Pastor Mark’s Blog

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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FOOL ME TWICE

I need to apologize for being MIA in the blogging department this fall. I have had the busiest season in recent memory and realized the other day I had preached 47 times in 10 weeks… and then I wondered why I had no time for anything else. When I had a colleague rebuke me for my ridiculous schedule, I responded by saying that the English reformer John Wesley (1703-1791) preached 3 times every single day until he was in his 80’s. To which my friend aptly reminded me, “You’re no John Wesley!”

When I was growing up, in the very community in which I pastor today, there was a kid named Allen that lived down the street. He was the terror of the neighbourhood. If there was an incident he was likely at the center of it. When houses would be egged or garbage cans rolled down the street and the like, the police would start the questioning at Al’s door and usually didn’t need to look any further. He was voted most likely to grow up to be dead or in jail.  Instead he ended up as an executive vice president of an oil company. Recent studies have shown that apparently psychopaths are ideally suited for upper management.

Actually Allen wasn’t as bad a kid as our parents all thought, he just enjoyed stirring the pot and getting others in trouble. One day as we were walking home from school together, the neighbourhood bully John decided to join us. He was Al’s friend, not mine. Al began to go on about how John, a year older and half a foot taller, could easily beat me up. Being the proud and not so bright kid that I was, I took the bait and agreed to fight him.  Because I was always paranoid about getting my teeth knocked out (I guess I knew that someday I would need them to be on TV) I insisted that there could be no punching in the face. We started the fight and with one right hook John smacked me in the mouth and I was bleeding all over the place. My front teeth were loose but fortunately still intact. My mother was beside herself when I got home. She told me to stay away from those boys. I only mumbled through my swollen lips and made no promises.

The next day, no joke, the next day I walked home with them again. When Al started in about how I had lost the fight, I argued that I could easily have won but John had cheated and hit me in the face. Al suggested that we should have a rematch. Again I took the bait, this time making an even bigger plea that the rules would be regarded as my teeth were still loose from the day before.  We squared off again and, you guessed it, John punched my right in the mouth again and there was twice the blood of the day before.  My lip was cut and my teeth were pushed back into my mouth, but maybe by the grace of God I didn’t lose them.  I learned a life lesson that day.  Never trust a bully.

I tell this story in reference to the conflicts in the Middle East and Iraq in particular. By now most people realize that the 2003 invasion of Iraq turned out to be grossly misguided under the false pretense of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ This is not to say that Saddam Hussein was not still a bully, he was, and was not without culpability in provoking the West. Finally after 8 long years the last Western troops pulled out of Iraq in 2011 all the while claiming victory. They insisted that the country was now better off than with Saddam. The problem was, one bully was gone and another had risen up even more illusive and underhanded than the first – ISIL. This is an acronym for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. With its counterpart ISIS ( Islamic State in Syria) it has over 30,000 fighters. It is the most violent and diabolical terrorist group that has ever existed. It is so vile that Al Qaeda, which was responsible for 9/11 and 1000’s of deaths themselves, has disavowed them, calling their tactics too extreme.

Every week or so they release another videotape of a Westerner being gruesomely beheaded. The actual number of beheadings are far worse than most know, possibly in the hundreds, including Kurdish children. The crimes are so horrifying as to be inhuman. I will not post images as I think it is unethical to do so. Unfortunately I was inadvertently exposed to some of the worst pictures and I am still having trouble getting the images out of my mind. They were indescribable. What kind of person could commit such grisly and heinous acts? I don’t know. What I do know is that they are trying to produce a revulsion that will evoke an angry reaction. The objective, in my opinion, is to try to goad the West back into the fight on Arab soil. It is working. But why would ISIL want Western troops back in the Middle East? Because they know the West cannot win a fight on their turf. Why? Remember my story of Al and John; bullies don’t play by the rules. Bullies are also cowards that hide behind masks, lurk in the shadows and pick on innocent people.

Canada and the US have already joined other nations and have dispatched airborne missions into Iraq. Military experts have warned that this alone will not work unless these missions are accompanied by ground troops. Of course it won’t, how do you remove an incendiary terrorist organization from the air? You can’t. Both our governments have repeated that we will not be sending ground troops back into Iraq. Lord, let that be so. This is not a cowardly position. Why would you fight a battle you cannot win? Why would we send more young men in to die needlessly?

In 2 Kings 19 King Hezekiah of Judah was under threat of the Sennacherib king of Assyria (Syria of today). It was an unwinnable situation as Assyria had 185,000 troops at their doorstep. Hezekiah had no possible effective military strategy so he went up to the house of the Lord and prayed. A long story short, the Lord heard his prayer and sent the Angel of the Lord down Sennacherib’s camp and wiped out all 185,000 in one night. Judah did not so much as raise a sword. We serve the same God today and I believe prayer is still our number one weapon against terrorism.

On a human level, I absolutely do not know what we should do about this crisis. I wish I did. I only know what we should not do. And that is to take the bait the second time. It is to that end I also pray because I will always remember the lesson my friend Al taught me on the subject. Bullies can never be trusted. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

– Peter Townsend (The Who)

 

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