrality it is to appease those who consider themselves broad-minded. In the case of the Creed, it is to satisfy those who I’m afraid may be narrow-minded. The word ‘catholic’ in the Apostles’ Creed, of course, does not refer to the Roman Catholic church. As I wrote previously, it simply means universal. It means the Universal Church; that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places; the Body of Christ. That some people might confuse the two is in my opinion no excuse for inaccurate translation. If they don’t know they should be educated. Ignorance should not be an excuse. If you want to call it a new creed, so be it, but to me it’s not the Apostles’ Creed unless you say you believe in the “holy catholic Church.” Every true believer in every denomination should realize that they are a member of this Church and be bold to proclaim it.

OK, so much for my rant against my brothers and sisters. I apologize if I was too strident. Here’s the second point:

I have been involved in many discussions of the Christian faith with skeptics, atheists and non-believers. One of the common objections is that they find Christians to be too narrow and exclusive. Then they will quote some well-known liberal scholar or clergy person as their idea of what the ideal Christian should be. Several have mentioned Bishop John Shelby Spong, the (in my opinion completely off-the-track) Episcopal priest and bishop, as someone who has a realistic and unhypocritical faith. My response to these people is, “So you admire an outright liar, then?” Many are taken aback. “What do you mean?” they ask.

When I lived in Edmonton, and whenever I visit there, I attended an Anglican church. Every Sunday we recite the Apostles’ Creed, as Spong would have done for as long as he was a priest or a bishop in the Episcopal Church. Every service in which he participated he would have declared out loud before God and his congregation that he believed in the Virgin birth and the physical resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. All of these he has denied in his writings and in person. How much of the rest of the Creed he didn’t mean, I don’t know. But either he was lying when he recited the words, or he was lying when he denied them. I'm sure it is the former, but in any case, at one time or the other he was lying.

Tell me, why is such a man to be admired, even by atheists?

Take Care

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Take The Oath (But cross your fingers)

Tim Challies writes about a message from his own pastor regarding the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada plan to recommend that all expectant mothers undergo screening for fetal abnormalities

This got me to thinking about the Hippocratic oath that doctors have traditionally taken upon graduating from medical school and entering their field. Granted it is an ancient, even originally a pagan oath, but it is interesting to see the changes to it reflecting current values. There is a link here detailing some of the changes.

Quote: ”According to a 1993* survey of 150 U.S. and Canadian medical schools, for example, only 14 percent of modern oaths prohibit euthanasia, 11 percent hold convenant with a deity, 8 percent foreswear abortion, and a mere 3 percent forbid sexual contact with patients—all maxims held sacred in the classical version.”

In some ways it seems that some doctors now promise to be protectors of comfort or convenience rather than life itself.

Take Care

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Here are a couple of stories I’ve noticed recently in the news. I present them with a minimum of commentary.

B.C. Will Step In If Sextuplets At Risk
This story has been attracting quite a lot of attention. The government of British Colombia is threatening to step in and take care of sextuplets born to a Jehovah’s Witness couple. Now I’m not taking sides here. The JW position on blood transfusions is, of course, a gross misinterpretation of Scripture. But the funny (as in ironic) thing is that in any other case, if the babies had not yet been born, they could quite legally have been aborted, and I’m sure many of the same people up in arms over the JW’s religious beliefs would have been equally vociferous in defending the mother’s right to do so.

A 1 Timothy 3:5 Kind Of "Church"
In the Edmonton Journal, there was this story on the “Unity Church” which strikes me as some kind of fuzzy and warm “spirituality,” designed for anyone who wants to have a god made after their own image.

“Unity Church is part of the Christian New Thought movement. Its teachings are based on the Bible, but members don't hold that Christianity is the only path to God. Unity believes in the divinity of each person, a message brought by Jesus, the Master Teacher.”

They obviously disregard the message of the “Master Teacher” in John 14:6, “…"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Why don’t people get it?
Take Care

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Between Two Worlds: "Why We Left the Episcopal Church"

Between Two Worlds: "Why We Left the Episcopal Church"

In my search this evening through the blogosphere, I came across the following link. It is rather apropos, pertaining somewhat to what I have been writing as a followup to to the post just finished on the Apostles' Creed and which, Lord willing, I will post next time. I hope you will then see the connection, however tenuous it may be. The link is to an article, "Why We Left the Episcopal Church" by the Rev. John Yates and Os Guinness, in the Washington Post. As a person who still loves the Anglican church, and is blessed to have been a member of what I think is one of the best, I agree with them wholeheartedly.

Take Care

I Love This Creed (A Little History, A Little Opinion)

From its inception, the Christian faith has been attacked by various heresies, and through them all it has survived. In speaking of the survival of orthodox Christianity in the face of various heresies, G. K. Chesterton likened it to a river flowing through the sea. “And while all that sea was salt and bitter”, he says, “of this one stream in the midst of it a man could drink.”

From the beginning of the Christian faith, the wisdom of the world (1 Cor 1:20b) has threatened to creep in and corrupt the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3b). Jesus predicted that false prophets will appear and deceive many people. (Mat 24:11). The Apostle Peter also assured us that heresies would occur. (2 Peter 2:1). If Jesus and Peter actually predicted them we should hardly be surprised that they would occur.

In response to various early heresies, the Church developed statements of faith, or Creeds, stressing the beliefs that oppose specific tenets of these heretical teachings.

One of the earliest creeds, and one I truly love, was what would later (not until the 5th or 6th century) come to be known as the “Apostles’ Creed.” It dates in its earliest form to the mid second century and was set down by Hippolytus in a baptismal creed around AD 200. It makes several statements directly addressing various points of heretical teaching.

The Apostles’ Creed states:

“I believe in God the father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth...”

This emphasizes that, contrary to Gnostic thinking, it is the Supreme, “God the Father Almighty” who created all creation, not some lesser spiritual being.

“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary...”

Here we see the orthodox view reinforced that Jesus was both God and man, denying the Gnostic position that the Spirit was not involved with Jesus until his baptism. The creed affirms that Jesus was born (meaning he had a real physical body), of a virgin (declaring, or at least strongly implying, his divinity).

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate...”

The story was not just a myth, but was firmly fixed at a certain date in history.

“...was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.”

Again, showing that Jesus was not an illusion; he had a real body. He was nailed to a cross. He actually died.

Later on, the creed affirms belief in the “holy catholic Church.” Gnostics believed that their special mystical knowledge was available only to a select few, while the Church (and indeed, Christ himself, in Mat. 28:19) taught that the Gospel was to be preached to all. Christ’s true church would be made up of members from all nations. Therefore the term “catholic,” meaning, “universal.”

The creed also speaks of, “the forgiveness of sins.” The Gnostic belief that matter, therefore the human body, was entirely evil, led to two quite opposite patterns of behaviour. Some believed that every desire of the flesh was to be severely subdued, and as a result led lives of great asceticism and self-denial. Others held that, because the body, being evil could have nothing to do with the Spirit, it didn’t matter what one did, and lived very licentious lives, indulging every passion and desire. In either case, forgiveness of sins was not even considered. Other heretical movements, notably Donatism and Montanism, took a very hard line on sin, believing that certain lapses were unforgivable. The creed’s affirmation of forgiveness of sins confronted these erroneous views head-on.

And finally,

“...the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

Salvation, to Gnostics, meant finally leaving the body in which it was trapped and being free forever from any association with evil matter, returning to the realm of pure Spirit. Hence they would have rejected any notion of the physical resurrection of the body.

This early creed, then, was a point-by-point refutation of various heretical deviations. It was a means of identifying true Christians, who could not recite it and remain true to unorthodox thinking, and it was an instrument for educating new converts in the true faith in a time of widespread illiteracy.

Today it is a powerful declaration of the orthodox Christian faith. It is a battle cry, even, which true Christian believers can proclaim boldly in the face of liberalism, modernism, synchretism, “enlightened” thinking, and the trend on the part of some churches to soften the traditional Christian message in the name of “seeker sensitivity.” Ultimately even in the face of the enemy, Satan himself.

I promised a little opinion; that will come next.

Take Care

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Pray Without Hesitation (Alpha in Prison II)

I told you about the experience of one of our Alpha leadership team following his impression that God was leading him to pray with a particular inmate in our prison ministry. I promised at the time to relate an experience of my own, so, whether you have been waiting for it, or hoping I would forget, here it is. It involves a Native Canadian inmate named Ralph. Ralph actually had prayed the prayer I wrote about in the previous post. In fact, I came to suspect he may have prayed that or a similar prayer several times, in any number of ministry situations.

In any case, one Wednesday evening, Ralph seemed particularly troubled. I asked him why. He told me that his entire family of 12 brothers and sisters had been drinking at a family get-together and that one brother had shot and killed another. He was distraught not only at the death of his brother, but that his other brother now faced a murder charge. He wanted more than anything to be with his family at this time and to attend his brother’s funeral, but there was no possibility at all of doing so. The prison authorities just did not release prisoners for any reason whatsoever, even a situation such as this.

Well, along came a “God told me” situation. Without hesitating to think it over, I said, “Let’s pray about it.” I put my arm around his shoulder right there in the middle of the meeting room and prayed a prayer to the effect that God would open doors, align circumstances and touch prison officials' hearts to allow Ralph to get out on a pass and be with his family. “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

You have heard of buyer’s remorse. Immediately I finished praying, I was hit with Prayer’s remorse (a term I just coined for this post). It is the sudden certainty that you have just embarrassed God and yourself by praying a prayer that could not possibly be answered. After all, prison officials did not do this type of thing. They never had before, apparently, in the history of the jail released a prisoner under the circumstances at hand. I had, “put God to the test”, so to speak, and I was about to be brought down for doing so.

Again, I worried and prayed all week, wondering what I would say to Ralph when he found this terribly serious prayer by this gung-ho Alpha leader went unanswered, yet praying intently that God would indeed answer it. I even, now, have the impression that I may have asked God’s forgiveness for praying the prayer at all, as I was certain to bring dishonour upon His Name.

Well, Wednesday night finally came, and I entered the prison chapel looking for Ralph. I didn’t see him, so I imagined he had refused out of anger or disappointment not to attend this evening’s meeting. I asked another inmate where Ralph was. “Oh, he got a pass and he’s at his brother’s funeral!”

All I could do was lift my hands, look upwards and laugh. Laugh at myself, really, for my lack of trust. Laugh at my not remembering that God will cause His Name to be honoured; that He is the Sovereign LORD and He will do what He will do; that His will is good and pleasing and perfect. Laugh for joy that we have such a great and wonderful God!

The following week, Ralph was absent again. I asked someone where he was this week. “Oh,” was the answer, “He’s over doing the sweat lodge tonight.” I laughed again, but this time I looked down at the floor and shook my head. This time it was in disbelief.

Did you ever see the movie, "O Brother, Where Art Thou"? I thoroughly enjoyed it, mainly because of the Gospel music soundtrack and a completely off-the-wall storyline based on Homer's "Odyssey". (there are some language issues with the movie though). I can’t tell you the whole story, if you haven’t seen it, but a character played by George Clooney is always pooh-poohing the idea of God and miracles. Even at the end when he is about to be hanged, he “gets religion”, drops to his knees and prays for God to save him. And of course, there is a most amazing “coincidence” whereby the lives of him and his friends are spared. Afterward, his friends are giving credit for the miracle to God, but Clooney’s character, now safe, just attributes it to perfectly natural events. It reminds me of this episode with Ralph. God got him that pass out of jail, but he just didn’t seem to get it.

But it is an episode I will always remember, as that of a young enthusiastic Christian (myself) leaping with both feet into a chance to pray without stopping to question whether it really was the right or “proper” thing to do.

Tim Challies quotes from a book by Jim Elliff, ‘Led By The Spirit’,

“God may use the sincere individual who gets his guidance the illuminist's way. He may bless him. He may honor his faith more than his method. I am quite sure that God always condescends to our imperfections. And if there is immaturity, we must realize that God will often use in our zealous immaturity what he disallows in our maturity. “

I sometimes find myself wondering if I am not, in my own “maturity”, merely becoming more cautious, self conscious, even jaded to a degree.

I pray not, but sometimes I fear so.

Take Care

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Pray Without Hesitation (Alpha in Prison)

For about 3 years I ran an Alpha Course in a prison. It was quite an experience and very rewarding. The prison was a medium security institution with the maximum sentence being two years less a day. Many inmates were there either because of some kind of substance abuse, legal or otherwise, or the behaviour that resulted from it; assault, spousal abuse, break and enter, etc. It was a co-ed institution, so there were a number of women there as well, their crimes usually related to prostitution, again often with substance abuse being involved. Both men and women attended this course. It was not a large course. Out of a total inmate population of about 500, about 15 to 30 attended the course, which lasts about 12 weeks, every Wednesday night.

Tim Challies recently wrote a post called Zealous Immaturity, touching briefly on whether God gives us impressions by which we may be guided, and whether we should be able to count on these impressions as authoritative. (I’m sure I have taken some license here, but you may read the article for yourself). Now, I’m not a real fan of the “God told me” type of revelation. Not that I don’t believe in them, but I think they always need to be tested and some may be revealed as legitimate words from God only over, or after, a period of time. Unfortunately there have been cases where they have been abused and have brought pain and anguish, even within the body of Christ. But it brought to my mind a couple of situations that arose during my time in this prison ministry. You will see, I trust, how they relate to the title of this post.

I’m sure we all have these times when we receive what we might wonder is a word from the Lord; an instruction, an impression that we should do something. There have been times when I have, and sometimes (more times than I care to confess, frankly) I have resisted these things and convinced myself it wasn’t really God speaking. But let me tell you of a couple of times when these impressions weren’t resisted.

One involves another member of the Alpha leadership team at the time. Several times during an Alpha course guests are given an opportunity to confess to God the things they have done wrong, to turn away from sin, to thank God for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and to ask Him to come into their lives by His Holy Spirit and be with them forever. One evening my friend sensed he should pray this prayer with a particular man, a young Native Canadian. Without hesitating to question whether this was really from God or just his own desire, he drew the inmate aside, put his arm around him and led him in the prayer. Afterwards, he was a little embarrassed, wondering whether it had been appropriate, and confessing how humiliating it would be if nothing happened. He had “put God on the line” so to speak, and didn’t want to have Him look foolish. He fretted about it all week, he told me later, fully expecting to come back the following Wednesday and find that nothing had happened.

Well, next Wednesday did come, and my friend approached the group with some trepidation. Our course always began with some worship songs, then a video, then a time for coffee, then discussion. There was no time for conversation until coffee time, so he had to sit through the whole first half of the evening before he could talk to the fellow he had led in prayer the previous week. When he told me about this experience, he told me he was on pins and needles all the time, looking secretly across the group to find some clue as to whether anything had happened.

Coffee time finally came and they spoke. My friend asked what he thought would be a safe question, “How was your week?” The young Native responded, “Up until last week, since I was a young teen, all I ever dreamt about was knives. I was angry and violent and I would see them in front of me every night in my dreams. Ever since I prayed that prayer, every night this week, I sang hymns in my sleep. All I dreamed about was the songs we sing praising Jesus.” He was a changed man! Praise and all the glory be to God!

I don’t know what would have happened if my friend had resisted his impression and not bothered to pray with this inmate. Whether or not one believes that God would have found another way to save him, in this case God used this prayer, in this Alpha course, at this moment in time, through this team member, who prayed without hesitating to wonder whether this impression was really from God or not.

This post is longer than I thought, so I will tell you about another experience, one of my own, at another time.

Take Care

Friday, 5 January 2007

Apathy and Ignorance

In a comment, or a reply to a comment, on Tim Challies website (comment 31 and following) I referred to atheists as being characterized by apathy and ignorance. Or at least displaying an apathy that leads to ignorance. I did not mean it to be taken personally. It is my observation of the atheistic mindset in general, and perhaps even at that, requires some clarification. I meant it to apply very broadly to the atheistic worldview, not necessarily to every individual who clings to that philosophy, bankrupt though it may be (insert smilie here ).

Sometimes in these types of discussion we run the risk of trying to be too expedient. We use a word because we are too lazy to use a phrase. Sometimes we may use a word to express a thought when we should have used a paragraph. And so it may have been in this case with my choice ot the words “apathy” and “ignorance.”

I used the term apathy because in my experience and thinking, atheists have not bothered to go far enough in their exploration into the real meaning of things. They have taken an easy way out. They have reached a certain intellectual plane and felt it good enough. They have not bothered to examine even their own philosophy below its own surface. I have mentioned that I came to faith when I was 45 years of age. One of the things that God used to bring me (completely by surprise, by the way, for my Calvinist friends) into His kingdom was the fact that I always questioned everything. Everything I was told and everything I thought. I still do. But it is one thing to question falsehood, and thereby discover that it is indeed false, and quite another to continue to question the truth, because the truth, by its very definition, cannot be proved wrong, so continued questioning can only reinforce it. Fire destroys paper and straw, but refines metal.

Now, the term ignorance I only meant not in the pejorative popular sense as an insult, but merely in the sense of lacking in knowledge; or to put it perhaps more correctly, not fully cognizant of the truth. Again, the atheist, in his search for truth has stopped short. He has, as I have posted here before, not asked enough questions, or at east not the right questions. He has not examined his own position impartially, at least not in enough depth. He has become satisfied, complacent or, to return full-circle, apathetic. And apathy in the intellectual or in this case the spiritual sphere cannot help but result in ignorance. If you think you know all there is to know, there is at least one thing you do not know, and that is that you do not know all there is to know.

Atheists, by the very definition of the label, think they know all there is to know about God; namely, that He does not exist.

And that, dear friends, is my definition of ignorance.

Take care

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Atheism and Free Will

Much has been debated about free will and God. I would like to ask how free will and atheism are at all compatible.

If we are nothing but products of random combinations of matter, set into motion billions of years ago, by what mechanism can we choose anything on our own? Our entire lives have been determined by the Big Bang. If our thought processes, feelings, emotions, beliefs, etc. are nothing more than random electrochemical reactions in our brains, how can we have any control over deciding anything, let alone be responsible for our decisions.

The atheist may claim to make an independent decision, but on what basis did he make his choice? What gave him the ability to make it? If the thought process is nothing more than electrochemical reactions in brain matter, what was so free about it?

If the natural order is all there is; if there is nothing outside, beyond, or aside from the natural order, then the individual is part of the natural order and cannot be separated from it. This natural order consists of nothing more than chemical and physical responses, which have no choice but to react in set ways to certain stimuli. They are governed by natural laws of physics and chemistry. Therefore there can be no such thing as free will. If one follows naturalism to its logical end, there can be no basis for independent thought, or for that matter, logic itself. Every action is dictated by preceding physical and chemical inputs, which must behave in predetermined, preset ways according to the natural laws of the universe and cannot be changed. Free will under such circumstances would be like a river deciding to flow uphill. The materialist is a prisoner of a beginningless sequence of natural causes and stimuli.

On the other hand, if we have a mind (never mind yet a soul or a spirit) what defines it? What elevates this ability to make considered decisions above mere interaction of matter within our crania? What is it that makes a mind more than a mere brain? If you believe at all in your ability to think and reason, you must go beyond the purely natural. Once you realize that the natural is not all there is, you will begin to realize that the existence of God helps make sense of everything.

Take Care,

Monday, 1 January 2007

Atheists and the Inerrancy of Scripture

In discussions with atheists and skeptics, I note some Christians saying that they don’t care if there are mistakes in the Bible; it doesn’t matter to them. I must say that I think this is a very dangerous position to hold. It may be a position taken out of defensiveness, and a fear that there actually are unsolvable contradictions and errors in the Word of God. Skeptics’ arguments can be convincing if we have not done “due diligence” in examining and testing their objections.

But I believe that true Christian believers MUST hold to the position that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, are the inspired word of God and are therefore without error. If they are not, we find ourselves on very shaky ground. The Scriptures are the very foundation of our faith and the source of all we know of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we admit to the possibility they may not be correct, what have we to stand on? The Scriptures say that Jesus lived; could they be wrong? They tell us that he died and rose again; if we are not sure of their accuracy, could this be untrue. Paul says that if Christ is not risen our faith is useless. It seems that some atheists know this, apparently better than some believers, because they devote a lot of time and resources to attempting to ‘debunk’ the Bible. They know that if they can get us to question the word of God, we will begin to question our faith.

Some Christians may say they have had a personal experience of God and that is enough for them. Yes, every believer has had some kind of personal experience of God, but that is not enough. It can only be validated as true to the extent it aligns with Scripture. If you tell me you have had a personal experience of God, and it either adds to, subtracts from or differs from Scripture, I can only tell you that is all you had: some kind of personal experience

Yes, there are difficulties in the Bible, but do not fear, most (in faith I will say all) can be reconciled with a reasonable explanation. Some objectors have said that they will not accept just a “possible” explanation but insists on positive proof for every apparent discrepancy. I submit that we need not provide this type of ironclad evidence to show that faith in the inerrancy of scripture is a reasonable position to hold. I compare it to our legal system. If a person is accused of a crime, all the defence must show is a reasonable possibility of his innocence for him to be acquitted. He does not need to prove his innocence beyond the shadow of a doubt. Similarly, sceptics may insist on irrefutable proof in every case they raise, but it’s up to them, as the “prosecution”, so to speak, to prove their case beyond any doubt. All I’m saying is that a Christian believer need only see a reasonable and believable explanation to an apparent Biblical contradiction to feel secure in his faith.

Take Care