idiocracy_image

Will we be the “Dumbest Generation?”

idiocracy the movie

There is a small, but vocal, group of educational professionals who are deeply worried about the intellectual abilities of young people in secondary and post-secondary education these days. Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said in his recently published book The Dumbest Generation:

 

According to recent reports from government agencies, foundations, survey firms, and scholarly institutions, most young people in the United States neither read literature (or fully know how), work reliably (just ask employers), visit cultural institutions (of any sort), nor vote (most can’t even understand a simple ballot). They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount foundations of American history [many Canadian high school students don’t know who Winston Churchill was or what he did], or name any of their local political representatives. What do they happen to excel at is – each other. They spend unbelievable amounts of time electronically passing stories, pictures, tunes, and texts back and forth, savoring the thrill of peer attention and dwelling in a world of puerile banter and coarse images. http://www.dumbestgeneration.com/home.html

Many seasoned teachers say that students today have shorter attention spans than similar students that they taught two decades ago. Too many students are finding it difficult to concentrate seriously on anything requiring sustained intellectual effort. More than a few commentators would conclude that the current generation of students is inordinately focused on their social lives to their long-term intellectual detriment. Even in class many students find it incredibly hard to focus on the task at hand, rather they run their mouths, listen to their iPods, play video games or engage in “social nitwitting” on their so-called smartphones.

26“There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular. Luke 6:26 The Message, a paraphrase.

As parents and educators we are going counter to the social/cultural currents of our time when we ask young people to take the time to study and reflect on the great literature of the past or the political-social-religious foundations of our Western culture. Intellectual curiosity about the nature of our society and the world around us, the pursuit of logic and an understanding of cause and effect, learning for the sheer joy of learning, and the search for demonstrable, enduring truth seem to get trounced in the battle with the latest media technology – the gaming console, online or cable entertainment, and web-based social-networking.

In his book Mark Bauerlein asserts:

The technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute, diversify their tastes, and improve their minds had the opposite effect.

Some people would suggest that our children are merely shifting to a new type of technology-based learning suitable for the 21st Century. They would imply that the learning is not “inadequate”; it’s just “different.” They might even ask, why should kids need to study civics, history, current events, Shakespeare’s works, or Newton’s Laws, much less philosophy or the Bible any more!

Today’s students may be able to do well on the multiple-choice, machine-gradable standardized tests that allow them to regurgitate facts and figures. But as parents, educators, and leaders in society we need to ask, “how are they doing when it comes to the pursuit of excellence, social responsibility, and truth, instead of the pursuit of grades?” As teachers we know that some of our students in this brave new world of technology are not learning much more than the skills of “cut and paste” to plagiarize the work of others and call it their own. Truth and personal integrity have fallen under the pressure to “succeed” or the age-old enemy: sloth – laziness.

But the love of the truth is the most important element in education. The human mind to be educated must learn how to think and how to decide what is true from what is false. Ethics and morality are the work of reflective thinking. Just having information online doesn’t guarantee that people will be able to recognize and value the truth or use that information in an appropriate or ethical manner. Our young people need a meaningful education that motivates them to become better people. They need a love for the truth! Without this, everything we take for granted—our comfortable lifestyle, our freedoms, our ability to progress spiritually and materially—will erode or even disappear.

When you read the following passage from Scripture you will see that the debate over having a love for the truth is very old.

33 Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.

34 Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”

36 Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked.

John 18 New Living Translation

Can you recognize and love the truth when you see it? Metaphorically, would you be willing to sell everything you own to possess it like a Pearl of Great Price. Or, are you like Pilate, uncertain or ambivalent when it comes to searching for what is true. It’s a choice we make for ourselves and our children and it will determine whether we will become the “dumbest generation.”

I’ll be live streaming this topic on March 5, 2011 at 11:30 a.m. PST. If you can’t make it then, don’t worry. The broadcast will be archived for later viewing. Check it out at http://cogwebcast.com/

Hosni Mubarak as Pharaoh

Pharaoh Hosni, Corruption, and the Kingdom of God


The Egyptian pharaohs always did very well for themselves as the bosses of Egypt Inc. They lived luxuriously and had everything the heart could wish for…well, almost everything. But even when their jig was up, they could afford to go in style—solid gold caskets, incredible burial pyramids—grand monuments to human nature and pride, that still draw crowds of admiring tourists.

It seems the latest incarnation of King Tut, Egypt’s now ex-President Hosni Mubarak, could also afford to be buried in a solid gold casket or maybe a decently sized pyramid if he so chose—even at today’s inflated prices. After all, news reports estimate his personal fortune and that of other Mubarak family members to be in the $10-$80 billion range. Not bad for a fellow who spent 30 years of his life as leader of his nation and another 30 years or so in the Egyptian military. Obviously the Egyptians must take great pride in providing such a remarkably generous pension scheme for their chief public servant!

Although Hosni Mubarak had feet of clay that is not to say he didn’t accomplish some good and worthwhile things during his presidency. He did keep the peace for 30 years, which is not a bad trick in the Middle East. And although Pharaoh Hosni did fabulously enrich himself during his period of power, he is not wholly unlike most Western leaders who also benefit financially from their high offices in far more ways than the official remuneration schedule would otherwise suggest. In the Western world most leaders following their term in high public office secure lucrative book deals, well-paying directorships or executive positions at major corporations, generous public speaking honorariums, sky high consulting fees, and some fascinating financial planning services from private banks, etc. But perhaps the real measure of a leader’s success should be how the poorest segment of the population fared.  Mubarak made some headway in economic development and stabilization that led to a growth in GDP but how did the poor do under his regime?

While the wider economy was doing great due to lower tariffs and taxes in Egypt during the last 6 years or so, according to David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, there was no trickle-down effect for your average working Egyptian. Some 20% of Egyptians continued to struggle to survive in grinding poverty. Even highly educated Egyptians found themselves working 2 or 3 jobs in an effort to sustain themselves. Why? As Schenker notes:

“Corruption is rampant. Sweetheart deals are common…. Inflation [the state stealing monetary value from wage earners and the nation’s savings] was an astounding 12.8% in 2010.“http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/hosni-mubaraks-economic-achievements/19838632/

In the Worldwide Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International, Egypt was ranked in 2010 as the 98th most corrupt country out of 178 countries, towards the top of the second half of all nations in this world. In other words, just about average from a worldwide perspective. The world’s most corrupt nation #178 was Somalia with the runners up for second most corrupt nations tied between Myanmar and Afghanistan (surprise, surprise).  The honours for the #1 spot, or least corrupt country was a tie between Denmark, New Zealand, and Sinapore. Canada was #6, while the U.S.A. was ranked #22. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_by_country. Corruption is a worldwide phenomenon.

It would seem that in the human sphere in this age when it comes to government and leadership, the great deeds and good works announced by those in power often come at a price. The cost is a corruption that oppresses and beats down hardest upon the poorest members of society.

A major focus of the Christian hope and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is a change in governance, that will bring peace and prosperity for all – without corruption.

Why is it important that Jesus Christ will sit in the chief seat of public service in the coming Kingdom of God? The answer rests in His character. As the Apostle Paul praised Him:

17Now to the King of eternity, incorruptible and immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever (to the ages of ages). Amen (1 Timothy 1:17 Amplified Version).

Christ, the Messiah, is incorruptible. His character is faithful, true, pure, and honest.  Besides being incorruptible, Jesus Christ is also immortal. Immortality is something neither corrupt pharaohs, nor any other corrupt person can buy. Perversely, selfish human nature focuses on futilely amassing during this short lifetime a pile of money or goods. But as the country song goes, “I ain’t seen no luggage racks on the hearses going to the graveyard.” Christ is the creator, the owner, the master of the universe, so there is no covetousness or greedy desire to acquire things at the expense of those that are under his care.

As the financial newsletter writer, Doug Casey, notes:

“Corruption is a betrayal of a trust for personal gain.”

Escaping the clutches of this common, corrupt human nature is just one major reason why the true Gospel about the coming Kingdom of God was preached by both Jesus and the early Christian church.

The Gospel of this coming new incorruptible political reality that will govern this earth is a major focus of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. A key prophecy for the future in the book of Daniel states:

“Sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him,” (Daniel 7:27).

If you would like to hear more about this foundational biblical teaching on the incorruptible Kingdom of God, then check out my streaming video message on this subject, The Gospel Part 3, at: http://cogwebcast.com/

black-swan

Black Swans, Auschwitz, Egypt, and the normalcy bias

Sixty-six years ago on January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet Red Army troops. Today this day is remembered around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. During WWII more than a million Jews and many others were exterminated at that concentration camp run by the Nazi SS under the command of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, one of the German dictator Adolf Hitler’s chief executioners.

To seek to really understand what went on at Auschwitz is to desire an insight into the evil twisted minds of the tarnished, fallen spirits and their morally corrupt human stooges of that time who together ruled in Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII.

Today, many modern secular people and even the supposed religious ones have a hard time coming to grips with the idea that humanity has long had a very real, tenacious spiritual enemy. This Adversary, this Satan, and his companions in darkness have always delighted in sowing misery, suffering and death  from generation to generation.

For Satan creating Auschwitz for Jewish extermination was just his perverted idea of fun, a sort of final solution theme park.

Don’t believe it? Well, notice what Jesus of Nazareth said about the source of motivation of those individuals who would eventually crucify him:

For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44 New Living Translation).

The Nazis were some of the biggest liars, deceivers, and murderers in history. But, of course, they weren’t the only ones. All of humanity’s oppressors have drawn the inspiration to do what they’ve done from the same well of malevolence.

But there is another part to this tragedy. Why did so many German Jews just hang around in Germany after Adolf Hitler rose to power during the early 1930s? Didn’t they believe what Hitler wrote in his book Mein Kampf? Didn’t they believe what their eyes told them as the Nazi storm troopers marched through their streets, harassing them, beating them up, throwing rocks through their windows, burning books? Why didn’t they catch on as the Nazis passed increasingly discriminatory, oppressive laws against them?

Of the 550,000 Jews living in Germany in 1930, some 100,000 fled from Adolf Hitler’s Reich by 1935. But 450,000,  stayed. They thought the dictator’s bark would be worse than his bite. Life was good. They were comfortable, and materialistically well off. They considered that there had long been anti-Semitic attitudes, and occasionally unpleasant incidents. Things probably wouldn’t get much worse, they thought.

Most German Jews in the early 1930s suffered from a normalcy bias. They didn’t understand that history is littered with Black Swans, those unexpected events that can’t be planned for or otherwise rationally anticipated. The European Jews of 80 years ago couldn’t believe their world would collapse into a horrific deadly nightmare. They couldn’t imagine that the civilized, cultured German nation would carry out a ruthless, systematic campaign of extermination against them—even to the point of rendering their body fat into soap and using their skins for lampshades!

Those doomed Jews thought tomorrow would be like yesterday and that life would continue to be more or less normal as it had been. They had a normalcy bias. By the time they perceived that they were mistaken, it was too late for most to escape their rendez-vous with Auschwitz’s ovens.

We are experiencing another Black Swan moment unfolding before our eyes right now. Seething change is sweeping the Islamic Middle East. You can bet that right now Satan is concentrating his attention on fanning the flames of resentment, hatred, and the spirit of murder in Egypt and everywhere else throughout that region where the religion of Mohammed dominates.

Ordinary, long-suffering Egyptians are tired of the corrupt, venial, authoritarian government of Hosni Mubarak. They want reform and change. But they have no apparent leaders and no plan on how to actually accomplish their frustrated desires for a better life. Wishful-thinking accompanied by spiritual blindness renders an individual or a whole nation like 1930s Germany a prey to clever manipulators.

18Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of Jesus Christ], the people perish; but he who keeps the law [of God, which includes that of man]–blessed (happy, fortunate, and enviable) is he (Proverbs 29:18, Amplified Bible).

The Egyptians are going to be misled, deceived, and used by Satan just like the hard-pressed, desperate German people were in the 1930s by those agents of darkness who promised them jobs and prosperity through the manufacture of weapons of warfare and the building of public works, like the death camps at Auschwitz. But the end for the Germans, the Jews, and practically everyone else in Europe was not good, but evil, disaster, and death on an unprecedented scale!

Good Samaritans do the right thing

Are you ready in your mind to act instantly to do the right thing should you be called upon to help out in an emergency?

January 17th seemed a normal enough start to a Monday morning for Constable Lane Douglas-Hunt of the Victoria police department as she walked out of a downtown convenience store where she had investigated a complaint about a stolen candy bar. But life can turn in an instant.  Suddenly a mentally unstable man with a taste for violence and a large filet knife launched a vicious, unprovoked attack on the young rookie constable, stabbing her in the neck and then slashing her hands as she attempted to defend herself.

Blair Bates, a local plumber with kickboxing and kung fu training, just happened to be driving by on his way to work. Bates saw the attack, and stood on his breaks pulling over to the curb by the pair now struggling on the sidewalk with the assailant on top slashing away at the severely wounded, weakened police officer. The Canadian Press story quotes the intervening plumber as saying,

“It was just an instant, primal, instinctual reaction, and there was no thought, it was just do… There was no adrenaline, no nothing. I just thought, ‘I have to address this….’ I knew that if I didn’t (help) that she was a goner.

“Within split seconds, he threw all 200 lbs. of his wide-framed body on the attacker, knocking him off the woman as the pair rolled on the ground. He could see she was bleeding profusely from her hands and appeared to be in shock. He dug his knee into the man’s back, slugged his ears several times, and subdued him by saying ‘Buddy, just give me an excuse to kill you.’ The trembling officer flung out her handcuffs and with the help of two more people they restrained him.

“Sgt. Grant Hamilton, spokesman for the Victoria Police, said it was the Good Samaritans’ choice to put themselves in danger. ‘Obviously in this situation we’re very glad they did,’ he said. ‘It’s the right thing to do.’” http://home.mytelus.com/telusen/portal/NewsChannel.aspx?CatID=National&ArticleID=news/capfeed/national/VD721.xml

In a world when so many just don’t want to get involved, or get out of their comfort zone should someone need their help, the Scriptures have something to say to each of us about our personal accountability when we see others in trouble.  

Don’t give up and be helpless in times of trouble.

Don’t fail to rescue those who are doomed to die.

Don’t say, “I didn’t know it!”

God can read your mind.

He watches each of us and knows our thoughts.

And God will pay us back for what we do (Proverbs 24:10-12, Contemporary English Version).

Helping others doesn’t always require the years of martial arts training or the sheer guts that Blair Bates was able to call upon to help Const. Douglas-Hunt in her time of need. All that you need is a heart willing to love your neighour as yourself.

A few weeks ago I was driving home in Nanaimo with my 13-year-old son when I heard a loud pop. Suddenly, smoke started billowing out obscuring my vision. Quickly pulling over to the curb, I popped the hood only to see the engine engulfed in flames and clouds of dark, foul-smelling smoke. Not having anything more useful in that old car, I got a bit of carpet out of the trunk and tried to beat down the flames while I sent my son running to knock on the neighbours’ doors so see if someone had a fire extinguisher. Fortunately someone was ready and willing to help and I was able to put out the fire and save the car plus a week’s groceries.

The godly principle is that we are to be our brother and sister’s keeper. God himself promises to pay us back for whatever good we do for others. Now that’s a truly win-win proposition. If we taught this truth a little more vigorously in our society, our communities would soon become much better places in which to live. Hats off to our Good Samaritans!

What happened to Jared Lee Loughner?

There’s a great deal of news commentary discussing in what way America’s overheated political rhetoric between the Right and the Left fostered Jared Lee Loughner’s recent murderous rampage and attempted assassination of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.

Undoubtedly, the present highly partisan, toxic political atmosphere that has infected much of the United States’ political discourse is not helpful when it comes to creating a harmonious society and solving that nation’s enormous economic problems. People think and then say things they shouldn’t. In families this can lead to divorce.  While on a national scale bitter acrimony can lead to fratricidal conflict. All Americans during the 150th anniversary year of the beginning of  the Civil War would do well to reflect on the cost in terms of human suffering and heartache that crushed the lives of millions during the 1861-65 political conflict between the Northern Union and the Southern Confederacy.

Of course, I don’t mean to look down on the Americans. We, Canadians, also have our own dirty laundry to wash.  We share with our American neighbours the shame of toxic political discourse. Here in British Columbia for the last year and a half there has been a very heated political controversy concerning the implementation of the new Harmonized Sales Tax, HST—unpopularly known as the Hated Sales Tax.  The enactment of the HST spawned a popular resistance movement called Fight HST.  While seeking to press the chief electoral officer of British Columbia, Craig James, to approve a recall election for one of the governing Liberal party’s legislators, some 392 people sent “vile,” threatening email to James for turning down Fight HST’s first application for a recall election. Civility in politics seems out of vogue (cf. Times Colonist, “Elections boss gets flood of ‘vile’ email,” Jan. 12, 2011).

But somehow I don’t think Jared Lee Loughner was ready to pull the trigger on Gabrielle Giffords, and 19 others at that political event in Tucson solely because some talk radio host or some other partisan political figure made some over the line comments about Giffords or Democrats as a whole. I mean, 22-year-old Loughner murdered a 9-year-old child who would have been far more interested in the pop and cookies table than listening to Gabrielle Giffords’ political speech-making. Something was and is clearly lacking in Jared Lee Loughner’s moral thinking.

What happened to make Jared Lee Loughner do what he did?

In an attempt to consider this question, The National Post ran a story entitled Arizona shooting suspect became an ‘outcast’ in high school http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/Arizona+shooting+suspect+became+outcast+high+school/4088147/story.html#ixzz1ArRI2CxT

One person who had known Jared Loughner since elementary school remarked:

“It just seems so out of character for the Jared I grew up with.”

High school friends characterized Loughner “as odd but generally amiable.” He had musical talent and played the saxophone in his high school’s jazz band. But then this average teenage boy with the curly hair lost his path. According to the story:

“In tenth grade everything started to fall apart. High school friend Alex Montanaro told the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Loughner took a turn after a break-up with a girlfriend. He started hanging out with drug users, grew distant from his friends and “really became an outcast,” said Mr. Montanaro. Classmate Catie Parker described him as a “pot head” and by grade eleven his marks had dropped. He didn’t bother returning for grade twelve.”

There was nothing in the news account about Jared Loughner’s family, community or church background. Had anyone cared enough to give him a firm foundation, a solid touchstone of ethics or vision of morality to guide his life?

“In several videos on the Internet site YouTube, a person with the name Jared Lee Loughner criticizes the government and religion. It was not known whether he was the same person as the suspect.”

“The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar,” the man says. “No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! No! I won’t trust in God!” http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/Murder+attempted+assassination+charges+laid+Arizona+shooting/4082529/story.html#ixzz1AsCReT7G

The fact of the matter is that far too many young and not so young people are lost in a maze of crooked paths and self-destructive behaviours in the United States and Canada. The addictions, the violence, the selfish lack of concern for others, the shallow material secularism, the hateful, disrespectful words filling our public discourse are all symptomatic of our communal inability to find a straight path through our ethically challenged, morally relativistic popular culture. Why such confusion? How can we come to know the right thing to think and do? In my book, Walk a Straight Path in Crooked World, Alan Bloom, one of the greats of academic thinking, addressed this dilemma:

I do not believe that my generation, my cousins…all of whom are M.D.s or PhD’s have any comparable learning [to that of his grandparents’ spiritually rich understanding of the Bible]. When they [Alan Bloom’s generation] talk about heaven and earth, the relations between men and women, parents and children, the human condition, I hear nothing but clichés, superficialities, the material of satire. I am not saying anything so trite as that life is fuller when people have myths to live by. I mean rather that a life based on the Book [the Bible] is closer to the truth, that it provides the material for deeper research in and access to the real nature of things. Without the great revelations, epics, and philosophies as part of our natural vision, there is nothing to see out there, and eventually little left inside. The Bible is not the only means to furnish a mind, but without a book of similar gravity, read with the gravity of the potential believer, it will remain unfurnished.”

As the source of an unseen enduring reality, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures claim to be the Truth. I call them the moral logic of the universe. The Creator established this legacy as the house rules for all humanity. And one of the foundational teachings of the Bible is as follows:

“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18 NKJV; also Matthew 22:39).

Too bad Jared Lee Loughner and so many others taking part in our toxic political discourse don’t believe and practice the moral logic of the universe. Things will only get worse for us until we rediscover the straight path to harmonious living found in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures – the house rules for humanity.

Jesus’ perspective on Pakistani-style blasphemy laws

Happy New Roman Tax Year! One of the first major news stories of 2011 is about the January 4th assassination of Salman Taseer, the Governor of the Pakistani Province of Punjab. Governor Taseer was marked for death because he had the audacity to speak out against the injustice that was being perpetrated against Asia Bibi, a member of the small Christian minority living in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan.

Bibi’s offense, it seems, was that she had the nerve while working as an agricultural field hand under Pakistan’s blazing sun to dip her drinking cup into a communal water bucket to quench her thirst. According to various news accounts, an argument immediately ensued as Bibi, a Christian, was accused by her Muslim peers of making the water impure. In the course of the arguing among the farm workers, Bibi was accused of blaspheming Islam and insulting its prophet. Thrown into prison for 18 long months while awaiting her trial, Bibi was eventually sentenced to death by a district court judge who based his conviction on hearsay.

Apparently, Governor Salman Taseer was murdered because he raised important questions regarding the place of the Koran’s blasphemy laws within modern Pakistan, offending that nation’s surging Islamic fundamentalist establishment. Human rights groups pointedly argue that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are commonly used by Islamic religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal grudges.

Those Koranic blasphemy laws were also cited in the fatwa urging the murder of the author Salman Rushdie and his publishers in 1989 for releasing his critically acclaimed but controversial book called The Satanic Verses that negatively portrayed the prophet Mohammed’s source of inspiration. According to Wikipedia: “Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese language translator of the book, was stabbed to death on 11 July 1991; Ettore Capriolo, the Italian language translator, was seriously injured in a stabbing the same month; William Nygaard, the publisher in Norway, barely survived an attempted assassination in Oslo in October 1993, and Aziz Nesin, the Turkish language translator, was the intended target in the events that led to the Sivas massacre on 2 July 1993 in Sivas, Turkey, which resulted in the deaths of 37 people.”

Some 500 Islamic clerics and scholars praised Governor Taseer’s assassination, while the Islamist Jamat Ahle Sunnat group forbade praying for or expressing regret for the killing of the governor. The group also published a not too subtle threat to any others who might oppose the Koranic blasphemy laws.

Concern about how to deal with blasphemy is common to all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But Christianity’s perspective on blasphemy and how to deal with it differs radically from both Islam and Judaism. The reason for this critical difference comes from the personal experience that Christianity’s founder, Jesus of Nazareth, had with this issue:

60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” 61 But He kept silent and answered nothing. 
Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 
62 Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 
63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” 
And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death (Mark 14:60-64 New King James Version).

Jealousy, envy, resentment, fear, and misunderstanding were in the viciously bubbling stew of reasons explaining why Jesus’ opponents brought the charge of blasphemy against him. But will Jesus hold the false accusation of blasphemy against his accusers in the future? The New Covenant Scriptures do answer this question.

31 “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come (Matthew 12:31-32 New Living Translation).

So, the above Scripture begs the question, what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Eugene Petersen in his The Message paraphrase of the Scriptures puts it this way: “If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you’re sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.”

The Holy Spirit is truly the presence of the divine that can be seen flowing in the lives of believers. As Galatians 5:22-23 says:

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

If a human really hates all these characteristics just cited above, all these fruits of God’s Holy Spirit that makes life worth living and good, well, this is really a blasphemy against Life, and there’s no good reason to keep such people around just to make everyone else miserable. But such a judgment can never be entrusted to any mere mortal. It can only come from Jesus Christ whose sole prerogative it is to determine such questions of blasphemy worthy of capital punishment (cf. Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Christmas with the Irish Rovers: singing about the irony, the lies, the truth

Last night my wife and I went out on a date to hear a Celtic music band, the Irish Rovers, play in Nanaimo’s Port Theatre. I guess the Irish Rovers, who’ve been playing music together for over 40 years, regularly do a Christmas concert tour. And since one of the band members lives here, they make it a point to play here on Vancouver Island.

I’m not a big fan of the Christmas music genre, but I found the Rover’s selection of covers and original material toe tapping.  I loved the irony in “Grandma got run over by a reindeer”  http://www.turnbacktogod.com/grandma-got-run-over-by-a-reindeer-irish-rovers/ whose lyrics go like this:

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
walkin’ home from our house Christmas eve.
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa.
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

She’d been drinkin’ too much egg nog.
And we’d begged her not to go.
But she’d forgot her medication,
and she staggered out the door into the snow.

When we found her Christmas mornin,’
at the scene of the attack.
She had hoof prints on her forehead,
And incriminatin’ Claus marks on her back.

Grandma got run over by a reindeer,
walkin’ home from our house Christmas eve.
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa,
but as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

Now were all so proud of Grandpa.
He’s been takin’ this so well.
See him in there watchin’ football,
drinkin’ beer and playin’ cards with cousin Belle.

It’s not Christmas without Grandma.
All the family dressed in black.
And we just can’t help but wonder:
Should we open up her gifts or send them back?
(Send them back)

Grandma got run over by a reindeer,
walkin’ home from our house Christmas eve.
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa,
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

Santa Claus is, of course, nonsense: a cherished prevarication with which our culture loves to deceive its children. Why do we so enjoy telling lies to our children instead of teaching them the truth? Christmas ostensibly is set up to worship Jesus Christ. Should we teach lies as part of our Christianity? How important is truth to the Messiah?

6Jesus said… I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by (through) Me. (John 14:6 AMP).

Jesus is our door to the Father of life and eternity. It is the Father who is seeking at this time, through the offices of Jesus as mediator, those human beings who care deeply about believing and doing what is true.

23 The time is coming when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, and that time is here already. You see, the Father too is actively seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24 New Century Version).

The whole Santa Claus thing as well as the December 25 date that is fixed as Jesus’ birthday are fictions. The Bible’s internal evidence plainly witnesses that Jesus was born in the fall not in the winter. Yet this doesn’t seem to matter to most people who, ironically, live by the mindset of the man who crucified Jesus rather than worship Him.

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (John 18:37-38 NIV).

Are you on the side of the truth?

Losing our way

Are we in the Western democracies, especially in Canada and the United States in danger of completely losing our way? Have we wandered onto a slippery downhill slope endangering everyone and everything we cherish? We are talking about our basic moral consensus that has underpinned our nation since its founding.

In British Columbia, our Supreme Court has started hearing a landmark case to determine whether the federal law barring multiple partner marriages is in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Crown wants upheld the present law against allowing plural marriages, and contends that polygamy is inherently harmful to women and children. But it is far from certain that the court will retain the existing law because of Pierre Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Will Canada become a new Mecca for polygamous Muslims and Mormans?

After all, when it comes to sex and coupling just about anything seems to go as far as the courts and some of our politicians are concerned. We’ve mostly adopted as our baseline ethical and legal standard the old 1960s hippy motto of “Do Your Own Thing.”

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/12/03/chris-selley-ignatieff’s-silent-on-polygamy-prostitution-but-not-human-smuggling/

A little earlier this fall in Ontario, the Ontario Superior Court struck down three federal prostitution laws that prohibited individuals from running a bawdy house, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living off the avails of prostitution. The court said those laws “force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and the security of the person as protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”  But Diane Watts, a spokes-woman for REAL Women of Canada, argued, “Prostitution, usually of young women and men, is not a Canadian value. To remove the provisions which protect young people from being exploited is not in the best interest of Canadian families.” She also noted that Western countries that canned prostitution laws experience increased sex trafficking of vulnerable individuals. Since many of the people who get into prostitution do so because of drug addiction, wouldn’t it be better dealing with the psychological/social issues that led the person to drugs and into prostitution to pay for the drugs rather than just making it easy and legal to start up a brothel?

While the Canadian federal government is appealing this decision by a judge of the Ontario Superior Court, it is probably just a question of time before prostitution is fully legalized. It would appear that we have now definitely entered a time of fluid uncertainty with rising threats to everything we used to take for granted.

http://www.nationalpost.com/Prostitution+ruling+stayed+Ontario/3920698/story.html

One letter writer commenting to the National Post newspaper about this evolving legal/ethical situation noted:

“Who should define morality–devout Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc? All have a different view. And, logic states that the chosen ones should also determine what is acceptable in all other aspects of our lives –otherwise they would have no right to define morality for the rest of us. “

The Book of Judges is an ancient account (1422-1092 B.C.) bearing more than a few moral similarities to our era. It is unfortunate that most of our judges and politicians are unfamiliar with it:

25In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25 AMP).

What does this mean to us in the 21st Century; we who are stumbling about in the public square in confusion like the actors [better yet, screenwriters] of the popular TV series Lost? Judges 21:25 was repeated 3 times in Scripture. When something is repeated in the Bible we should pay attention. Consider this explication:

“What is the meaning of this? There was no king [or counselor] in Israel because in Israel there was no God. The Lord is King. You cannot have a [true] king [or sound political and legal leadership] if you have not a God. There was no nominal renunciation of God, no public and blatant atheism, no boastful impiety [don’t we still acknowledge the Bible’s God in our national anthem?]; there was a deadlier heresy–namely, keeping God as a sign but paying no tribute to Him as a King [that means ignoring all His teachings, statutes, and commandments], worshiping Him possibly in outward form but knowing nothing of the subduing and directing power of godliness. That is more to be dreaded than any intellectual difficulty of a theological kind… Dead consciences, prayerless prayers, mechanical formalities–these are the impediments which overturn… the chariots of progress.”

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges%2021:24-25&version=AMP

28 People did not think it was important to have a true knowledge of God. So God left them and allowed them to have their own worthless thinking and to do things they should not do.29 They are filled with every kind of sin, evil, selfishness, and hatred… (Romans 1:28-29 New Century Version).

Our whole nation is losing its way in the darkness and fog of moral confusion. And, what we think we have built by ourselves in our pride, we are going to lose.

Merry Christmas? What Jesus would say is surprising

When someone wishes you a “Merry Christmas” how do you respond? Do you say the equivalent of something like “Bah, humbug!”  If so, how can you avoid being thought of as a big green grinch?

A few years ago,  I went to my publisher’s offices in downtown Victoria taking along my son Jazzy in order to pick up some review copies of our book. While talking with a group of maybe six of the publisher’s staff about a problem, one of the women smitten by my son’s coy smile asked Jazzy, “Are you all ready for Christmas.” Jazzy loudly responded, “We don’t keep Christmas!”

Everyone turned their heads and looked at me. What would you have done? What would Jesus have said at that moment? Would He have launched into a tirade about the pagan origins of common Christmas customs and made everyone feel uncomfortable? Or maybe mumbled a non-committal remark about not participating in gross commercialism.

Well, this is what I said with a smile as I looked at the woman, “We keep Hanukkah!” Wow, everyone was really paying attention now. The woman smiled back at me and said, “Say, that sounds like fun. Don’t they eat great food during Hanukkah?” “Yeah,” I said, “Last night we feasted on fried potato pancakes with sour cream and homemade apple sauce, and there’s cheesecake,  too.” The room buzzed and we chatted on for a few more minutes before returning to the work question at hand.

Friends, what would Jesus have done? Would He have said, “I keep Hanukkah?” Let’s look and see what the Scriptures have to say. Please turn with me to the gospel of John chapter 10 verse 22:

“At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon.”

The festival of Dedication in Hebrew is called Hanukkah. Jesus made a point of being in the Temple for the Hanukkah festivities despite the fact that his enemies in Jerusalem had tried just a few months before to kill him (see John 8:59). Why did Jesus take the risk to going to Jerusalem to keep Hanukkah? What is it about this festival that Jesus thought was important enough to commemorate?

Hanukkah is sometimes called the festival of lights because it is a joyful occasion that commemorates a remarkable deliverance of the people of God from the power of the terrible oppressor Antiochus IV, who ruled a Hellenistic Greek Syrian state that included all the ancient lands Judea in the mid-second century B.C. This modest pagan king liked to call himself Antiochus Epiphanes, which means “Antiochus, the god made manifest.”  Humble guy, eh?

You see, Antiochus, being recently defeated in Egypt by the Romans, expressed his frustration by viciously oppressing his subject people of Judea, ruthlessly slaughtering men, women, and children as well as robbing the Temple of its precious golden altar, the menorahs and other vessels used in the service of God. In his contempt for the God of Israel Antiochus Epiphanes sacrifice a pig to Zeus on the Temple’s altar, and then cooked it in the holy place and then poured the unclean animal’s broth on copies of the Word of God. Antiochus then dispatched officers and soldiers in his army to enforce the worship of his pagan Greek gods throughout Judah. Anyone who resisted or continued to hold to the ways of the God of Israel was to be murdered and their property confiscated. All of this was prophesied in Daniel chapter 11.

Of course, Antiochus’ plans eventually failed due to the brave resistance of a family of Levitical priests known as the Maccabees who knew their God and with God’s miraculous intervention eventually pushed Antiochus’ forces out the Temple. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the people and the Temple to the service of God. It commemorates the revealing of the God of Israel to His hard-pressed people through a miraculous deliverance at a time of great danger.

Hanukkah also recounts the LORD’s own acceptance and dedication to His people. You see, at the rededication of God’s altar on Kislev 25, the priests relit the eternal light fueled by olive oil that was always to burn perpetually before the presence of the LORD. But the priests could only find one jar of specially prepared oil that had escaped destruction at the hands of Antiochus Epiphane’s soldiers. Let’s turn to Exodus 27:20-21 to see what God said about this perpetual light and the special olive oil to be used in it:

“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD. It shall be a statue forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.”

Obviously, this perpetually burning lamp of olive oil symbolized the Holy Spirit’s function of revealing spiritual light to the people of God. The miracle of the Hanukkah lights was that even though the people only had enough oil initially to cause the lamp of God to burn for one day, remarkably, one day’s supply lasted for eight days until fresh supplies of olive oil could be prepared and delivered to the Temple. God made up what the people lacked.

So Hanukkah is about the people rededicating themselves to God and God revealing Himself to His people, supplying their needs for His holy oil.

Let’s turn back to John 10:27 and read what Jesus said during the feast of Dedication:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish [Why can’t we perish? Because God supplies His Holy Spirit, His pure oil to light our lamps before Him forever]; neither shall anyone snatch them out of our hand [no oppressor can overcome God’s plan]. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”

Yes, unlike Antiochus Epiphanes who wanted to reveal himself as a god, our Saviour revealed Himself as the true Son of God.

Friends, these are fascinating parallels. So if someone says to you, “Merry Christmas” just respond as Jesus would and say, “Happy Feast of Dedication, Happy Hanukkah!”

Appreciation and gratitude for Larry McNabb & Mom

Last night I attended an appreciation event attended by over 1,000 of the city of Nanaimo’s movers and shakers for long-serving city councilman, Larry McNabb. After a successful career in professional hockey–McNabb was renowned as an aggressive player–the sport hero turned to politics. For 25 years he helped build up his adopted community, Nanaimo, so that it can boast today about having some of the finest community sports facilities in Canada among other numerous civic achievements. McNabb is leaving at age 71 (he has pancreatic cancer) an infrastructure legacy that those of us living in Mid-Vancouver Island will be able to appreciate for many years.

This got me thinking about my mother. Mom is also not currently enjoying the best of health at age 87. But, I doubt that you could get 1,000 people into her local convention centre and pay $25 each to attend an evening praising her accomplishments like Larry McNabb’s. Nevertheless, I think mom’s very real accomplishments are no less significant than Larry McNabb’s—perhaps even more significant in the long run. So I thought I would share with you a letter I’m sending today to my mom.

Dear Mom,

Just wanted to drop you a line to express how much I appreciate and love you.  Why? Because you are so special in my life! Right from the start you wanted me, and you were willing to risk your life for me. Remember those straps you had to wear to hold your womb together with me inside after your appendicitis operation?

And then there is your bravery and resourcefulness to talk about. One of my earliest memories goes back to when you saved me and my brother from that burning house, the 200-year-old converted blacksmith’s shop in Amherst, New Hampshire, by bundling us up and taking us across the village green over to the retired Admiral’s house.  Then in order to save the house you managed in time to interrupt the volunteer firefighters from playing cards so they’d come over and put out the fire.

As I grew up you imparted to me a sense of appreciation for family, and a curiosity about the world around me.  Also you showed me how to bear up under adversities, the thorns on life’s rose, whether a terrible happenstance car accident, or a profoundly difficult divorce, and then a disappointing annulment.

You dared to discipline rambunctious boys. You helped me hone my sense of self-discipline and ethical consciousness. Sometimes it was by making me cut my own switch for you to use for some misbehaviour or by merely saying softly, “I’m disappointed in you.”

You appreciated my walk with God long before my father could. And it was you who modeled for me a generous and giving spirit.

With you I’ve always sensed your unconditional love for me.

In such things you taught me the most important lessons about what constitutes success in life. This world considers success as what you gain for self—fame, career, and money. But like God you showed by word and deed that true success comes from what you give and how faithfully you love.

With love, your son, Jeff.