Author Archives: Mark Hughes

YOU’RE FIRED!

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” This verse from Galatians 6:7 is dangerously overlooked by many people. The Apostle Paul claims that ‘whatever’ we sow, we will reap. Anything we sow, everything we sow, will eventually come back to us in an increased measure. That’s what reaping means. A farmer sows a bushel of wheat and will get 30, 60 or 100 times back… exactly the amount Jesus Himself declared 2000 years ago (Matt 13:8). The word ‘whatever’ is a very broad term. In the original Greek language it means… well, it means whatever! Sow love, reap love; sow hate, reap hate; sow money, reap money; sow criticism, reap criticism. You get the idea.

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If we could get our head around this one principle alone it would revolutionize our lives. For example, I see many Christian marriages today that are in desperate trouble. Irrespective of who or what started the fissure in the relationship, the divide is continually widened by an escalation of the sowing and reaping process.

Husband: Honey, the meatloaf is a little burnt.

Wife: Well darling, maybe if you got off the couch once in a while and helped.

Husband: Maybe if you got a real job and contributed financially. Instead, you lie around all day watching soaps and then can’t cook a lousy meatloaf. It’s not rocket science.

Wife: Maybe if you earned more money at your pathetic excuse for a job we wouldn’t need to eat meatloaf every night!

Husband: I want a divorce.

Wife: I hate your guts.

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My fictitious example (although it probably happened somewhere) is a bit accelerated, but you get the point. Whatever we sow we will eventually reap. People who are loving or generous, reap love or generosity in return. People who criticize or judge, reap criticism or judgement in return. What surprises me is how many of us do not recognize the sowing and reaping mechanism as it works in our own lives. Success or failure on so many levels can be determined by this one principle alone. I could share with you hundreds of real life examples of how this all works but there was one in the news this week, that shamefully, I have been waiting for a long time for it to come. For the last 8 years Donald Trump has been sitting in the red chair on his ridiculously self-aggrandizing TV show The Apprentice, where he chastises contestants who mess up one of his ‘ever so real’ challenges. After he calls them stupid or pathetic and has sufficiently humiliated them on national TV, he points his finger at them in a most demeaning way and says, “You’re fired!”

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Why Harvard grads or Yale grads or washed up celebrities would subject themselves to The Donald’s belittlement is beyond me. Worse yet, when they won they had to go work for him for a whole year. It should have been the other way around. The losers should have got stuck with being apprenticed by the world’s most narcissistic and arrogant egomaniac. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Trump. I think the world would be a much less interesting place without him. Just like we would be more impoverished without Donald Duck or Ronald McDonald. What surprises me is that some people actually think Donald Trump is a real person rather than a cartoon character from a television show. So when he announced he was actually running for US President in 2016 I was expecting Fred Flintstone and Homer Simpson to throw their names in the hat as well. At first, other than the late night comedians, no one seemed  to think the announcement was bizarre that a completely out of touch with reality, self-consumed billionaire with the insatiable appetite for attention now wanted to run the country like it was one of his TV reality shows. It wasn’t until Trump made the comment that the Mexicans coming across the border into the US were drug dealers and rapists, that everybody dogpiled on the rabbit.

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Trump isn’t used to anyone taking anything he says seriously. But politics is a very different animal from the ‘make belief’ world of ‘reality’ TV and now he is under a whole new level of scrutiny. (For the record, and far be it for me to defend Trump, he did not call all Mexicans drug dealers and rapists. What he said was that Mexico was not sending their best to the US, but their criminal element… “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…” Here is what he actually said; Actual Quote which has been mostly misquoted.) Trump is careless with his words at the best of times, and this time regardless of what he said or how he said it, the reaction was swift and harsh. The people who for years have aligned themselves with the Trump media circus have lined up to fire him. Global-wide Spanish language Univison – “You’re Fired!”; Mexican based broadcaster Televisa – “You’re Fired!”; NBCUniversal the network that airs The Apprentice – “You’re Fired!”; retail giant Macy’s that exclusively sells Trump’s clothing line – “You’re Fired!”; CHI and Biosilk haircare product -“You’re Fired!” This has to be the biggest blow of them all. You take away Trump’s beautifully conditioned and coiffed hair and what does he have left?

bald trumpHonestly, I never thought I would see the Trump franchise unravel so fast, but we know that eventually everything catches up with you as you reap what you sow. I know I shouldn’t join the dogpile on the poor defenseless Donald. I need him to stay around more than anyone. I need him to illustrate Jesus parables, like the one about the rich fool who built bigger barns yet did not consider his soul, or how the rich flaunt their wealth and ignore the poor or the dangers of always taking the higher seat. How would I  ever preach on Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel without Trump’s most compelling contemporary example. King Nebuchadnezzar build a tower to himself 90′ tall, mistreated his lowly minions and he too was brought low and humbled for seven years as he eventually reaped everything that he sowed.

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Everything comes back to us in life. We would be wise to carefully consider the things we say to others, the way we treat our employees or co-workers, the consideration of others in traffic, whether we share our resources with others or just spend them on ourselves, the giving of a gentle answer or a harsh one, etc. At this point you may be thinking , “Hey wait a minute, by making fun of Trump, you are now going to have to reap what you sowed”. And you would be correct, I will need to pay the price in spades… but frankly, it is totally worth it. For the record I get more than my fair share of abuse from others and I deserve it. Not everybody enjoys my brand of sardonic humour. And now you could write a response and criticize me for it, but then you too would reap what you sowed. It’s just such a vicious cycle.

 

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CALL ME CONFUSED

Growing up in the 1970’s, Bruce Jenner was something of a hero of mine. When he won the 1976 Gold Medal in the Decathlon in Montreal he was dubbed The World’s Greatest Athlete.  It wasn’t just hyperbole. The 10 discipline historic event is a grueling test of athleticism and the human spirit. I remember being in awe of this quintessential spectacle of masculinity. He had stunning good looks and the physique of a Greek god. He was immortalized on the cover of the Wheaties box and it was all us young teenage males could do to eat bowl after bowl of the miracle cereal in hopes that one day we could be built like Bruce. But alas, I switched to Frosted Flakes and ended up looking more like Tony the Tiger.

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So when the events of this week saw the gender troubled Bruce Jenner roll out as Caitlyn Jenner on the pages of Vanity Fair I confess I was troubled… but mostly saddened. Nobody likes to lose a hero. In case you have been living under a rock and have missed this story, the short version is that Bruce Jenner told Diane Sawyer in a two hour interview in April that he has struggled his entire life with gender dysphoria (or gender identity disorder), which is defined as being discontent with the gender in which one was born. In his case he claimed he has lived a profoundly tormented life as a female in a male body. I watched the entire interview and I had no trouble believing that the torment he was suffering was real. At the same time it was hard not to also feel that there was something seriously unhealthy, either spiritually or mentally going on as well. It was not easy to watch. Among other things I was struck by just how incredibly narcissistic the whole thing was. Whatever he was, is, or was going to be, it was to be played out publicly for the whole world to see. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since he did spend a decade of his life with a camera recording his every movement as a cast member… I mean ‘family member’… on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. He declared to Sawyer that the next time the public saw him he would appear as his true self – a woman.

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Vanity Fair had the exclusive rights to the story and this week rolled out the feature under that tag line “Call me Caitlyn”. Caitlyn Jenner’s new Twitter account broke all records as it garnered one million followers in the first 4 hours. The news media outlets for the most part have been tripping over each other congratulating the transformation as an act of heroism and courage, especially for the apparently millions of people suffering from gender dysphoria. ESPN announced they are going to award Caitlyn the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at their summer awards banquet. Only a few brave voices have had the moxie to condemn it as a crass prostitution of one’s soul for monetary gain. Ironically one of them was transgender national news reporter Zoey Tur (formerly Robert Tur) who claimed Jenner is not the kind of icon their movement needs since what ‘she’ appeared to be doing was rolling out a professional produced commercial product. Clearly the brand appears to have been carefully constructed and presented to the public in a way that is guaranteed to make Jenner millions of dollars. The Diane Sawyer interview was negotiated, the Vanity Fair piece lined up, and the entire gender reassignment process was timed to coincide with a brand new reality show that debuts in July on the E! network. Yippee can’t wait!

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What everybody seems to forget is that Jenner is not a pioneer in this field at all. Forty years ago in 1975 tennis player Richard Raskind had sex reassignment surgery to become Renee Richards, and then had the nerve to sue the United States Tennis Association to be able to compete as a woman in the US Open. Richard’s won the case in the New York Supreme court only to lose the matches on the tennis court. In 2007 Richards rewrote her autobiography, No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, in which she expresses regret over the type of fame that came with her sex change.  She also wished she could have found another way to have solved her gender anxiety because the gender reassignment didn’t solve it. Her grown son  still refers to her as ‘he’ explaining, “Because I have a mother that’s a woman, my father could have an elephant change — he could be a dromedary — and he’d still be my father.”  Here is Jenner and Richards together in 1987.

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This of course brings up the important part of the discussion for us Christians. Where do we put all this? We need to have the conversation. It can’t be put off or ignored, and our young people in particular need to be part of it. They have been raised in a culture that has already accepted homosexuality and gay marriage as part of the norm. Pop culture, music, TV and movies have been way ahead of the curve on this one and have for the most part swept an entire youth generation along. 78% of 18-29 year olds support gay marriage, over twice that of seniors. Church leaders today, who for the most part still do not share these beliefs, have become eerily silent on these and related moral issues (adultery, divorce, remarriage). I understand why. We are trying to reach people with the good news of the gospel, we don’t want to offend the very people we are trying to reach by putting up moral or ideological barriers. The unintended consequence however is that by our silence we lend passive assent to a culture that has already redefined the God-given meanings of gender, sexuality, marriage and family. We have every right to be part of this discussion. Our voice matters as we have a very critical contribution to make to the debate – the biblical one. Even if the world isn’t listening, the church needs to hear it. If God did one thing without ambiguity it was defining marriage, sexuality and our gender assignment. Gen 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. It really doesn’t get any clearer than that. This is not a mix-up God could make by placing a person in the wrong gender body. Nor did He offer up a multiple choice of various marital options or sexual partner combinations.  Lev 18:22 ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. And make no mistake about it, God never changed His mind on these things in the New Testament like many claim. 1 Cor 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. Oh… and don’t miss the heterosexual misgivings on the very same list!

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I have read a number of the books on how the bible somehow validates same sex attraction or homosexuality. Every single one of the them violates the most important rule of bible interpretation – they draw the conclusion first and then go to scripture to try to prove it, rather than the other way around. Most of these authors have had life long struggles with same sex attraction and are desperate to try to find an explanation. When they say they did not choose their propensity towards same sex attraction, we have no reason to dispute that. We cannot, however, conclude that this somehow makes it God’s will for their lives, any more than it is for the next guy whose ‘natural’ inclination is towards fornication, overeating or depression. There are a lot of things in this life we don’t choose, but they somehow choose us. I think Daniel Mattson may have said it best in an article he wrote for First Things Magazine entitled Why I don’t Call Myself a Gay Christian.  In it he concludes,  “The gay community will become family when those of us in the Church who live with the inclination accept it for what it truly is: a deep wound within our persons which we joyfully choose to unite with the Suffering Christ, on behalf of those we love so dearly in the gay community. By his wounds we are healed, and by the acceptance and transformation of our wounds, through the love of Christ, the Holy Spirit will draw them home to their Heavenly Father.”

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We truly need to sympathize with those struggling with gender anxiety, but we cannot condone sexual reassignment as a solution. Seriously, is this truly the ‘real’ Jenner that has been buried for so long?  Tens of thousands of dollars in plastic surgery, gallons of hormones, tubs of makeup, silicone implants, designer evening dresses and considerably ‘airbrushed’ photos? I for one am not buying it. It doesn’t seem like the ‘real’ anything to me. Having said that, other than losing my teenage idol, I don’t actually care what Bruce Jenner does with his body, it’s none of my business. I can’t impose my sense of morality on him or anyone else I don’t know. I am however profoundly embarrassed with the world that my children and grandchildren are inheriting. Any Christian sense of propriety or decency seems to have been eviscerated from our culture. How do I explain to them how I let their world roll down this sordid path of moral decay while ostensibly doing nothing at all to stop it? We should not be surprised if in the days ahead we hear a lot of Christian young people saying, ‘call me confused.’

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THE THEORY OF SOMETHING

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was an 18th century mathematical genius who first posed the timeless question “Why is there something instead of nothing?” In 1710 he wrote Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil in which he concluded that our universe was the best of all possible worlds that God could have created. His belief in God was ridiculed by the infidels of his day like Voltaire, René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza. Leibniz’s accomplishments however would surpass that of even our best modern thinkers, like Stephen Hawking, by a long measure. He is probably not a household name because it is far too hard to pronounce. Leibniz was a childhood prodigy who became fluent in Latin and studied works of Greek scholars when he was only twelve. At fourteen he entered university and studied  philosophy, mathematics, and law. As an adult he was one of history’s greatest minds in physics, technology, philosophy, probability theory, biology, medicine, geology, psychology, linguistics, politics, law, ethics, theology, history, and philology to name a few. He published his discovery of calculus three years before Isaac Newton. I suspect he may have also been in a heavy metal band and was the inspiration for Guns and Roses guitarist Slash’s hair style.

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In one of Hollywood’s latest offerings, The Theory of Everything, the subject of the film is the personal life of renowned physicist Steven Hawking. It is based on a book by Hawking’s former wife, Jane Wilde Hawking entitled Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. It of course touches on his extraordinary career but has more to do with their life together and dealing with his debilitating motor neuron disease ALS.  Actor Eddie Redmayne was particularly convincing as Hawking and won the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts. Although the movie lagged in the last half hour and fizzled to an end, it still packed a highly emotional punch as it recreated the palpable sense of pain the family faced as they dealt with Stephen’s ever diminishing health. For me, the highlight of the film was the faith conflict between Jane and Stephen. This was very much part of their journey and may have been the catalyst that in the end doomed their marriage. The real life Jane has always been a person of faith, whereas Stephen has always prided himself as a rational man of science with no need for a celestial dictator. Jane claimed that he regularly mocked her faith, even as she in return showed him undying care and devotion. The title of the movie is based on Stephen’s oft quoted search for “one simple elegant equation to explain everything.” This so called theory of everything has eluded Hawking his entire life, and I believe always will, because it is based on a flawed premise. Hawking is determined to prove that the universe had the ability to create itself and that there is no need for a creator.

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In his earlier work, A Brief History of Time, which is a fascinating and enjoyable read, he begins with this statement. “However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.” Many, including his wife Jane, took this as a nod to the possibility of a Creator. Hawking has, for the most part, now hinted that what he meant by that was that one day we would know as much as God… if there actually was one. It was far more backhanded then most of us realized.

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In his most recent book, The Grand Design, he has made this audacious claim. “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” In other words, he claims that gravity created the universe and not God. He has explained this further in interviews by saying, “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.” What makes this a false, and frankly ridiculous statement, is the fact that science actually demands the opposite. Without getting bogged down in the science of it, every probable model of the universe requires some sort of ‘first cause’. Most notably Hawking has failed to answer the critical and scientific and philosophical question posed by Leibniz 300 years ago,’Why is there something instead of nothing?’ Although in The Grand Design he references the question and even claims to answer it he really only succeeds in re-asking it. If gravity created the universe, then who created gravity?

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As Kathy and I watched The Theory of Everything something jumped off the screen at me so powerfully that I said it out loud. As Stephen became more ardent in his atheism, the existence of God grew ever more evident. The two Christians in the movie, his wife Jane and the church choir director Jonathon Hellyer Jones , demonstrated uncommon selfless love towards an increasingly helpless Stephen. “Those two are more proof of the existence of God than anyone could ever ask for,” were the words that came out of my mouth. 1 John 4:12 says, No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. The only way our world is really going to see God is through the love of Jesus that we demonstrate by our Christian walk. Whether that was the intent of the movie, I am not sure, but it became so clear to me that I think it would be the perfect movie to watch with a skeptic and then engage them in the big questions of God and creation.

By the way, one inaccuracy of the movie was leaving the impression that Jane left Stephen and married Jonathon. The real story was that Stephen left Jane for his nurse in 1990, marrying her in 1995, and Jane did not marry Jonathon until 1997.

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HIP HIP HIPPOCRATES

Hippocrates of Kos (460 – c. 370 BC), was physician in the Classical Greece era and is regarded as the father of of modern medicine.  He is most often quoted as saying, “Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food”, however his greatest contribution to Western culture is undoubtedly the Hippocratic Oath.  For centuries physicians around the world have been taking the oath… or a derivative of it.  In the commitment to ‘first do no harm’ he specifically said, Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will get no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.

history_hippocratesFor hundreds of years the medical profession has adhered to the Hippocratic Oath but in one generation, through the decriminalization of abortion, they have already become the executioners of the unborn and ended 1.3 billion lives since 1980.  View the abortion clock here http://www.numberofabortions.com/ It is disconcerting to say the least. In the US there is a $5000 fine for killing an unborn Bald Eagle egg and yet we slaughter children like they are a plague infecting the earth. There is something perverse about having the same hands that try to save lives also being responsible for taking them. When our first child was about to be born, we discovered that our obstetrician also preformed abortions, we quickly switched to a doctor that did not perform them. I can’t imagine why everyone would not do the same if they thought about it.

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Last week the Supreme Court of Canada in an unanimous decision struck down our law preventing doctor assisted suicide.  This was in stark contrast to their ruling in the Sue Rodriguez case in 1992 that upheld the law.  Now the Canadian Parliament has 12 months to draft a new law that will allow doctors to help people take their own lives.  I am profoundly disappointed.  The fact that doctors would even be part of the equation is unconscionable.  They are the ones who will be asked to administer the poison that would end another person’s life. Hippocrates would roll in his grave to see the modern medical profession move from being the preservers of life, to becoming the administers of death. Doctor Henry Morgentaler devoted his career completely to killing unborn children and we awarded him the Order of Canada. South of the border Doctor Jack Kervorkian spent his assisting the aged and infirm in taking their own lives. He was a hero to many and died at 83… of natural causes. Five US states already have doctor assisted death legislation in place. For the most part they allow terminally ill, mentally competent patients with less than six months to live to request a prescription for life-ending medication. Proponents suggest we follow suit. The next step after that can be seen in Belgium and the Netherlands that allow children to take their lives with their parents consent. I think it is a dangerous path. Where will it lead, where will it end? Will society start deciding who deserves to live and who doesn’t. Will the lives of the young and old, the infirm and disabled someday become at risk?

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I think as Christians we need to rethink the pro-life position. Too many of us oppose abortion and euthanasia but are at the same time pro-capital punishment and pro-war. I feel that gives us a very weak basis from which we argue. The Old Testament is full of violence and death. I would not argue that point. But Jesus was the true example of pro-life. If people were dying, he healed them. If they were dead He raised them back to life. If someone was condemned to die (The woman caught in adultery) he pardoned them. I think it is impossible to imagine Jesus as anything but 100% pro- LIFE. The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

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We need to establish a new baseline for the christian pro-life position. Proverbs 6:19 says (The Lord hates) hands that shed innocent blood. The unborn obviously fit in that category, but so do those who are suffering of disease or pain and just want to end it all. We can offer them compassion and care but it is not our place to play God and end their lives. I sat by the bedside of my older brother as he died. He was suffering from lymphoma cancer and was partially paralyzed from a broken neck. At the end of every day he would say Goodbye and hope it would be his last. He would be disappointed when he awoke the next day. On the other hand I would never have let anyone accelerate the process. The palliative care people did an amazing job of keeping him pain free and preventing him from choking to death on the contents of his own stomach since his digestive system had shut down. Amazingly he was mentally clear to the very end and though not easy, he had a relatively peaceful passing.

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance: Your books were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. Psalms 139:16

My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. Psalms 31:15

Hippocrates wasn’t even a Christian and he got it right 2400 years ago.  Hip Hip Hippocrates!

 

 

Addendum: For the record this also means we should never be responsible for taking the lives of innocent people during wartime. The number of innocents that have died in the current War on Terror (or any war) should give everyone of us pause. And yes, I am familiar with St Augustine’s Just War theory. He tried to reconcile Christian pacifism with the world as it actually was; to bring together the pacifist teachings of Jesus Christ with the obligations of Roman citizens – including Christians – to fight for their country when required to. Augustine said that war was always the result of sin, and that war was also the remedy for sin. And if war was the remedy for sin, then war could sometimes be justifiable – but only if it was a remedy for sin. He stated that Christians did not have the right to defend themselves from violence, however they could use violence if it was necessary to defend the innocent against evil. That is a far cry from the hawkish modern position of many Christians on war today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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