Tag - Morality

One million wishes

Have you seen the Million-dollar blog post yet? It’s not a money-making scheme, it’s a money-giving scheme.

Post your wish – one dollar will be donated to charity for each wish posted.

Here’s mine:

My one wish is not for “others” to be better, or for faceless governments to change policies, or for NGOs to make a difference, or for organizations, groups, categories of any kind.

My wish for the world is that I will be a better human being, and so doing, will be more, do more, and give more to those in need.

(Bonus wish: that you – yes you reading right now – would do the same.)

[tags] one million wishes, million dollar blog post, john koetsier [/tags]

When I say I am a Christian

Today in our pre-church “Finding your sweet spot” Christian living class, our facilitator Dave Stinson read this poem. I thought it deserved repeating:

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not shouting “I’m clean livin’.”
I’m whispering “I was lost,
Now I’m found and forgiven.”

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I don’t speak of this with pride.
I’m confessing that I stumble
and need Christ to be my guide.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak
And need His strength to carry on.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not bragging of success.
I’m admitting I have failed
And need God to clean my mess.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
But, God believes I am worth it.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches
So I call upon His name.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not holier than thou,
I’m just a simple sinner
Who received God’s good grace, somehow

This is the kind of Christianity we need more of. This is the kind of Christianity that is not proud but humble. This is the kind of Christianity that is not self-righteous but loving. This is the kind of Christianity that we are called to practice. And this is the kind of Christianity that does not offend anyone but the most hateful and spiteful.

Note, this is often attributed to Maya Angelou, but actually is it based on a work by Carol Wimmer.

Thanks, Carol!

[tags] christian, maya angelou, carol wimmer, john koetsier [/tags]

Heavy metal Christianity?

Ben Gray at OpenSwitch talks about how he loves Metallica’s heavy metal music, particularly their S&M album.

He talks about expectations of him as a youth pastor:

Among these expectations are things like: I’m expected to never cuss, never drink (alcohol), never smoke, never do, say or think anything questionable…and never, EVER, listen to Heavy Metal. Especially Metal that contains cusses or morbid themes like virtually every Metallica song does.

His justification for listening is as follows:

I personally don’t find that it affects me adversely but maybe I shouldn’t listen to it on sheer principle. It’s at this point I ask myself, “Why shouldn’t I listen to it?� What does Metallica S&M contain that isn’t contained in many of the other forms of media I regularly consume? Violent imagery? That’s on the News. My son sees that. Cussing? That’s in movies that are PG13 (btw, as far as I know a PG13 movie can drop the F-bomb once and still be considered PG13. Other words like $#!7 are virtually unregulated.) Sexual references? Jerry Maguire.

Here’s a comment I posted on his blog:

Two comments:

One: your focus as a Christian should never be: what can I get away with … or, how far to the edge can I get without crossing the line? It should be: what honors, glorifies, and pleases God?

It disturbs me that as a youth minister you don’t seem to get that.

Two: “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things.” Phillipians 4.

The Bible is not silent about books, movies, and music.

Why do you think God gave 10 Commandments, and not 10,000? Because He knew that it would be foolish to make a law for every possible occurence in life.

Rather, what He wants His people to do is to live for Him, focus on Him, glorify Him, and see to do His will.

Finally, a Christian does not “prove” to himself that X is OK because, after all, X is in the popular news, X is in popular movies, and X is in popular books.

A Christian says that X is OK because it’s consistent with God’s word, and it’s expedient and helpful in my goal to live as Christ wants me to.

Please note: I’m not telling you whether you should or should not listen to Metallica. I’m telling you that the grounds upon which you’re basing your decision are not Christian ones … they’re secular ones.

First get the right foundation. Then the right decisions are a lot easier.

Love your neighbor as yourself

One of the things that I really struggle with as a Christian is the second great commandment.

Jesus simplified and explained the original 10 commandments into two:

  • love God with all your heart, soul, and mind
  • love your neighbor as yourself

The first is hard. The second is even harder – especially for me. I’m not necessarily a person who just finds it easy to love everyone. I’m usually in too big of a hurry, pursuing my latest goal. Or I’m judgemental, and not seeing the person for who she or he really is in God’s eyes.

I’ve been trying to work on that lately … by telling myself as I see a person, any person: Jesus loves him. Jesus loves her.

As the Bible says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son – that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.”

If that’s true, God loves people. And if He does, I should. And it’s somehow easier if I remind myself every time I see someone, silently, with these words:

“God loves you.”

Packer: notes from a lecture

My sister Henriette went to hear theologian J.I. Packer yesterday at Regent College, here in Vancouver. Here are her notes from the evening:

Went to hear Packer presented as a free lecture by Regent College at UBC.  Amazing man, gracious, full of vitality with a mind and wit as sharp as a pin.  I tried to summarize some of his points, first of all to clarify them in my mind but perhaps you also might be interested in what his message entitled “Spirituality in the 21st Century” might hold for you.  Dale said Packer has been called the greatest theologian of the 21st century.  His message is intriguing in its simplicity and also its sense of timelessness, as he quotes Puritans and saints of the early centuries of the church.  It is unique and fresh to hear it spoken into our seeker/sensitive, “me”ism, type of church structure, although he is careful to refrain from making criticisms.  He directs his message to us personally as he said the best way to make change is to model it.

This is by no means a comprehensive summary as I had only jotted what I considered salient points down.   Some facts will be disjointed from the whole but bear with me.   Here goes:

Packer’s favourite theologians and authors:  Calvin, Owen and Edwards.

Packer was defined by his biographer as a catechist.  His definition, one who lives orthodoxy with vitality to lead people into a spiritual life, ie. spirituality.

He spoke of the inner life of the new Christian, given a new heart.  The inside struggle is to be motivated by spiritual disciplines.  The heart is the powerhouse, the driving force.

The outward story is developing Christian character, behavioural patterns developing, the fruits of the Spirit.  We are trying to live lives of influence and impact.

The above provides a brief context for below:

Packer looked at the Christian community in the 21st century and saw the following weakness:

-  Not really clear in the head (dry English wit), not having sufficient knowledge
-  Not understanding the “Trinitarian Plan”
-  Not humble in heart because not facing facts

Though we know God hates sin:

-  Many forget God’s character is as it was
-  His purity
-  His grace
-  Not understanding our sinfulness.
-  Not thoroughgoing in living a penitent life as we should be
-  Repent (military term) changes whole direction
-  Allowed to dream, then think, and drift along with the world.
-  Not as different as we need to be.

21st Century is:

-  Post-Christian
-  Secular – another word for worldly
-  Syncretistic – another word for idolatry
-  Consumed with “Selfism” – me and my happiness – got deep into us
-  Anti Christian era
-  Pride masquerades as intellectual perplexity.
-  Islamic drive for world domination

Packer said:  “What is key to faithfulness, fruitfulness, spiritual health and strength in the 21st century?”

What we need:  Renewed focus on “holiness”

His text – 1st Peter – As He who called you is holy, ……    In a Barna poll only 1/3 of evangelicals believe Christians are called to be holy.

Holiness means separation and contrast.  A technical term in Scripture, a quality that distinguishes God.  In terms of the attributes of God, it is called the attribute of all attributes.  It makes God awesome  and fearsome.

He also spoke of the love and loving kindness and mercy of God, the word he coined was “Holy Love”.
The holiness of God’s people – separation is the basic idea – separated to God in order to imitate Christ.  We practise love to God and neighbour.
-  Consecration
-  Commitment
-  Separation
-  Focus on God
-  Committed to live by the Bible.

Holiness starts in the heart.  -  Not legalistic asceticism, built on the supposition if outer behaviour is right, inner must be right, ie Pharisees, had hard hearts, were unloving and pride drove them.

Inside story – how holiness begins in the heart:

-  Rebirth, regeneration
-  God renews heart, we want to do what Jesus wanted to do, love, serve, exalt Heavenly Father.

Following dispositional acts practised:

-  Purity of God
-  Presence of God – practice it – what he called “hiking with the Trinity”, a journey that is not straight but has peaks and valleys.
-  Recognize the “ugliness” of sin – recognize self-service is a horrible thing.
-  Burden of sins is intolerable (taken from Book of Prayer – Anglican)
-  Recognizes urgings of a regenerate heart.
-  Heart resolves to practice friendship with God.  Quoted Gregory of Nisan, 4th Century, “Falling from God’s friendship is dreadful, becoming God’s friend is perfection”.

Friendship with God:

-  Conversation with God
-  Intimacy in prayer
-  Informality with God, speaking naturally from our heart.

Holiness grows downwards:

-  Grows into deeper repentance and humility
-  Model standard – template is Psalm 51 and the book of Job.  Job stayed faithful but at the end he acknowledged there were things he should not have said to God and he repented in dust and ashes.  We need to do this on a daily basis..

Opposite of Repentance and Humility is Conceit and Complacency.

Holiness looks ahead:

-  Truth of assurance of faith stemming from truth of Justification.
-  He spoke of the “Great Exchange” being the last judgement of God pronounced now.
-  Having assurance of faith makes you realistic about death.
-  He felt we concentrate on the blessings of this life.
-  We should have steady meditation and anticipation of life to come.
-  Most Christians are not ready to go
-  We should be “preparing for life at home, while travelling home”.
-  Quoted Richard Baxter, a Puritan who advocated a daily mediation of 1/2 hour on the glory of heaven.

Holiness absorbs hurt:

-  Life is full of suffering
-  Pleasure seeking world demand/expects right to pain-free life
-  Definition of suffering:  when you get what you don’t want
when you don’t get what you want
-  God uses suffering to sculpt our souls.
-  Keep sweet, steady and not to get bitter, looking to Jesus.

Holiness is “Habit become Character”:

-  If we practice the fruits of the Spirit, these are qualities that grow.
-  Fruits of the Spirit are the moral profile of Christ, to be reproduced in his disciples.
-  Love is a matter of habit – matter of serving others to make them great, God first and then man.
-  Joy is priming the pump of the mind.  The heart will rejoice when we think of things that make us rejoice.
-  (This is the most remarkable fact to me) – Habit becomes Character becomes You!
-  He lamented we have a great need of Christian people to honor.

His closing text in his quest for re-discovery of holiness was Psalm 139, vs. 23 and 24, “Search me O God and know my heart:  Try me and know my anxious thoughts:  And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way”.

He then said Amen and we all echoed that.  There were many young people in attendance last night and I found this very encouraging.

His ageold and timeless message resonated with all of us and I hope it will with you too.  May the quest for holiness begin with me and you.


Thanks for the summary, Henriette!

A still small voice

Doubt versus faith: which wins?

Douglas Adams’ last book was The Salmon of Doubt. Publishly posthumously, it contains bits and pieces of his writing, including letters, addresses, a chunk of a partly finished book … and even a sample of his writing at age 12! Adams, of course, wrote the excellent and amusing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, among other things.

Included in The Salmon of Doubt are his vigorous defenses of atheism and evolution. That struck me as unfortunate, to say the least. Mostly because Adams died before finishing this book, and he no longer has a chance to change his opinions.

But also because one of his reasons for atheism was morality. In a talk he gave almost extemporaneously, Adams declared that morality is contingent. In other words, relative, not absolute.

Actually, I think morality is one of the strongest proofs of God’s existence. Why? Simple.

Rather than morality varying extensively across cultures and continents, the basics of morality are actually pretty universal: prohibitions against murder, theft, and so on. (Of course, the prohibitions are often ignored by individuals and groups in cultures … but still, the culture as a whole agrees that the rule is valid).

But here’s the deal: if there is no God, there can be no absolute morality. There can be some relative, local, constructed morality, but there can be no ultimate standard of what is right and what is wrong.

Law requires a law-giver.

But at bottom, even those who are agnostic or atheistic do not believe that morality is relative. They may say so – and often do. But they know that morality is absolute. And you can demonstrate to them that they know it … even when they’d prefer not to admit it.

Here’s one way.

It’s the question: is rape wrong? Almost everyone will acknowledge that it is. And the knowledge that it is wrong is so strong, so right-feeling that I have never met a person who, confronted, maintains that this is just a local, relative, contingent feeling. Rather, there’s an immutable law of the universe in operation.

Moral law, to be sure, but law nevertheless.

Another is to simply hit someone in the face. (Or, to be more polite, to say: what if I hit you in the face? Would that be OK, morally?) Even people who are well-schooled in the relativistic social sciences are very hard-pressed to take a smack in the face with equanimity. And again, the feeling is not just one of anger or revenge, but a very real sense of a basic law of morality (fairness) being broken.

That people universally believe in the existence of external moral law is strong evidence for a law-giver. And that law-giver is God.

Christianity and hypocrisy, part two

(In Christianity and hypocrisy, part one, I mentioned that all Christians are hypocrites, including myself. Now I’m going to explain why.)

All Christians are hypocrites.

That sounds like something that an atheist or an embittered non-Christian might say. In fact, some who have been in close contact with Christians and not been too impressed might say it too.

But I’m a Christian myself, and I say it. And I say that I too am a hypocrite.


Before I answer that, I’m going to quibble about the standard definition of hypocrisy. Here’s a fairly common definition that I took from Wikipedia:

Hypocrisy is the act of pretending to have morals or virtues that one does not truly possess or practice. The word derives from the late Latin hypocrisis and Greek hupokrisis both meaning play-acting or pretence. The word is arguably derived from hypo- meaning under, + krinein meaning to decide/to dispute. A classic example of a hypocritical act is to denounce another for carrying out some action while carrying out the same action oneself.

I’d like to point out that the last sentence is potentially inconsistent with the rest of the definition.

For instance, someone could actually believe that eating raisins is wrong. And that same someone could also condemn other people for eating raisins. But it’s also possible that this person would have the most unbelievable craving for raisins and, sometimes, succumb to the cravings and – guiltily – buy and eat raisins.

What I’m trying to indicate is that hypocrisy is not just pretending to have beliefs that you don’t actually have. Hypocrisy is also having a belief and not acting in accordance with that belief.

Which is why all Christians are hypocrites. And why I am a hypocrite.

Because we (I) hold certain beliefs about what is morally right and what is morally wrong. But we (I) do not always do what we believe to be right. Sometimes we do what we believe to be wrong.

In the words of the Bible, this is willful sin. (Sin, of course, being disobedience against God’s desires.) And it’s one of the worst forms of disobedience.

Just like a parent is much more sad, much angrier, much more disappointed when a kid knows what he is doing is wrong, and continues doing it, God is much more displeased when one of His children knowingly breaks one of His rules.

It’s basically saying to God: I know this is wrong but I’m going to do it anyways. It’s defiance – essentially giving God the finger.

Christians aren’t perfect. They never will be – not on this earth. We still struggle with our old natures. We want to do things we know we should not.

The idea is that as we grow, as we learn, as we mature, we get better and better at resisting impulses to do what we know is wrong. (The Bible calls these temptations.)

But we never totally outgrow our base personality – and it’s deeply tainted with emotions, desires, and wishes that are wrong.

Anyone – Christian or unChristian – who says differently simply does not know himself.

In this sense, we are not too dissimilar from people who are not Christians. In reality, everybody is to a greater or lesser degree a hypocrite – because we all do things that we know we should not do.

If we didn’t, we’d be perfect.

Wouldn’t that be nice!

Christianity and hypocrisy, part one

I happened to be surfing Tim Bray’s site today and noticed an article in which he comments about the Danish Mohammed cartoons.

I have a bit of a problem with his post in that he seems to lump all religions together: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. He’s talking about the fanatic fringes of all these three religions, and in that sense, yes: there’s wackos everywhere. But I think it’s fairly obvious that there’s a clear qualitative difference between what we’re seeing now in Islamic countries and what we’ve seen in the recent past from Jews and Christians.

On the other hand, however, he makes a great point, if in a bit of a crass way, in this paragraph:

The Christian batshit-loonies differ from the others in being apparently less murderous but vastly more hypocritical. To all the excellent Christians and Jews and Muslims out there: I know you exist. But you’re vanishing from view behind the cloud of mucky dust being raised by your lunatic fringe; as of right now, in the twenty-first century, when someone claims to be deeply religious, that’s grounds for suspicion of bigotry, greed, and a predisposition to homicide. Which is one reason my little boy isn’t being taken to church, for the moment.

I find this tremendously topical – at least to me. I’m currently working on a modern “translation” of the book of Romans, and in the second chapter, the apostle Paul says the following.

It’s a bit of a long quote, but read through it – the last few sentences are the kicker …

Now for you who think you are just fine before God:

If you know what He wants, and have been taught what is right, and agree that it is good, why do you not do it?

If you believe that others are blind, but you can guide them in the right way, and if you think that others are in the dark, but you are a light for them to follow, and if you think that you can teach others and tell everyone what to do, why are you still so sinful?

If you say that stealing is wrong, do you steal?

If you say that it’s wrong to have sex outside of marriage, do you keep yourself pure?

If you say that people should worship God over everything else in life, do you secretly put your own desires ahead of doing what God requires of us?

If you are so eager to tell others what God’s law means for their lives, do you shame God by breaking that same law?

If so, as Isaiah says, you yourself are the reason why people hate God and speak insolently about Him.

That’s why hypcrisy is so dangerous in Christians. And in a post in the next week or so, I’ll talk more about hypocrisy and Christianity – and why all Christians, myself included, are guilty of it.