Monday, 23 October 2017

Surprised? Maybe Not.

I was involved recently in a discussion with several younger leaders in a Christian ministry. The question was raised, "Should people in common-law relationships be allowed to sleep together at a retreat where both Christians and non-Christians are gathered as part of a process exploring the Christian faith.

I was rather taken aback at the response on the part of some: "It's part of today's culture; it's the way things are today, so we should allow it." To be fair, these people might have sincere motives for this thought - not wanting to turn anyone away from their investigation of Christianity, or not wanting to be considered puritanical, but I think there needs to be more to the conversation than pure, instant compromise.

I tried to say that at least there should be a conversation. Of course it's not an easy question to answer, and we Christians are not here to judge those outside the church, but I still think it's a more nuanced issue than merely deserves a flat out unconsidered answer.

I indicated that my response would be to at least have a conversation with such a couple to gauge what they might think of the following line of thought:
You probably know what the traditional Christian position is on sex outside of marriage. I'm not here to judge your arrangement, but I think there are things that need to be considered. There are guests among us who are searching to see if Christianity is true. I think they may be looking to see if we who are Christians are sincere in our own faith. So, bottom line is that they may, I repeat, "MAY," see us as hypocritical if we allow unmarried couples to room together. I repeat, I'm not here to judge your living arrangement. We're more than halfway through our course and I haven't yet, have I?
There is a passage of Scripture that I think, in a way, addresses this issue. It is Romans chapter 14. Granted, this chapter is speaking to those within the church, but I think there is a place for us to be considerate of other people's consciences. So I'm just afraid your rooming together might cause some other guests to, what we call, stumble. I'm not talking about those who are already Christians. I can handle them, but I'm thinking of those who may be seeking and who may be put off by seeing what they might see as hypocrisy among us. 
So I'm wondering if you would mind, just for this weekend, having separate rooms - men with men, women with women?
That might be how my conversation might have gone. I have no idea how it would turn out, but I think it deserved a conversation. I'd be interested in any thoughts.

Take Care

Sunday, 22 October 2017

What's Wrong?

This is a picture of a presentation slide. The points are taken  from a book called, "Disappearing Church" by Mark Sayers. I recommend the book. I believe it paints an accurate picture of the changes in Western society that are ultimately leading to what I call, "The end of the empire;" the decline and eventual, inevitable, fall of our Western culture.

Now, that may seem alarmist, but the pattern of history is that every empire that has ever existed has fallen, every civilization that has once flourished has ended, and we would be naive to think that at some point, ours won't as well. Our torch will inevitably be passed on to the next world power. I don't know when or how quickly, but I have stated before I think it will be China, who will not only only take the place of the West in power, but also in faith - namely the Christian faith.

 Because the picture is probably difficult to read, here are the points into which Sayers writes our current culture seems to have bought:

  1. The highest good is individual freedom, happiness, self-definition and self-expression.
  2. Traditions, religions, received wisdom, regulations and social ties that restrict individual freedom, happiness, self-definition and self expression must be reshaped, deconstructed or destroyed.
  3. The world will inevitably improve as the scope of individual freedom grows.
  4. The primary social ethic is tolerance of everyone's self-defined quest for individual freedom and self-expression. Any deviation from this ethic of tolerance is dangerous and must not be tolerated. Therefore social justice is less about economic or class inequality and more about issues of equality relating to individual identity, self express(ion) and personal autonomy.
  5. Humans are inherently good.
  6. Large scale structures and institutions are rejected and personal authenticity is lauded.
  7. Forms of external authority are rejected and personal authenticity is lauded.
The only point I might clarify a bit is the last part of point 4. I would say current social justice causes do indeed include economic and class inequality, but only certain accepted classes: First Nations, for example (and I would not dispute the rightness of that), and sexual minorities, but certainly not the consciences of Christian bakers, for instance.

I think the most perceptive phrase here is in the middle of that same point 4 - "Any deviation from this ethic of tolerance is dangerous and must not be tolerated." Those who subscribe to this new, "ethic" don't even seem to see the inherent hypocrisy involved in it.

I leave it with you for your consideration.

Take Care

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Billy Graham Evangelism Congress

No Sooner did I return from my Calgary junket (Sunday afternoon) than Eva and I started a three-day Evangelism Congress beginning Sunday evening at the Fantasyland Hotel at West Edmonton Mall. One of the featured speakers noted the irony of hosting an event aimed at bringing a Christian revival to our nation in a facility named, "Fantasyland." We who were there, and who have on our hearts the evangelization of our nation, would not consider our aims any kind of fantasy.

The event was completely inspiring, with speakers such as Mark HughesDanielle StricklandCharles Price and Edmonton's own Bob Jones, Senior Pastor at North Pointe Church. The worship band was also from North Pointe and the quality and duration of music was just about exactly perfect. I say duration because I find a 15 to 20 minute worship set to be just about right.

I met many people there who I have previously met in my travels around the province, some of whom recognized me before I recognized them. I also met many people who I hadn't met yet, but whose churches have run Alpha throughout Alberta. I have found that in any such large church gathering, a surprising number of the people I meet, or someone they know, came to faith through Alpha.

I was pleasantly amazed at how much the Billy Graham organization seemed to like Alpha. There were quite a few recommendations of Alpha as an evangelizing tool, even though Alpha wasn't officially involved in the congress. I was so pleased to see in what high regard Alpha is held both by the organization and many of the individual speakers there. Alpha works so well because  it takes into account the very fear and reluctance to evangelize that many of us seem to have. All one has to do is invite someone to, "dinner and a movie," so to speak, to learn a bit about the basics of the Christian faith and discuss some of life's big questions in a relaxed, open and non-threatening environment.

My greatest takeaway from the Congress: "Culture trumps everything." A church may say it wants to evangelize; may say it wants to reach the lost for Christ, wants to grow, but so often the true culture belies their words. They will not make visitors feel truly welcome and comfortable when they come through their doors. They will not honestly examine every aspect of their Sunday morning and ask, "If this were my first time here, would I want to come back?" They will say things like, "I don't really want to get bigger than we are right now. I like my church just the way it is." Mark Hughes put it this way; "Every church, regardless of size, should be growing in numbers."

And of course, we all know the last six words of a dying church; "We've always done it this way!"

Take Care

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Wisdom From Chesterton

"If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments they shall be governed by ten thousand commandments."
Chesterton had a way of putting profound things so simply that the reader would wonder, "Why didn't I think of that." The quote above tells a truth so obvious, when one considers it, yet so missed by so many.

Time was, for instance, when people could seal business deals on a handshake. No longer. It takes a phalanx of lawyers to hammer out what should be even the simplest of transactions. The Bible tells us that we should let our Yes be Yes and our No be No, but even the church has been so infiltrated by the world that many now require such things as signed confidentiality agreements and other contracts.

If we only kept the commandment regarding bearing false witness, or against theft, we could eliminate a myriad of laws. If we lived honest lives, according to our consciences, knowing what is right and holding to it, even though it might be at personal cost, we could eliminate many cases of corruption.

If we didn't cheat on our taxes, or pad our expense reports; if people (and I'm sure there are some) who cheat on Unemployment Insurance or welfare would work and contribute to society instead of taking from it, I'm sure we could do away with a great many regulations. In other words, if we could just trust one another, we would not need the micro management of these, "ten thousand commandments."

Pie in the sky I know, but in a perfect world...

Take Care

Friday, 15 September 2017

Culture and Liberal Christianity

It has been a while since my last post. I'm reading a fascinating book called, "Disappearing Church," by Mark Sayers. In it I find some fascinating insights, including these thoughts on our current culture in light of the advance, some would say the decay, of the liberal church. .
"Like a team of suicide bombers who obliterate themselves yet irrevocably change the cultural atmosphere, liberal Christianity has essentially destroyed itself as an ecclesiological, institutional force, yet has won the culture over to its vision of a Christianity reshaped for contemporary tastes.
While cursory glances at our culture’s religious hue can give one the impression of atheism, we will soon see its liberal Christian residue. Following liberal Christianity’s lead, the majority of Westerners hold to a belief in a pleasant afterlife and a benevolent Christian-esque god. However, the doctrines of divine judgment and hell are ditched as repugnantly retrograde. Concepts of personal morality and the pursuit of virtue are replaced by a desire for the common good… 
In this reformulated understanding of sin and evil, salvation is achieved through the gaining of enlightened attitude… Thus those who have gained this enlightened attitude… …form a refashioned concept of the Biblical notion of the elect. This community of the elect has moved beyond the need for concrete forms of church and association, and instead form a culture based on shared opinion manifested in a language based on a correctness of speech, opinion and belief.  Sin is recast as purely unenlightened attitudes. 
Now with the culture reflecting the values of the liberal mainline churches, one simply leaves the church."
In a sense, the author concludes, we see in this adoption of the church by the culture, this, "ghost memory" of Christianity, as Tim Keller has put it, a revival of the ancient heresy of Pelagianism, the belief that we can accomplish our salvation on our own.

We must remember, though, that it is Christ who is building his church, and nothing, even the, "gates of hell" will not prevail against it. "Heaven and earth," and even false beliefs will eventually pass away, but the true body of Christ will last forever.

Take Care


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Persecution of the Christian Church in Egypt

I'm reading a book. There is a section on the persecution against the Church in Egypt. It speaks of persecution so intense that even the survival of the Church there can only be attributed to the grace of God.

Churches closed - many desecrated, burned, destroyed. Christianity made illegal; clergy especially targeted - beaten, imprisoned, killed. It tells of all Christians suffering for their faith, with no public places left to worship and no clergy left to lead services.


The book is on the life of Athanasius, and this persecution took place between the years 311 and 313.

Two quotes come to mind:

  1. "There is no new news; only old news happening to new people" - Malcolm Muggeridge
  2. "...I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it." - Jesus Christ
Just Sayin'

Take Care

Sunday, 7 May 2017

More of LC17

5562 (Capacity) at Royal Albert Hall
Here are some of them

Self Explanatory

Church at HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton, Anglican, if you were wondering)

Nicky and Pippa Gumbel
Until Next time,

Take Care

Beyond Belief

In London for Alpha's Leadership Conference, Eva and I visited Kew Gardens, Royal 
Botanical Gardens. I was struck by the amazing variety of plants and trees - thousands in fact, in just these acres of gardens, and all so different, from every corner of the world.

I found myself thinking once again about evolution. As difficult as it is to believe something as complicated as animals and humans descended from a common ancestor, this visit made it even more difficult to fathom how anyone could think it made more sense that these all developed by a series of accidental mutations from a single... whatever, than that there is a God who brought them into being.

Of course the atheist has put himself in a position where he cannot consider this because he has rejected the option of there being such a supernatural creative Being. The atheist claims to demand evidence, but then rejects any evidence that is not in keeping with his presuppositions. "Evidence" for God is all around, including the evidence that there is, 'something rather than nothing,' and the extremely complicated variety of everything there is. As difficult as it is to imagine all this happening by accident, the atheist must insist that it did, because his presumptions prevent him from thinking anything else.

Just sayin'.

Take Care

Friday, 3 March 2017

We Have Been Given a Job

The Church has a job. One job above all others.

It is a job given to us by our founder, our head, Jesus Christ. He said:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18a-20)
Jesus did not say, "Attract disciples from other churches." He said, "Make disciples..." so how are we doing?

I was reminded today of a church in a city in my province. It is a fairly large church. It is a church that has run Alpha in the past, but not at present. As I say, they have run Alpha but when I spoke to the pastor, I heard that they have trouble getting their people to invite, so now they are running a program purely for their own congregants.

I was talking to another pastor, who knew of this church, and said of them, "They tend to grow when other churches close." That statement was like a flash of light to me. It was a "Wow" moment. It was an insight that I realized is a problem I have seen in other places.

Church organizations do not exist primarily to receive believers from other places. Yes, it's nice to welcome people who may be new to the area, or Christians escaping from churches in denominations that have left the path of truth. But that is not our prime purpose. Our purpose is to make disciples. It is to guide those who have not surrendered their lives to Christ into a relationship with him and help them grow in that relationship.

So, how are we doing? How is your church at welcoming not-yet-believers who may come through our doors? Are we making them feel welcome? Are they making friends among us?  Even more important, most important in my opinion, are we the kind of church that an unchurched, non-Christian coming through our doors for the first time, want to come back to. Are they leaving their first service with us thinking, "I want to come back here."?

And if not, are we willing to change, not our message or doctrine, but our style - the way we present it, for their sake.



Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Good Night Louise

I was searching my video files for an Alpha video teaser to include with a post on my other blog when I found this, buried in the archives.

Leo Kottke is one of my favourite guitarists, but this song I found especially touching when I first heard it. I think it's partly because I have two daughters of my own whom I loved dearly as they were growing up (still do) and partly because of the women I met when I was coordinating Alpha in the Fort Saskatchewan Provincial Prison.

I now have two granddaughters in or approaching their teen years, and I ache for girls who suffer abuse, or are in unfortunate circumstances because their lives have been shaped by the abuse they have suffered. Sexual abuse, to me, is the worst kind, because in the face of sexual temptation, some men seem to have no conscience, no empathy or sympathy for the girl or woman who I think they must just see merely as a means to satisfy their immediate urges.

And many women seem trapped in the vicious circle of their lifestyle, unable to escape. Perhaps it's all they know and feel lost stepping out of that familiar territory. Perhaps because it's all they know, they literally cannot leave it because there are no other real options. I can remember speaking with female inmates and them telling me their dreams of a normal life upon release, but in some cases I winced, because I was sure their dreams were beyond reality because of the skills they would need, but didn't have, to accomplish them. I recall one particularly poignant episode here.

So goodnight, all you Louises out there.


Take Care

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Demise of Civility Matters

I thought this from Carey Nieuwhof made sense:

From here...
There should be a deep mourning and concern over the death of objective truth, because with it comes the erosion of civility.

Objectivity pulls us beyond ourselves. The things that are beyond us are the things that save us from ourselves. When a culture, for example, decides that murder will not be tolerated, that assault is punishable or that theft is a crime, it puts the brakes on our selfish and impulsive emotions. Human nature, after all, has a dark side. You and I have probably both felt like punching someone or taking things that didn’t belong to us. Occasionally, we might even wish that someone we don’t like had a shortened life span. What keeps us from acting on our impulses other than self-control?
Objective truth. The idea that somehow murder, theft and violence are wrong.

Also saving us from ourselves is the knowledge that if we do something offensive to a widely embraced standard, we will suffer for it. A fine. Jail time. Social shunning. This is good, not just for us, but for our country. But the logical extension of a post-fact, post-truth world, is this: who says I’m right and you’re wrong? Who even said it happened? I didn’t. That’s just you saying I did. And you’re wrong.

For thousands of years, we humans have tried to keep ourselves from ourselves. Surprisingly, the Gospel has fueled much of that. Because when you die to yourself, something greater rises.
The rise of self as the ultimate arbiter of truth is antithetical not only to the Gospel but to the very basis of civilization. Civilized people think beyond themselves. They care and they give. They put themselves second, or third. It sounds hyperbolic to say civilization is being threatened. But maybe it’s not hyperbole. Why love your neighbour when you can attack him?

Take Care

Monday, 23 January 2017

Haunting and Poignant

I enjoy reading Mark Steyn's website (linked to at the bottom of my page), not only because I tend to share some of his conservative viewpoints, but also because he often comments on various areas of pop culture, past and present. It is a wonderful source of information and trivia of music and entertainment for the last hundred years or so.

Leonard Cohen died a couple of months ago and through Steyn's website I learned of Cohen's song, "Dance Me To The End of Love." I found the video rather touching, showing elderly couples dancing with photographs of their younger selves as backdrops.

Little did I know the rest of the story. As explained by one of the comments on the You Tube video:

Leonard Cohen was inspired by the true story of the "Violinist of Auschwitz", Greek-Jew Jack Stroumsa! In this song, Stroumsa's wife (victim of the Nazis) speaks to him, through Cohen's voice, asking her husband to play her some music when she is being dragged toward the gas chambers. You see, the duty of Stroumsa in this camp was  to play classical music for the funeral procession of the naked victims who were told by the SS officers that they are going away just to get a bath. Stroumsa was forced to play this music as his melancholy farewell for unsuspecting victims; friends, neighbours, coreligionists and his very own family, all dragged in the same path of death with music in their ears... - Christos Tsanakas.

There is a personal connection with this. My wife's father was a Jew who survived the Holocaust in Poland. He lost all his family, and apparently narrowly escaped himself by finding a way to jump off the train on the way to Auschwitz. Sam himself was a musician and survived the rest of the war with help from the Polish underground and playing in bands to entertain Nazi officers.

He married Irene, my mother-in-law just after the war and escaped Poland for Austria just before the iron curtain fell. Eva was born in a refugee camp at Linz, and celebrated her first birthday on a boat on the way to Canada in 1949. God brought us together to be married in 1968.

Maybe that's why I find it so touching.

Take Care

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Afraid to Say Merry Christmas

The day before Christmas I was out doing some shopping. Every store I went to, the clerk said, "Have a nice day." And every time they did, I said, "That sounds kind of lame on Christmas eve. Aren't you allowed to say 'Merry Christmas?'"

Some then wished me a half-hearted Merry Christmas. One said, "You don't know who you're talking to." I wonder, why should it make a difference. Now, I'm not one of those, 'Let's keep Christ in Christmas' folks. Keeping Christ in Christmas has nothing to do with true faith in Christ. To those who have such a faith, Christ never left Christmas. To those without it it's irrelevant.

But I find it interesting how we have cloaked our traditions, so to speak, for the sake of... what? Typical Canadian deference? Embarrassment? Fear of offending someone? Who? There is a YouTube video of a Sikh gentleman encouraging the use of 'Merry Christmas." At a convenience store I often visit the staff are all Hindus, and are not insulted by "Merry Christmas," and not afraid to say it. Frankly, I suspect the only ones who might be truly offended might be militant atheists bent on removing all vestiges of religion from the public square, and who cares if they're offended. 😌

In any case, finally I walked in to another local gas station/convenience store after filling up my tank, and saw this sign. The clerk behind the counter spoke with an accent. I often patronize this store and the staff all seem to be newer Canadians. I told him how nice it was to see his sign and asked if the store was owned by Christians.

"No," he said, "We are all Muslims."

Now, who are we afraid of insulting?

No editorial, just found it interesting.

Take Care